Creative Writing Major Guide: Salary Rates, Career Paths & Best Colleges

Creative Writing Major Guide: Salary Rates, Career Paths & Best Colleges
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

At a time when there are many jobs at risk of automation, many students are looking to future-proof their careers by choosing academic paths that are less likely to be overrun by AI. As such, there are those that pursue degrees in more artistic fields such as creative writing.

The field of creative writing can open up various opportunities such as becoming a poet, a book author, or a publishing editor. However, as they are trained similarly to English degree majors, their fluency in the English language may also lead to other career paths such as copywriting, technical writing, and the like.

In this article, we will discuss the current state of the job market for creative writing majors and writers in general. We will show that when it comes to earning a living, you do not have to be pigeonholed to your college degree. Also, given the dynamic state of markets these days, it is also best to be flexible and well-rounded. Of course, this is not to stop you from pursuing your passion projects but to help you cope with the difficulties of getting them off the ground.

The Job Market for Creative Writing Majors

There is nothing wrong with big dreams. But it is best to temper one’s expectations with accounts of reality supported by known facts. This is especially important in planning on achieving those dreams. This is because there are so many possibilities in terms of routes to get there and alternative end goals. This is especially true for people who pursued creative and artistic fields in college. Many times, graduates of these fields, including creative writing majors, have to take on odd jobs not related to the field before landing their dream jobs or projects.

As you may know, literary figures T.S. Eliot and William Faulkner, among others, worked odd jobs before and even during their literary careers. Eliot worked as a banker and Faulkner as a postmaster (Petit, 2013). Many English or creative writing majors, of course, never had notable literary careers. Some ended up working in other fields like Nobel Prize Laureate Harold Varmus who graduated with a B.A. in English Literature but ended up as a physician. Of course, statistically speaking, many creative writing majors end up not having a career in literature per se.

Creative Writing and English Majors Key Job Market Statistics in 2019

JobsShareAverage SalaryPeople in the WorkforceConcentration (RCA)
Elementary and Middle School Teachers6.34%$51,46391,7273.16
Postsecondary Teachers6.31%$61,48191,3646.4
Lawyers, Judges, Magistrates, and Other Judicial Workers5.21%$172,68171,1047.22
Proofreaders and Copy Markers0.05%$28,0852,14020.9
Editors1.59%$73,20322,98318.5
Writers and Authors1.76%$72,67225,40915.7
Computer and Information Research Scientists0.01%$234,1275881.74
Physicians0.15%$218,97412,5981.48
Chief Executives and Legislators0.27%$202,71122,9581.7
Source: DATA USA, 2021


In fact, in 2019, the most common occupations for creative writing and English majors were elementary teachers (91.7k), postsecondary teachers (91.3k), and lawyers, judges, magistrates, and other judiciary workers (74.1k) (Data USA, 2021). The most specialized jobs with the highest concentration of English majors are (1) proofreaders and copy markers, (2) editors, and (3) writers and authors. However, the number of jobs available to these occupations is significantly lower than the most common ones.

Statistics also show that the industries with the highest pay for creative writing and English majors are not writing- or literature-centric. They are the wholesale electronic markets, agents, and brokers, electric lighting and electrical equipment manufacturing, and communications, audio, and video equipment manufacturing industries. The average salaries for English majors in these industries are significantly higher than the most common occupations for them.

What these statistics show, firstly, is that there are many career options for creative writing and English majors away from literature itself. This is because writing is an essential skill needed by any business in any industry today. The skills gained from creative writing training can also translate to many occupations. So, getting a job with your degree to stay afloat while pursuing your career goals is statistically highly probable.

What is a creative writing major?

A creative writing major is an academic program that trains students in creating original compositions of a vast array of literary works and in many different genres. Creative writing programs also teach to understand the various theoretical underpinnings of contemporary writing. Among these are aesthetics and technical aspects, including conventional formats for different types of works. These include poetry, fiction, non-fiction, scripts, and screenplays, among many others.

Programs may include courses for television scriptwriting, biographical writing, article writing, science writing, and many others. Theoretical courses are also offered and some are required. These typically include courses for various literary genres, literary devices and concepts such as “what is imagery“, general literature, and other specialized classes like Shakespeare. Largely, the classes offered by a program depend on the specializations of its faculty. Of course, general technical writing courses and seminars are ubiquitous.

Schools may also require students to attend seminars and workshops for credits, including other skill-building activities like internships. In order to graduate, students will also be required to submit their B.A. thesis in the form of a polished manuscript. This is to train students to specialize in a literary form or genre. It could come in the form of a play, a novella, or a collection of poems or short stories.

Top Creative Writing Major Programs

Creative writing programs are usually offered by the English department of a college or a university. There are several factors to consider when choosing a college or a program that is right for you. These include the general reputation of the school and the program itself.

Moreover, as pointed out by Heimbach (2021), the better its graduate programs for English, creative writing, and fine arts, the higher the likelihood that its undergraduate program will be very good. She also added that having a good graduate program is a sign that an institution has great alumni networks and many internship opportunities and, thus career opportunities.

Here are some of the best creative writing major colleges and universities in the country in no particular order.

Top Creative Writing Major Programs

InstitutionB.A. Degree Awarded
(2019-2020)
Master's Degree Awarded
(2019-2020)
In-State TuitionOut-of-State TuitionStudent-to-Teacher Ratio
Columbia University28128$61,671$61,6716:1
University of California6747$14,024$43,77822:1
Harvard University012$54,002$54,0025:1
Emerson College9734$51,148$51,14813:1
The New School890$51,022$51,0229:1
University of Iowa-53$9,606$31,35916:1
Emory University-34$53,868$53,8689:1
New York University047$54,880$54,8808:1
Brown University4013$60,696$60,6966:1
Northwestern University15$58,701$58,7016:1
Source: NCES, 2021

Creative Writing Major Requirements

To get into a creative writing program, one must present the usual requirements and credentials when they apply to a college or university. Creative writing major requirements, however, can vary from institution to institution. These include minimum GPA and SAT scores. Note that because of issues in logistics brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, testing requirements have been waived by many institutions. The general requirements are the following:

  • High school diploma or something equivalent (GED)
  • Transcript
  • Application and processing fees
  • Letter of intent
  • Recommendation letter(s)
  • Minimum GPA (varies)
  • TOEFL/IELTS for international students

These aside, it pays well to take your time in improving reading skills. This will prepare you for the rigorous reading requirements associated with this field of study.

Things to Consider Before Taking Creative Writing

If you are one of those people who are lucky enough to study what you love without worrying about money, then some of the things in this section would not really apply to you. However, if you are like many of us who have to earn money, then all of the things discussed below could help you temper your expectations and make contingencies while pursuing your passion. So, here are some of the things that creative writing majors could call their list of “what I wish I knew as a creative writing major.”

Market saturation? Find a niche. Choose a good minor.

As you can tell from the job statistics, the immediate prospect of English and creative writing majors are teaching. However, if you want to find work as a writer and considering the saturated job market today, it is best to have some expertise on things other than creative writing. As you may know, there are many types of writing and many other writing jobs. So, if you want to get a job as a writer, it is best to be good in other forms of writing as well. You can find a fallback niche in this way if you do not get a creative writing job or gig after you graduate.

Also, one good way to find this niche is to choose a good minor or enroll in courses other than writing. In this way, you can find decent work or even writing projects for specialized content or publications. For instance, you can get a job as a science communicator or a business writer. Taking journalism courses would also help if you are not opposed to working as a reporter or a content writer.

Find good internships

Many creative writing programs require students to undergo internships in order to graduate. Students should take advantage of this opportunity to learn on-the-job skills, including other non-writing-related skills and social skills. Moreover, internships are a good way to make industry connections. So, it is best to choose the ones that could help you get your foot in the door. It is your chance to build and maintain relationships with industry insiders. Plus, you will also get the opportunity to learn how businesses work. Thus, when you get to intern, be observant and take notes about how operations are being carried out. This includes the different job roles, departments, and company culture. Understand how everything is being put together and also the things that make the company successful.

Internships, however, can be costly. One can also spend long hours depending on where you are assigned. You can even be given odd tasks where you do not really learn anything new. But it is part of the experience of being employed and you are getting a taste of the real thing. Hence, you should get yourself mentally, emotionally, and financially ready for an internship. Just remember that you, first and foremost, are there to learn. So learn all you can while you are there.

In fact, you may learn about writing more during internships than in school. Campbell and Jacobs (2010) asked a rhetorical question in the book chapter “Toward a description of undergraduate writing majors” in What We Are Becoming: Developments in Undergraduate Writing Majors. They asked, “How many opportunities should undergraduates have to write in courses the specific kinds of documents—such as reviews, grants, or usability studies—that they might be expected to write in internships or in their careers?” They elaborated that many programs, depending on design, might not be the best way to prepare undergraduates for multifarious careers in writing as they focus on the general rather than the specifics that working writers do every day.

Thus, if you land a good writing internship, do the best you can to learn other types of writing, especially if these types of writing, not creative writing, will be your day job.

Day job and passion project

Many of us have to find employment to make ends meet. For many people, their jobs do not have a single thing to do with their dream careers. There are those who get disheartened and give up on their goals. However, this is not the way to go, especially when you know that you have not tried enough or did your best. If you are in this situation, it is best to think of your work as just your day job and find the time to pursue what you really want.

This can be hard but it is doable. As mentioned, major literary figures have done so as well. In fact, as you may well know, the prolific Stephen King has worked as a janitor before publishing his breakout novel. As Palmer (2013) has pointed out, it might be his experience as a janitor that led him to write the opening girl’s locker room scene in Carrie. T.S. Eliot worked as a banker and a clerk. He found time to compose passages while walking to work. Consider that Einstein—although not known for being a writer—also worked as a clerk at a patent office. It is general knowledge now that he might have used some inspirations from submitted patents to form his famous thought experiments.

Like them, you too can keep a day job and work on your passion project. Moreover, if your creative writing does not pay you enough, then you better be efficient using this setup. There is also another benefit to this as you can see below.

Learn other skills, get non-writing jobs

Author and educator David M. Harris (2009) pointed out that when your day job also involves writing, it will be hard to do some creative writing at night. It can be hard to churn out good material for your day job and more good material for your passion projects. Thus, he advised creative writing majors to find other work that does not involve writing, like plumbing or carpentry. In this way, your creative stamina will not be burnt out when it is time to work on your novel, script, or poems. So, it is best to learn other skills that are not related to creative writing per se.

You could also learn some skills in business such as marketing, PR, SEO, and management. These are something that modern businesses need and the demand for these skills is quite high. As Harris (2009) pointed out as well, you may find inspiration while working jobs other than writing. You may find inspiration for scenes or for characters from the people you meet, among other things. It helps you keep the boat afloat and see the world more, which could give you inspiration from your firsthand experience. These will also be handy when creative writing major salaries are not up to your needs.

Consider freelancing and online jobs

If you want a flexible work schedule, you can also consider freelancing. This can help give you more time and the wiggle room to work on your creative writing projects. There are many job marketplace platforms out there today and they are one Google search away. The competition can be tight, so you have to build your profile for employers. However, the demand for freelancers is quite high. There are also many other freelancing gigs that do not involve writing. If you have other creative skills such as video editing, graphics design, photo-editing, and the likes, you can also find gigs or, even full-time jobs online, with these.

Source: Upwork, 2020

What can you do with a creative writing major?

A creative writing degree does not equate to a job. So what can you do with a creative writing major?

As it turns out, there are many jobs where your writing skills and knowledge of literature can be used. In this section, we are going to highlight popular jobs that are a good fit. So, here are what you can do with a creative writing major:

Elementary and Middle School Teachers

Average salary: $51,463

One of the most interesting education statistics concerning creative writing majors is that most graduates become teachers. As indicated by the first table of this article, these occupations have the most share of creative writing graduates. Elementary and middle school teachers have a 6.34% share of creative writing majors. While most may teach English, language and writing skills are not the only things needed to be successful in these occupations. The top skills required are instructing (81%), speaking (81%), learning strategies (78%), critical thinking (75%), and active listening (75%) (O*NET OnLine, 2021). Work activities include coaching, organizing, and evaluating for compliance (O*NET OnLine, 2021).

Postsecondary Teachers

Average salary: $61,481

Teaching in colleges is the second most popular job among creative writing majors. The occupation has a share of 6.31% of all creative major graduates, with 91,727 people in the workforce according to the latest statistics. Creative writing majors in this occupation do to their students what their college or university teachers have done for them: teach them and evaluate their performance (O*NET OnLine, 2021). Core tasks include teaching writing or communication classes, evaluating and grading students’ work, preparing course materials, facilitating classroom discussions, and maintaining student records. They may teach other humanities courses depending on their expertise or minors. They can also create collaborative courses with other instructors or professors.

This is because creative writing skills can be very useful in other fields as well. In Nicholes’ (2020) article “Lab reports and horror stories: Exploring chemistry majors’ evaluations of scientific and creative writing” published in the Journal for Learning through the Arts, the author stated that creative and imaginative writing skills can also be leveraged by educators to “demonstrate how creative narratives do not lie beyond the boundaries of scientific discourse, as well as for reflective and writing-to-learn purposes for students.” So, creative writing skills can be used to convey scientific and philosophical views. Famous science writers with both imaginative and scientific styles of writing include Neil deGrasse Tyson, Matt Ridley, and Malcolm Gladwell. Interesting special courses can be made focusing on these styles of delivery.

Proofreaders and Copy Markers

Average salary: $28,085

The main tasks of proofreaders and copy markers are to mark copies to show errors in arrangement, type, grammar, and spelling among others (O*Net OnLine, 2021). They may also do some research work like comparing information from one source against others. Top skills needed for these occupations include reading comprehension, writing, speaking, and critical thinking. Among all occupations, proofreaders and copy markers have the highest concentration of creative writing majors with a revealed comparative advantage (RCA) of 20.9. However, only 0.05% of the overall population are creative writing majors, at 2,140, in the United States.

Editors

Average salary: $73,203

Editors’ top tasks intersect with those of proofreaders and copy markers. These include checking for errors in punctuation, syntax, and spelling (O*Net OnLine, 2021). They also verify information, facts, statistics, and dates using reference sources. However, depending on the place of work, editors may also develop story or content ideas for writers with consideration to audience or reader appeal. Creative writing majors make up 1.59% of the total 22,983 editors in the United States.

Writers and Authors

Average Salary: $62,070

These might be the most popular occupations for writers in general and in terms of conventional wisdom. Many people with these occupations work in different industries but are especially very popular in advertising. According to surveys by O*NET OnLine (2021), the most important task (88%) is discussing the products, advertising themes, and methods with clients for advertising copies. Other important tasks within these occupations also include writing articles, sales letters, bulletins, speeches, and other materials that are informative, including marketing and promotional ones. Also, the authors within this wide category of workers write fiction and nonfiction books according to their expertise and their audiences. The average salary for these occupations is $62,070, with the highest concentration in LA City (Data USA, 2021).

Technical Writers

Average salary: $76,477

There are more than 60,000 people who have listed technical writer as their occupation in 2019 in the United States (Data USA, 2021). Also, they are most often employed by the computer system design industry. Top tasks include the organization of material and the completion of writing assignments; maintaining records of work files and revisions; and editing and standardization of materials (O*NET OnLine, 2021). The highest paying industry for technical writers is the internet publishing, broadcasting, and web search portals industry (Data USA, 2021). Also, 7.5% of technical writers work in the management, scientific, and technical consulting services industry. This is only second to the computer system design industry with a share of 23.2% of these workers. Only 5.03% of technical writers work in the independent artists, writers, and performers industry.

Poets, Lyricists, and Creative Writers

Median salary: $67,120

These occupations might just be the dream careers for creative writing majors. People with these occupations write materials for entertainment or artistic purposes (O*NET OnLine, 2021). The top work activity, of course, is thinking creatively for the creation of artistic contributions. Core tasks could include writing fiction or nonfiction prose. These include biographies, articles, short stories, and novels. Some may even write essays and descriptive or critical analyses of other works. Depending on the place of work or the project, they also prepare works in the appropriate format. Other important skills to be successful in these occupations are organizational and social skills.

abilities by importance for cerative writers

Is a creative writing major right for you?

Well, it depends on what you want to do with your career, especially with the many types of work you can get as a writer. Remember, however, that creative writing skills and prowess alone would not let you survive in most occupations. This is until your breakthrough—when you would not need a job to stay afloat. Even when you are on your way to being a successful creative writer or author, you will still need many other skills as shown by the facts and statistics above. These include organizational skills, people skills, technology skills, and general knowledge of how things work.

Also, remember the main point of this article: temper your expectations with known facts about the general state of things in the job market. Of course, this is not applicable to everyone. Some are lucky enough to be born into a creative environment with many connections and jobs waiting for them after graduation. However, as the world of media and entertainment is getting wider and wider, thanks to the internet, it seems that the field is wide open for anyone who can write or create content well. There are so many niches now and avenues for publications that even web novels or fan-made fiction are getting traction. Even art, nowadays, can be technically forgiving, given the wave of conceptual works. But many of these things figure in the “what I wish I knew as a creative writing major” department.

Even if you lose interest in your initial field, there are also many other occupations that you can take up. Many English majors have ended up being in politics, being astronauts, physicists, and whatnot. It is all about being driven and inspired by what you value the most. Of course, a good deal of career planning is needed. So, good luck.

 

References:

  1. Campbell, L., & Jacobs, D. (2010). Toward a description of undergraduate writing majors. In G. A. Giberson & T. A. Moriarty (Eds.), What we are becoming (pp. 277-286). University Press of Colorado.
  2. Data USA. (2021). Creative writing. Retrieved October 7, 2021, from Data USA.
  3. Data USA. (2021). Writers & authors. Retrieved October 7, 2021, from Data USA.
  4. Nicholes, J. (2020). Lab reports and horror stories: Exploring chemistry majors’ evaluations of scientific and creative writing. Journal for Learning through the Arts, 16(1), n1. ERIC.
  5. Harris, D. M. (n.d.). Writing career advice: Careers for creative writing majors [Video]. eHow Channel on YouTube.
  6. O*NET OnLine. (2021). 25-2021.00 – Elementary school teachers, except special education. Retrieved October 7, 2021, O*NET OnLine.
  7. O*NET OnLine. (2021). 25-2022.00 – Middle school teachers, except special and career/Technical education. Retrieved October 7, 2021, from O*NET OnLine.
  8. O*NET OnLine. (2021). 43-9081.00 – Proofreaders and copy markers. Retrieved October 7, 2021, from O*NET OnLine.
  9. O*NET OnLine. (2021). 27-3041.00 – Editors. Retrieved October 7, 2021, from O*NET OnLine.
  10. O*NET OnLine. (2021). 27-3043.05 – Poets, lyricists and creative writers. Retrieved October 7, 2021, from O*NET OnLine.
  11. O*NET OnLine. (2021). 27-3043.00 – Writers and authors. Retrieved October 7, 2021, from O*NET OnLine.
  12. O*NET OnLine. (2021). 27-3042.00 – Technical writers. Retrieved October 7, 2021, from O*NET OnLine.
  13. O*NET OnLine. (n.d.). 25-1123.00 – English language and literature teachers, postsecondary. Retrieved October 7, 2021, from O*NET OnLine.
  14. Petit, Z. (2013, October 4). Before they were famous: The oddest odd jobs of 10 literary greats. Writer’s Digest.

Newsletter & Conference Alerts

Research.com uses the information to contact you about our relevant content. For more information, check out our privacy policy.