I Took on Student Debt to Get a Degree in Creative Writing; Here’s Why I Don’t Regret It
Guess who’s the poster child for a millennial who got a “useless” humanities degree and then graduated into an economic depression only to be underemployed for the next several years that followed?
Did you guess me? Because the answer is me.
Here I am saying it against all the naysayers and Facebook memes and the talking heads on cable news and all those complaining that I’m ruined because of all the participation trophies that I supposedly got (that I never actually got)… I took on student debt to get an undergraduate degree in creative writing and I don’t regret it.
Back it up…
Got to cop to some roughly middle-class financial privilege before I go any further. My parents were able to help with part of my tuition so I didn’t go into as much debt as I could’ve. I also had the financial and physical safety to live with them after college while I got my career feet under me and focused on using extra funds to pay down my debt fast. I get that not all people have that and this is not me trying to tell all of you to go get your dream degree despite the financial burden.
This isn’t advice. This is perspective.
What I went into knowing…
I knew a degree in creative writing didn’t have a clear line to a career from it. (Although in practice it was applicable to any job that generally asked for ‘English, Communications, or related degree.’ ) I went in with the youthful idealism of getting that degree, sure, but if not creative writing it would have been a major in English or Literature or — at the very most practical — Communications. I did not scorn a business degree or an engineering degree or whatever “practical” degree the pundits are telling millennials we should’ve had the foresight to have gotten 10 years ago for the job market of right now.
Despite the vaguely-sexist-when-you-think-about-it suggestions through my high school years that I consider becoming a nurse or a teacher (apparently the only two jobs for women?), those didn’t even make my long list of considerations; I knew I didn’t have the personality or patience for either.
I was always going to end up in the “impractical humanities.” And the day job career I have now — public librarian — doesn’t even have a bachelor’s degree for whatever reason.
So I went in knowing that this — Creative Writing — was a degree of passion. Not of practicality. Not of monetary gain. Not of job prospects. Pretty much everyone who was in the creative writing major was on the same page with that. Especially those focusing on poetry because while we fiction-writers could have the delusions of runaway bestsellers, poets pretty much knew where their artform ranks in the popular zeitgeist.
While it’s questionable how much eighteen-year-olds can really understand what financial situation they are getting themselves in (especially back before student loan debt became such the topic of a national conversation), I knew enough.
Sometimes I do regret it…
Look, my time getting a BA in creative writing is tied up with my time being a college student. A lot of self-development happened in that time between just turning into an official adult and just turning into an official adult who is over the drinking age. Friendships made and lost. Independence gained. Self discovered. And also got a bachelor’s degree out of it which is pretty much a necessity for a heck of a lot of jobs. And because it was a bachelor’s at a liberal arts college, of course, I had to take a well-rounded sampling of “core” courses (a fancy term for gen-eds) alongside my writing courses.
Yes, I already said I didn’t regret it in the title of the article, so what’s the point of this section?
There were times I did regret it. Strangely, not for ‘I’m in debt and can’t find a job’ reasons. (I graduated into a recession; we were all in debt and none of us could find jobs.)
Post-graduation, in my early twenties, I struggled a lot with writing. I lacked motivation and inspiration. My creative writing program had been heavily ‘literary fiction’ focused and part of my head absorbed the lesson that this should be the genre I aim to write for. All in all, I lacked voice and vision. When I finally broke through that years’ length writer’s blockade, I blamed my creative writing education. I thought that had it had stifled my creativity with anxiety and pretentious limitations.
Looking back now, I see it more as a necessary, if painful, growth period. Struggling to find my writerly voice was part and parcel of actually discovering it. My memories are now more forgiving to the creative writing program. Yes, I do not agree with every notion on writing I was taught there, but in disagreeing and understanding why I disagree, I learned. Because I was challenged. (And overall, I had a good experience with all my creative writing professors.)
At the end of my undergraduate time, my peers and I had to decide the next steps to make. Some went on to apply to graduate school to get a Masters of Fine Art in creative writing. My advisor wanted me to do that as well. Others were looking ahead to how we could apply said BA’s in creative writing to the workforce.
I chose the second option. Because I knew that what I needed was to live out in the “real world” of not-college instead of staying under its hallowed halls and so-called hallowed opinions on what makes writing good. And I don’t regret that either. Maybe even then I knew I needed to find my voice and that I had to do it on my own.
The arts matter…
Getting a degree of passion is not the right choice for everyone, whether financially or creatively. As I’ve expressed in many articles, writing methods are highly individual. A workshop model or academic program may cause some writers to thrive and others to wilt. I cannot even give you a litmus test or set of parameters to decide that for yourself. And I do believe there are many wonderful forms of self-education available in writing and that formal education is not a prerequisite — at all — to being a good writer.
But I also believe that there is no such thing as a useless degree — whether creative writing, painting, dance, 16th-century Russian poetry, whatever. I do not believe that education should solely serve as the end means of placing someone in a job. (Although if that’s what you personally want to use your education for, that’s completely legit.) Education shouldn’t be about money (and it unfairly is) and in an ideal world, money wouldn’t be the barrier keeping anyone from studying anything they wanted.
But short of that dream coming true, this point still stands.
The arts matter. Creativity matters. The humanities matter. Critical thinking matters. Aesthetics matter. Education for the pure sake of education matters. Their use and value should not be judged by their profitability.
I’m basically Robin Williams in the middle of Dead Poets Society here: “Poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”
So, no, I don’t regret getting a degree in creative writing. Even if such degrees of passion is not for everybody, this is what I know: I would have never been happy or satisfied studying something safe instead.