Professional Writing Degrees: Bachelor, Associate & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a professional writing undergraduate program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of an associate's and bachelor's degree and potential careers.
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Studying Professional Writing: Degrees at a Glance

Professional writing combines liberal arts and technical comprehension to improve communication between individuals and groups. A professional writer may write product descriptions, stories, technical instructions, letters between branches of a company, grant proposals, or many other types of documents.

While this program may seem ideal for those interested in the liberal arts, as it offers a directly marketable skill, it should be noted that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects many related jobs to grow very slowly from 2010-2020. Writer and author positions are projected to grow six percent, and editor positions will only increase one percent. Technical writing positions may grow by 17%, but these positions often require experience in a given industry, such as medical or computer technology, as well as a degree in writing.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Those interested in seeking an entry-level position in the writing field or who wish to learn writing skills to complement a more advanced degree Individuals interested in a career in writing professional or technical documents
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) - Copywriter ($42,000)*
- Proofreader ($41,000)*
- Editor ($54,000)*
- Web Writer ($48,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years full time 3-4 years full time
Common Graduation Requirements About 20-25 courses About 40-45 courses
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma or equivalent
Online availability Yes (hybrid) Yes (both fully-online and hybrid)

Sources: *Salary.com (info gathered June 2012)

Associate's in Professional Writing

An associate's program in professional writing focuses on the business and technical aspects within the art of writing. The courses in this degree can often be applied to a future bachelor's degree, either in writing, or in another discipline. Even if you take multiple courses on the same topic, some bachelor's degree programs will only allow credits from one course in technical writing and one course in creative writing to transfer. It's important to perform your due diligence before choosing classes and schools.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Improve your written communication, a valuable skill in most career fields
  • Gain marketable education without needing to commit to a longer degree
  • Degree can lead to immediate employment or can be used to complement skills learned in a higher degree

Cons

  • Few jobs have an associate's degree in writing as a requirement
  • If you intend to transfer to another school for a 4-year degree, some writing credits may not transfer
  • Many entry-level positions may require applicants to have a bachelor's degree

Courses and Requirements

This degree is typically built around an Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree, and you will be taking a variety of interdisciplinary courses as the frame of the degree.

In addition to the core courses, you will take a number of courses focused on the different aspects of writing. Though most of these courses will focus on the technical and business aspect of writing, some may cover the liberal arts side as well. Courses include:

  • Technical writing
  • Business writing
  • Writing for news
  • Creative writing
  • Mass media
  • Poetry

Online Course Info

Online courses are offered in many professional writing associate's degree programs. Writing courses lend themselves well to an online environment. These courses have the same completion requirements as on-campus ones, but are generally aimed at those who need a more flexible schedule.

In addition, some colleges offer online professional writing courses outside of a program. These courses are aimed at individuals wishing to improve their workplace communication skills and are generally open to anyone who wishes to take them, though there may be a fee for the course.

Stand Out With this Degree

Many careers involving professional writing are very competitive, and potential employers will often look for experience as much as education. A good way to stand out from the crowd is to find an opportunity to earn experience outside of your coursework.

An internship in the writing field will help provide this experience. Finding an internship in technical writing or journalism will improve your chances of landing a job after graduation. Another source of experience may be found in campus publications. A campus newsletter may have many student positions, including writers and editors.

Bachelor's in Professional Writing

A bachelor's program in professional writing will prepare you to serve as an editor, journalist or author in a variety of fields. Courses will cover written communication, critical thinking and computer skills, giving you the education and training necessary for working in multimedia, writing for websites, or writing for more traditional business purposes. In addition to regular coursework, the program will serve as a chance to build a portfolio of your work and will likely provide you with an opportunity to acquire practical experience working on professional projects. However, to work as an author, you won't necessarily need a degree.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Flexible degree can apply to careers in a range of fields
  • Learn current applications of computers in professional communication
  • Knowledge of multimedia and Web-based media will give you an edge in an increasingly digital field

Cons

  • Competition is often fierce, especially in printed media
  • Hours may be long and difficult as you work to meet a deadline
  • If working freelance, you will have to provide your own benefits, including health insurance and retirement funds

Courses and Requirements

Coursework is very similar to that of an associate's degree; however, junior and senior classes will often be advanced versions of courses previously taken during the first two years. You will have courses that will teach you how to create content for the Internet, write creatively and explain technical instructions. In addition to standard courses, the program will probably include experience in the form of internships or professional projects. You will also likely be required to complete a thesis or senior project before graduation.

Online Course Info

Many universities offer online courses with this program. In particular, the common core courses, such as beginning writing and technical writing, are usually available, allowing for a greater flexibility in scheduling within your degree program.

Online courses offered in a professional writing program usually have the same curriculum and often the same instructors as the campus-based courses. They are designed to teach the same concepts and mesh with the rest of the degree.

Stand Out With this Degree

Creating a portfolio of your work may offer you an excellent method of standing out amongst your peers. Many programs will help you put together your portfolio as you work toward your degree. By choosing projects that represent the fields you are most interested in, you can tailor your portfolio to those fields, improving your chances of finding a job.

As businesses move toward a more online presence with their written communication, it becomes more common for a professional writer to need an understanding of how to write for the Web. Choosing electives in these areas will provide you with the skills necessary for many new careers.

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