Online Creative Writing Degree Overview & Career Information
Online creative writing degrees are available at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and certificate levels. Students interested in writing careers may pursue an online degree in creative writing to hone their craft through virtual lectures, readings, and collaborative writing workshops. While an English degree may require more intensive literature study, creative writing coursework aims to equip graduates with the critical skills to analyze, interpret, and create content in a multimedia culture.
An online bachelor’s degree in creative writing requires approximately 120 credit hours, including general education classes and a university’s core requirements. Professional writers of various genres often lead workshops, where students review each other's work and provide feedback. To diversify students’ writing, a writing program’s curriculum may be somewhat broad — including classes in scriptwriting, editing, journalism, screenwriting, and poetry. While working toward this degree, students may build a robust portfolio of their creative work by practically applying their skills.
Creative writing coursework aims to equip graduates with the critical skills to analyze, interpret, and create content in a multimedia culture.
Standard admission requirements for students entering a bachelor's program in creative writing include the following:
- A minimum 2.5 GPA (or an additional review process may be required)
- High school transcripts, SAT, or ACT scores (may be waived for transfer students)
- A personal essay or statement of intent
- Many schools charge a nonrefundable application fee of approximately $50
Accreditation for Online Creative Writing Degrees
National or regional authorities — such as the Council for Higher Education Accreditation — evaluate whether a school meets the federal standard of a quality education in a process called accreditation. This quality assurance process proves that a school has an adequate amount of faculty, resources, and other facilities to conduct academic programs. Use the Department of Education’s search tool to verify a school's accreditation status before enrolling.
There are many reasons why verifying a school’s accreditation status is vital. For example, accreditation provides evidence for students, employers, and governing entities that academic standards are being met. Furthermore, in-person and online students must attend accredited schools to qualify for federal financial aid, such as grants and loans. This stamp of approval also makes transferring credits between schools possible. If students hope to pursue online MFAs or other master's writing degree programs and don't want to lose the credits they've already earned through a bachelor's program, their online school should be accredited like those in our rankings list above.
Common Online Courses for Creative Writing Students
A creative writing degree covers many specialties under the umbrella of liberal arts, so a variety of courses are often offered. The coursework helps students develop soft skills, which include critical thinking, situation analysis, and the ability to communicate across various media interfaces. Overall, a concentration in creative writing prepares students for careers producing fiction, non-fiction, and creative non-fiction. Programs may also offer internships that allow students to earn additional credits and gain practical experience.
Below is a diverse sampling of electives offered across the programs in our rankings list above.
- Advanced Poetry Writing: This online course delves into poetic form and technique, such as voice development, and what makes a poem engaging. The faculty guides students to explore their emotional truth, which is at the heart of writing poetry.
- Fiction Workshop: Students share their work with peers and receive feedback through collaborative workshop sessions. The coursework allows students to explore the complexities of fiction writing, from developing characters and plots to maintaining concise prose throughout.
- Forms and Techniques of Fiction: In this class, students learn how to analyze and imitate principal works of fiction in order to gain a historical understanding of the creative process.
- Playwriting: Students study the process and elements of playwriting, including character, plot, and conflict development. Students will become familiar with thinking and writing engaging dialogue, film scriptwriting, character building, three-act structures, plot points, and formatting techniques.
- Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing: Prospective fiction writers discover the rules and tools associated with writing sci-fi and fantasy. Based on prompts provided by the faculty, students develop their poetic language by writing short stories that evoke a sense of horror and convey alternate realities.
- Storytelling in Film and Literature: Overall, this course encourages students to explore narrative techniques and how they transpose to film. Students also investigate political, social, and aesthetic issues in narratives.
Careers with a Creative Writing Degree
An online degree in creative writing can prepare students for a breadth of professional writing opportunities, from scientific to speech writing. Areas of focus can vary significantly within creative writing careers, depending on an individual’s career goals and experience. For example, an online bachelor’s degree in creative writing can prepare students for career paths in new media editing and copywriting, advertising, public relations, and publishing.
Some writers want more flexibility and may choose to be self-employed. Freelance writers sell their stories to media outlets or contract with organizations to write through various mediums, such as web content. Freelancers usually charge by the word but may also charge hourly or by the piece. On average, freelance writers earn an hourly wage of $23.56, according to Indeed.
Below are some other popular career paths for those with an online creative writing bachelor's degree.
- Editors review content for grammatical and spelling errors, rewrite text to improve comprehension, evaluate writer submissions, and work closely with writers to develop their content.
- Median annual salary: $63,400
- Job outlook: 5% (slower than average)
- Journalists research stories and ideas, conduct interviews, and write articles for publication in a variety of media outlets. They analyze and convey information in a way that’s easy for a general audience to understand.
- Median annual salary: $49,300
- Job outlook: 6% (fast as average)
- Public relations specialists write press releases and speeches to help business leaders communicate effectively. In general, they help build and maintain an organization's public
- Median annual salary: $62,810
- Job outlook: 11% (faster than average)
- Technical writers, such as medical and scientific writers, develop user-friendly product descriptions, instructions, and other forms of content across various media platforms. While certification is often not mandatory, it can be attractive to potential employers.
- Median annual salary: $74,650
- Job outlook: 12% (faster than average)
Graduates with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing may decide to continue their education by pursuing a graduate degree in creative writing, such as an online master's degree. Advanced education prepares students to teach at the collegiate level or gain highly sophisticated writing skills, which can be essential when trying to get published. A doctoral degree may also be required in some cases, such as being an editor of long-standing journals.
Associations for Creative Writing Students
Several well-known writers' associations provide professional development and networking opportunities. These associations support writers by providing communities for them to connect, share best practices, develop skills, and search for employment. A wide range of associations exist for various genres of literature, such as the Academy of American Poets, Mystery Writers of America, and Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
Below are several prominent writing associations in the U.S.:
Authors' Guild (AG)
One of the country's oldest writers' associations, the AG supports working writers of all genres by providing a community for them that promotes networking. The AG not only provides a sense of belonging for writers but also advocates for their rights by ensuring that they are paid, treated well, and protected — especially their freedom of speech.
Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP)
The AWP provides support, advocacy, and resources for a community of nearly 50,000 writers. According to its mission, AWP “amplifies the voices of writers and the academic programs and organizations that serve them while championing diversity and excellence in creative writing.” Importantly, the AWP is also the governing body that evaluates MFA programs to ensure that they consistently provide high-quality education.
National Association of Independent Writers & Editors (NAIWE)
The NAIWE supports freelance writers of all kinds — including novelists, business writers, editors, and academic writers — by providing best practice guidance, networking opportunities, and writers' resources. A primary mission of NAIWE is to help writers develop multiple income streams by connecting them with freelance opportunities.
Is an Online Bachelor's Creative Writing Degree Worth It?
An online bachelor's degree in creative writing can be helpful for developing a student’s voice and providing a way for prospective writers to acquire the tools and techniques of the trade. The ability to write thoughtfully and clearly is valued across all fields and industries, making this degree path worthwhile for many. However, if a student's primary desire is to become a published author, that cannot be guaranteed with a degree. Being a published author not only takes skill but also talent, experience, and a bit of luck.
The ability to write thoughtfully and clearly is valued across all fields and industries.
Studying and writing from home may offer more flexibility and comfort than being on a busy campus and adhering to a rigid schedule. Since writing is often a reflective, solitary activity requiring uninterrupted attention, online coursework may make it easier for writers to focus. Furthermore, distance learning may help students develop self-discipline, time management, and organizational skills, which they can carry into their professional career. For example, an online degree may prepare you for remote work after graduation, especially a freelancing career. As technology improves and employers better understand the benefits of remote work, more jobs are transitioning online.
Ultimately, to determine a degree's value, students should consider their personal, financial, and professional goals. The following presents several pros and cons involved with earning an online bachelor's degree in creative writing:
- Writing skills are transferable to a wide range of careers. Creative thinking and written communication skills are two of the top five skills employers desire, regardless of the position. Organizations need employees who are articulate in both speech and writing. They are looking for people who can develop a strong argument and think outside the box. For example, if a job requires updating social media or corresponding through email, a creative writing degree could prove an asset.
- A degree program provides opportunities for networking. Students can connect with peers and mentors in the field — including authors, editors, and even publishers — throughout their program. Networking can help students navigate the publishing world, share advice and knowledge, and learn from the experience of others.
- Students can build a substantial writing portfolio. Through coursework and projects, students develop a diverse body of work, which they can later present to prospective employers.
- Completing course assignments may feel particularly restrictive to creative writers. Since the coursework in a creative writing program is intended to meet programmatic outcomes and objectives, it’s often highly specific. This focus removes some of the enjoyment, freedom, and inspiration from the writing process. Also, students may be required to write about topics that hold no interest for them.
- Writer's burnout is a common phenomenon. Due to the imaginative nature of writing, a kind of creative fatigue can arise that other professionals don't necessarily have to grapple with. This type of stress often involves decreased motivation and a harmful internal dialogue that prohibits productivity. To avoid writer’s burnout, writers need self-discipline and organizational skills to effectively manage their time.
- Some writing careers may not be financially sustainable. Writers who specialize in areas such as technical writing or public relations have bright job prospects and earn median annual salaries of $74,650 and $62,810, respectively. On the other hand, poets, freelancers, and fiction writers may not be able to rely on creative writing as their primary source of income.