View Full Version : Is college worth it?

10-26-2006, 08:20 PM
I'm more than halfway through college, but I was forced to drop out a few years ago because I simply could manage school and the hours I was forced to work in order to pay my bills (I get very little help from my parents). Now, I'm 24, and I feel if I don't go back soon, it could be to late. My mother has offered to let me move in with her, so I can cut down my hours and focus on school again. I really want my journalism degree, but at the same time I don't want to lose my apartment, my autonomy, or lose progress I have made at my work. I do want to be a professional writer, but I think that it may be possible without the degree. What do you guys think? How much does the degree help ensure being published? Can I do it without it? Is it worth losing my apartment and being broke for a year to get my degree? Is college in general worth it anymore in modern America?

10-26-2006, 08:45 PM
I think it depends on what kind of writing you want to do.

I don't know much about the worlds of nonfiction and journalism, so I can't speak to those fields.

In fiction, screenwriting, etc, it's not worth it, IMO. You can learn the nuts and bolts of writing on your own, and the creative aspects are better learned outside the academic world.

Of course, the trick with this question is that it's virtually impossible to determine the better course by practical experience. How does one go to college and not go to college?

I do know that there's a wealth of evidence that you can be a very successful writer without a degree.

10-26-2006, 08:50 PM
The only thing that helped me by getting college degrees is demanding higher pay to make ends meet, and having taken classes in many disciplines- which has helped me when I needed to know something for a project.

With that said, of course you can teach yourself from scholarly books, etc. But it all depends on how you learn best. Some people can learn all they need to know from a book- others, the classroom setting works best.

I would suggest weighing how well you did in college beforehand and see if it is something that you really want to do versus something you think you should do.

10-26-2006, 08:52 PM
I graduated high school in 1982 and opted not to go to college, it was my biggest regret. I'm doing well as a freelance writer, I always wonder if I'd be doing even better if I had a degree.

10-26-2006, 08:55 PM
Yes, in general, it is. And I suspect you will regret it some day if you don't (you could go back later . . . but that's even harder than the choice you're facing now). On one hand you have two more years in a situation that might not be so great; on the other hand . . . is the rest of your working life, some forty years.

Just some thoughts. You're the one who will have to live with your decision.

10-26-2006, 08:55 PM
If college is important to you, do it now. You can achieve the other things, such as apartment later on. I went to college and busted my butt for 16 years on and off working full-time, going to school part-time and bartending part-time. I wanted that degree and it meant a lot. If you feel this way, then go back soon and make it work. If you donít, then work on what you have going for you. My two cents.

10-26-2006, 08:55 PM
Finish college, a good education is important. You're never too old to pursue an education.

Soccer Mom
10-26-2006, 08:58 PM
I stayed in college (plus got a graduate degree) and make a lot more money than I would without the degrees. BUT I don't make my primary living as a writer. Getting a degree in something useful gives you options. Not to mention that college can expose you to things you might not find on your own. I think it's a worthwhile endeavor.

10-26-2006, 09:16 PM
Beasy-This was exactly my situation a ... um...a few years ago. Finish, for the love of God! It's incredibly hard to go back if you let it go too long. And tuition is going up quick.

10-26-2006, 09:16 PM
Will a college degree make you a better writer and get you published? Probably not.

Will a college degree help you in the job market and get a better paying job? Yes.

I regret every day as I get harrassing phone calls from creditors that I didn't finish my college education, get a degree, so I can move up the corporate ladder and make better money.

10-26-2006, 09:20 PM
I cannot emphasize this enough - IF AT ALL POSSIBLE FINISH YOUR COLLEGE NOW!!!! As a writer all my degrees help me enormously I ended up waiting and going back in my late 20's / then again in my 40's and now 50's.
It gives you more skill, more credibility AND as you get older should you choose to change fields it gives you a leg up.
The short time (a few years) of deprivation of privacy etc. is FAR FAR worth it. I have a friend who was in your position and is now 45 and trying to finish her degree. It is MUCH harder to wait. Bite the bullet and finish now.
by the way - I don't know ANYBODY that says "Gee I wish I didn't have my college degree..."

10-26-2006, 09:22 PM
I see degrees a bit like unfinished novels. It's better to finish and learn from them no matter how valuable, objectively, the final product proves to be. There are a lot of options now for after hours and distance learning so you might look at transferring your credits to another institution with more flexible classes.

10-26-2006, 11:05 PM
I'd say finish it. A college education most likely would benefit your career, either in writing or any day job you might have down the road. So yeah, if you've already started it out, I see no reason whatsoever not to finish it and get the degree you're looking for.

10-26-2006, 11:31 PM
Now more than ever you need that degree in modern day America. Not so many years ago a person with a highschool degree could make a fair amount of money. Now you're looking at about 20k average. If you want that for your yearly, then sure, quit now.

The pay scale climbs the higher the degree. Proof is in the pudding, decide where you want to be. Also those with a higher degree are less likely to be unemployed. The highest unemployment rate is in the lower degree sections. I have never met anyone who has regretted getting their degree.

Make sure if you are mastering in journalism, you have a minor in something more mainstream. It will open up your job possibilities like you wouldn't believe.

10-26-2006, 11:51 PM
How much does the degree help ensure being published?

Nothing will insure that.

10-26-2006, 11:56 PM
You will never regret having the degree, but you well may regret never getting it. You're too close to stop now. Go for it. You really have nothing to lose.

10-27-2006, 12:08 AM
Count me in the "finish it" camp. No, it will not ensure publication or anything like that, but it will give you a much better chance to keep the lights on and the stomach fed as you build your writing career.

10-27-2006, 12:19 AM
Think of it this way: You'll be 26 in two years, whether you go to college or not. Go for it.

10-27-2006, 01:31 AM
Knowledge is power. Where you attain it isn't so important as attaining it.

I was thrown out of junior high TWICE! Not for doing anything, more for doing nothing. My ninth grade guidance councilor told me I should quit school. So I did.

And then, I started becoming interested in things. I found I needed knowledge to accomplish these things and "I" sought it. My self-attained education is different from anyone else's. Is that good or bad? Who knows? It's been hard and long coming and I make mistakes, but now, if I need information I can find it, this much I'll swear. This is more than most of the college grads I know can do. They stopped learning once handed the sheepskin.

I think it depends on who you are, where you want to go, and if you are smart enough not to go to collage (meaning if you can't get it on your own you better go where you can). You are getting recommendations to both possibilities. What good is that? We don't know what will work for you, only what worked for us.

So, the definitive answer is...!!!

It depends.

10-27-2006, 01:44 AM
Structured classes never did anything but slow me down. I'd finish the textbook on week two and have to sit through 11 more weeks of dragging it out.

I don't think you can learn creativity or inspiration in a sterile classroom. You can learn art techniques in a school, but that alone won't get you anywhere.

If it's flat-out job training, then maybe that'll work. There are strong suggestions that degrees lead to higher wages, but not as directly as they used to. And there are plenty of college grads doing crud work. I don't feel that a degree is as useful if your only goal is to get published -- but if you want to get published in most scientific fields, you're expected to be at the postgrad level or better.

NEVER stop learning. That's one thing that drives me nuts with college grads, they seem to think that once they have that piece of paper, they're done learning, and then they stagnate and start falling behind. I never could figure that out.

For me, the answer to college was NO. Your mileage may vary.

10-27-2006, 02:23 AM
I'm in college right now, but not to become a writer. Writing is something I do on my own, and the writing courses I'm taking helps in the sense that you get to meet others like you. Before taking my writing courses, I thought I was the only struggling writer at my school, but I've met a lot of wonderful people through it, and you get to workshop a lot of your work. Those are the two advantages I can think of.

10-27-2006, 04:00 AM
NEVER stop learning. That's one thing that drives me nuts with college grads, they seem to think that once they have that piece of paper, they're done learning, and then they stagnate and start falling behind. I never could figure that out.

Any college graduate (or non-college graduate) who thinks he or she can go through life without continuing to learn is an idiot. I have seen plenty of both. But to label all college grads as not interested in further learning is, in my opinion, quite inaccurate.

10-27-2006, 04:28 AM
Iím mostly in the ďfinishĒ camp.

Personally, though, I canít see going to college to become writer. Like the others have said, going to expand your horizons by taking a wide variety of classes makes sense. Going to get a degree that will help you get a steady job in case the writing career gets wobbly makes sense.

I donít regret getting a degree, but I do regret having wasted the opportunity to get a useful degree. I just saw uni scholarships as a ticket out of rural poverty. Unfortunately, tunnel-vision fear of poverty coupled with the fact that I just didnít know myself so well back then lead to me to choose a major I wouldnít choose again. So, are you sure journalism is what you want to do?

As for braving poverty, since I didn't get a full-ride scholarship, for a while during my first year, while a full time student, I held three part-time jobs (on campus, night and early morning. It really is possible.) and because the tuition, room, and board were so expensive, I still couldnít afford to eat enough to stave off hunger (barefoot in the snow uphill both ways! ;) ). I was miserable most of those four years, but if I didnít have that degree, I wouldnít be able to do my fall-back job and would still be broke and miserable.

All I'm saying is that if you're going to make serious sacrifices for a degree, IMHO it should be a degree that will reward you. From what I've heard, a journalism degree may not do that, at least not financially. Is there a way you can get the journalism degree/training without becoming a full time student and losing so much of your current life? Part time classes? Correspondence courses? Internships? Or is there another writing-related profession that you're interested in that pays better that could be your fall-back job?

Anyway, whatever you decide, good luck!


Ol' Fashioned Girl
10-27-2006, 04:35 AM
Suck it up for two years and do it. You may, in the long run, forget everything you learn. You may see (as I have) a lot of what you learn debunked, proved wrong, discarded or replaced. But you will take at least one class you never intended that will make all the difference in the long run. You won't regret it.

10-27-2006, 04:49 AM
The papers today say that on average in the US a bachelors is worth $23,000 per annum. In which case I am being short changed!

10-27-2006, 07:49 AM
I've never been a fan of the "have something to fall back on" theory.

If I had something to fall back on, I would have by now.

10-27-2006, 09:10 AM
Thanks for the advice everyone! Yeah. I know I have to go back, it just helped to hear you guys say it.

10-27-2006, 09:39 AM
Twenty four? My sister recently returned to complete her degree at a competive liberal arts school. She's in her thirties, has twin toddler boys, and works to pay the bills. You can do this!
And you should. I learned a great deal in some of my college writing courses. Pick your professors carefully--an enthusiastic professor is like a mentor, cheerleader, and critique service available to you for months at a time.
Also, I'm in agreement with Zisel--have you looked into taking the non-traditional student route?

10-27-2006, 05:34 PM
Having a college education will never harm you, but not having one can. A lot of jobs require a college degree and having any degree can make the difference between getting the job and not getting one. My husband has a bachelor of science degree in psychology. He's a .NET web developer. He started out from college as a computer programmer, and he's never once used his major.

10-27-2006, 08:55 PM
A lot of people will tell you that you don't need a degree to be a freelance writer and they are correct. You don't. That does not mean having a degree cannot help you be a better writer.

My Bachelor's is in English and I'm currently working on my Master's in the same area. I know this: I have a better understanding of the components of story than many (not all, not most) writers who have not sat in seminars and analyzed how the narrator was used by different authors. I have been exposed to different styles of writing and different genres and eras of writing that I never would have sought out on my own, simply because I would not have been aware of them, or thought them worth my time because they were not modern or not from my genre. Studying the literature in a formal setting has given me a greater ability to "see the wires" that control and hold everything together and apply that knowledge to my own work, even in a limited fashion.

Something else you'll learn at college is to write when you're not inspired, to write because you have a deadline and have to turn something in, and not only that, your grade and future depend on how well you're able to write and plan for that deadline. Professors do not accept "I wasn't inspired" as an excuse for missing assignment due dates.

Do you need a degree to be a freelance writer? No. But, as with everything else, it doesn't hurt either.

10-27-2006, 09:07 PM
Well, I have a university degree in English (4 years), and a college diploma in journalism (2-year program completed in 1 year). I would advocate for the practical college program over the theoretical university program, for quick and dirty learning.

Nothing beats the university life for experience and adventure, but if you're not going to enjoy yourself because of financial stresses, you don't have to pursue a degree to get a job. I learned a lot of practical skills, writing, pagination, structure, etc., in journalism college, and it was quicker and cheaper.

Good luck in your decision.

10-27-2006, 10:13 PM
But to label all college grads as not interested in further learning is, in my opinion, quite inaccurate.

Stereotyping is always a bad choice. There is always an exception to glare at you.

It is impossible to stop learning. However, I have known many who have ceased to actively seek knowledge.

Melanie Nilles
10-27-2006, 10:35 PM
I have a bachelor's degree in Business Administration. Think I use it? Not really--wish I had gone with something more specific, like finance or marketing.

However, college gave me a lot more than book knowledge. It gave me, as others have said, people knowledge and experiences I would not have had anywhere else. It was tough to finish, but I can say that I stuck to something I believed in all the way. The sense of accomplishment is enormous, and the potential for a better job is always there.

Colleges and universities offer opportunities you won't find anywhere else, including connections through professors, businesses, and other students. The experience also teaches discipline. For me the learning process (and I did work full-time my last few years--six years total for my degree) jumpstarted my creativity and opened my eyes to some things I might not have considered otherwise. And there's another point--critical thinking skills. You'd be surprised how you begin to analyze the world more carefully and more objectively when you learn in a classroom setting. I think someone else said it got them out of their own little world. The lecture halls and working on projects for hours on end, many times in groups of other students you barely know, opens your eyes more than a bunch of close friends would. You learn to see things in a different light.

Anyway, that's my two cents worth.


10-27-2006, 11:27 PM
Think about yourself 20 or 30 years in the future. Ask your future non-college self if you wished you had gone to college. Then ask your future college self if you wished you hadn't gone to college. Be as honest with yourself as the people who have responded to this thread have been. How many of them said they wished they had not done it; how many said they wished they had?

Unfortunately, we all get just one go-round at our life. You can wonder if you would have been better off if you had or hadn't gone to college, but it will only be wondering. Some of us are already our future-selves, and we just might be able to answer for your future self.

10-27-2006, 11:40 PM
Get the degree. You may not see a direct result in terms of your writing, but it will make it much easier to get writing gigs, and other jobs will pay more, with the degree.

10-27-2006, 11:46 PM
There are so many more jobs and opportunities out there for the degreed people. It is definitely in your best interest to get a degree. I see many jobs where they do not even care what your degree is in, just that you have one. And even if it does not help you write better, it will allow you to get a job you enjoy, which will lower your stress, which will make you a better writer.

However, you do not have to go to the same school. There are plenty of options for working people, like University of Phoenix and whatnot. Go at night, work during the day.

My apostrophe key has suddenly stopped working. That is extremely annoying.

10-27-2006, 11:59 PM
I think the consensus here is to complete your studies and then pursue your dream with a better paying job and more opportunities in the future. This is sound advice that everyone is giving you. I completed college and earn a decent income (when I'm under contract) and couldn't imagine anything different.

Education is important for all professions and not just writers. I dare you to find a single writer (novelist) who thinks or believes college is a waste of time and money.

As Haggis said, and others also, getting an education is a life changing event that will only help you for many years to come.

I think this is a not such a difficult choice because you can always get another apartment, but you'll most likely never get the chance to go back and complete your education years from now when you're settled into an occupation.

Good luck!


10-28-2006, 01:55 AM
Yeah, of course intellectually I really want to finish college. I used to take pride in the kind of student I was, and I've always enjoyed learning. I can't deny that the classes I have taken have increased my writing skills in all aspects, and of course more education could only improve me more. It's just the position of my life at the moment. I almost think that I could keep my job and take a couple of classes at the same time, but at the moment I'm working 50+ hours a week, and I just don't know if I have enough hours in the day to complete my 10 hour work day, go to class, and finish my homework. Even if it was physically possible, is it mentally? Anyone have any suggestions to help me make this work? I'm open to pretty much any ideas.

10-28-2006, 04:58 AM
Try some online college courses like the University of Phoenix. I like the physical presence of college, but today it's not necessary to be in class with technology.

Good luck!

Carrie in PA
10-28-2006, 05:19 AM
Finish. You're halfway there.

I started college at 31 and didn't get very far. It's a hell of a lot harder than it would have been 15 years ago. (Shoulda, coulda, woulda...)

Take courses online. I did half of mine online, half in the classroom. There was immense value to both, and I didn't feel the online classes were lacking in any way. That'll give you a lot of flexibility with your schedule.

10-28-2006, 05:26 AM
Is there a way to decrease your monthly expenditures and keep your work hours down?
-Research grants and scholarships. Most are need based and many will include funding for room and board. My financial aid went directly to my school, but some of my brother's checks came directly to him and could be used for books and housing.

10-28-2006, 06:09 AM
Yeah, Florida does have an excellent financial aid system, I was thinking about checking that out. The trouble is, the hours I work aren't just for the money, it's also an issue of my work needing me. The online stuff sounds interesting. I know my school offers it, I just wasn't sure if it would be a quality educational experiance. Has anyone had good results with an online class?

10-28-2006, 06:18 AM
I haven't personally taken an online class. I know that a lot of traditional schools have been making courses that were once only available in a classroom, now taught primarily online. You only have to attend actual class a couple of times. And you still get all the benifits of a physical campus.
Also--any chance at all you could change your current job to something less demanding. Would you want to?

10-28-2006, 11:02 PM
I don't know if I want to. I like the job, and I like the money. I could cut my expenses back and move in with my mom, but I would like to see if I could avoid that.

10-28-2006, 11:53 PM
You don't have to take a full load; if you've done two years, you likely have all the GE requirements.

Go to the college and talk to them. They may well have suggestions for adult learners, including possibly some online classes. Many schools offer courses just for people like you who work during the day.

10-28-2006, 11:54 PM
I've never taken an online class; I do teach them. It depends on the class and the teacher; you can ask about the specific instructor and often, talk to people who took the class before.

Remember, you can and should shop for classes as carefully as you do for a car.

10-29-2006, 12:13 AM
Thanks for the advice everyone, though I do think that if I decide to do this, it's going to be very difficult.

10-29-2006, 12:21 AM
Keep in mind that many jobs that were available with a high school diploma now require a B.A. Also, taking the right courses in college can help you as a writer by teaching you the discipline of completeing tasks as well as exposing you to different writing requirements (I still shudder recalling that time I had to write two papers for two different professors - one liked the passive voice, one preferred the active past voice - at the same time). Unless you are independently wealthy, the college degree can open more doors for you so that you can support yourself while pursuing the writing career.

If you aren't set on a major, consider history. This is as "writing" intensive as English Literature but also exposes you to a broader spectrum of information that you can always fall back on for ideas for articles or books. History also teaches you research methodology which you will need regardless of topic or area.

10-29-2006, 12:38 AM
I wanted to go with Journalism.

10-29-2006, 12:41 AM
I went to school full time and worked fulltime; it's doable if you can find a job with hours that let you do it.

10-29-2006, 01:07 AM
In my opinion, it would be worthwhile getting your degree in the field of Journalism. It seems in ads for journalists for newspapers etc., it always asks for a college degree or diploma.

10-29-2006, 08:57 PM
Keep in mind that Journalism will teach you mechanics. However, you might want to add History or Literature as a second major or minor to ensure that you have some solid knowledge to back up the mechanics. Also, it depends entirely on what you want to write. If you are interested in Newspapers or going into newscasting, journalism is fine. If you want to write fiction, I would go with literature or history and maybe minor in journalism. If you are interested in technical writing, you would be better off taking some engineering courses, chemical, medical, hard science.

10-30-2006, 12:35 AM
Try some online college courses like the University of Phoenix. I like the physical presence of college, but today it's not necessary to be in class with technology.

Good luck!

I will echo this suggestion with experience. I am currently taking on-line master's courses through the University of Phoenix. I love it. It's hard on some days and easy on others, but with my job (I normally don't get home until almost 7pm most days and I leave by 9am), taking classes at a 'physical' campus just isn't feasible. But it's something I've always wanted to do and finally just did it.

So now, I just completed co-writing a novel with Chaos, still work full-time, am beginning to write book 2 of the series with Chaos and going back to school- also full time.

Let me explain a bit how this works. Phoenix runs its on-line classes back to back, rather than concurrently. So, you are taking one class at a time, but are still considered a full time student. (This is really important if you are applying for financial aid, as I did.) Classes and assignments go on a week by week basis and you need to 'participate' on four out of the seven days for that class week for credit. I can go to class at 1am, if I so desired. The library is completely accessible on-line and the classes are set up in a forum setting (exactly like it is here at AW).

PM me off list if you'd like to ask questions. It's not easy, but I do think it's worth while.

11-03-2006, 06:17 AM
Thanks for the great advice everyone!

11-03-2006, 06:48 AM
Okay, let's just assume for the sake of arguement that writing full time doesn't work out. Hey, it can happen, if you're in doubt, check out a post on the novel thread about the 6 million manuscripts that are available for publishing at any one time.

If you try to make a go of it as a writer at 24 with no degree and it doesn't work out, what do you have to fall back on? Semi-skilled work if your lucky. If you get your degree and writing doesn't work out, you can use it to do something else.

It will be increasingly complicated to get an education the older you get, so now is the time. Imagine trying to go to school full time when you have two kids to support.

My thought, and I'm a bit weird, is go get a two-year votech degree in something very useful, like copy machine repair. Get it done fast, get a good paying job to support you. Then with your new job in hand, you're able to completely support yourself and focus on writing, doing whatever classes you need to build your skills.

Good luck

Kate Thornton
11-03-2006, 07:36 PM
I got my Bachelor's Degree at age 47. It was hard. If I had finished at age 27, it would have made 20 years of my life easier or at least a bit more lucrative. I spent that 20+ years in the Army where a 4-year degree can mean the difference between being an officer and not being an officer. I worked my way up through the ranks to become a Warrant Officer, but a 4 year degree would have helped me get there quicker.

But I got that degree a long time ago, and in a discipline I loved - now I make a 6 figure income and write as often as I like. I make money from my writing too.

But the important thing - I heard this from a friend of mine who is a physicist - is to plan to do what you love for your life. Then prepare yourself as well as possible to make that happen successfully.

I think for you that would include finishing college early on so you can go to the next part of your life.