Study Writing: PhD, Masters & Online Degree Info

About this article
What kind of job can you get with a graduate degree in writing? Find out master's degree and PhD program requirements, online options and info on courses and writing programs.
View available schools

Writing Master's and PhDs: Degrees at a Glance

The opportunity to spend up to five years writing poetry or prose in a graduate degree program might sound ideal. But if you're interested in becoming an author or writer, you should be aware that not only is an advanced degree in writing unnecessary for success in this field, it also does not guarantee it. Moreover, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected job opportunities for writers and authors to grow only 6% from 2010-2020.

Using your master's degree or PhD to teach writing at the community college level could offer more promising job prospects. Employment opportunities in this field were projected to increase 17% over the same period, according to the BLS.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Writers who would like to get published, teach creative writing at the community college level or continue their education Aspiring writers and postsecondary teachers who would like to work at 4-year universities
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Writer or author ($68,000)*
- English language and literature teacher ($69,000)*
Same as master's degree program graduates
Time to Completion 2-3 years, full time About five years after the master's degree, full time
Common Graduation Requirements- Approximately 36 credit hours
- Master's thesis or project
- Students could also be required to demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language
- Approximately 45-60 credit hours of coursework beyond the master's degree
- Dissertation
- Comprehensive examinations
- Demonstration of proficiency in a foreign language could also be required
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
- Writing samples; undergraduate coursework in advanced English and a foreign language are also required by some schools
- Master's degree in creative writing, English or a related field
- Applicants to some programs must submit writing samples
Online Availability Hybrid and online programs are common Not at this time

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 data).

Master's Degree in Writing

Available master's degree programs can range from a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing to a Master of Arts in Professional Writing. Both program types allow you to choose a specialization in an area such as composition and rhetoric, fiction, nonfiction, poetry or screenwriting. You might also be encouraged to choose electives in a second genre in order to get the most out of your degree program.

Admission to these programs can be competitive. Some schools require applicants to submit written portfolios containing critical and creative writing samples of at least 20 pages.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Graduate writing programs allow you to receive instruction from published authors and screenwriters
  • Writers are generally self-employed, which could allow for a flexible schedule
  • English language and literature teachers at the community college level are, on average, paid wages comparable to those of teachers at professional schools, colleges and universities*

Cons

  • A job as a writer or author generally only requires a bachelor's degree
  • Competition for writing jobs is expected to be strong over the 2010-2020 decade
  • Schools might prefer community college teachers who have a doctorate

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

Writing master's degree programs often begin with 1-3 core courses that introduce you to professional or creative writing techniques. Other common topics of study can include the following:

  • Technical writing
  • Creating characters
  • Professional editing
  • Creative writing pedagogy
  • Writing for film and television

Writing workshops could also be a large part of your program's curriculum. You might be required to pass a comprehensive examination as well. Completing a thesis or capstone project is another common requirement.

Online Degree Options

Distance education options are readily available for students interested in pursuing a writing master's degree. Many 4-year universities offer hybrid programs as well as those that can be completed entirely online. If you're pursuing a master's degree while working full time, these programs' flexible course schedules could be ideal.

Stand Out with This Degree

Learning how to use the latest computer software and writing for online media could give you an edge in a competitive job field. Consider taking a course in desktop publishing or new media. Enrolling in a program that also offers internship opportunities with a publishing company, newspaper or magazine can also give you the experience necessary to succeed after you graduate.

Other Degrees to Consider

If the below-average employment outlook for writers and authors has you considering other degree or career options, you might want to think about pursuing a master's degree in technical communication. While a bachelor's degree is generally all that's needed to become a technical writer, a graduate program can also provide you with the training you'll need to produce such documents as user and instruction manuals for scientific, medical or computer technologies.

A 17% job growth was projected for these professionals over the 2010-2020 decade, according to the BLS. Moreover, technical writers earned salaries comparable to those of writers and authors. Their average earnings were just over $67,000 a year as of May 2011.

PhD in Writing

Writing PhD programs can focus on creative writing and literature, rhetoric and writing, or creative writing. These programs might be ideal if you're looking to develop your teaching skills or hone your creative writing abilities. The biggest difference between these programs and a master's degree in writing is that you'll spend additional time researching literary theory and history. Creative writing programs will also include workshops through which professors and peers critique your work; however, the MFA is considered the terminal degree for creative writing, so advancing to a PhD program is unnecessary unless you want to become a university professor.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Teaching at a college or university allows you to have a flexible work schedule
  • The job outlook for postsecondary teachers is favorable*
  • Becoming a tenured professor gives you a great deal of job security

Cons

  • It can be stressful to try and balance research and teaching responsibilities as a university professor
  • Universities are beginning to hire part-time and adjunct instructors instead of full-time tenured professors
  • By the time you complete your PhD program, you could have spent around 12 years in school

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

Coursework for a writing PhD program often includes a handful of core courses covering such topics as literary theory, composition and rhetoric. You might also complete seminars, workshops and independent study courses in your area of interest. Programs requiring foreign language proficiency could allow you to take coursework in this area as well.

Other program requirements include passing scores on oral and written comprehensive examinations. You'll also need to propose, write and defend a dissertation.

Online Degree Options

Although there are a few online degree options for students seeking a PhD in an area such as English or technical communication and rhetoric, writing programs that can be completed via distance education are unavailable at this time. These doctoral programs' research and course requirements must be completed on campus.

Stand Out with This Degree

According to the BLS, strong competition is expected for tenure-track teaching positions. To get an edge over others in the job market, consider acquiring work experience as a teaching assistant while enrolled in your PhD program. Finding ways to publish your fiction, poetry or nonfiction can also help you gain employment.