As a high school student who is a talented creative writer, you're probably seeking out an undergraduate university program where you can develop and apply your gift. Most colleges with a liberal arts program offer courses in creative writing. Depending on the style of writing you want to pursue, and the kind of focus on writing that you're looking for, you may benefit from learning about the differences in the top 10 undergraduate creative writing programs.
How Do You Make A Career Out of Creative Writing?
Many people hoping to build a career as a creative writer wonder what the best schools for writing are and how to get into them. It can be difficult to navigate a career in any creative profession. Writing is unique in that it is a skill that is required in a variety of professions and almost every field.
However, if you are a creative writer you may be looking to develop your skills in the direction of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, screenwriting, playwriting or more experimental work. On the other hand, you may want to bring your creative writing skills and sensibilities to a commercial forum that could use them, like a place that needs a good quality copywriter or marketing writer.
Why Make a Career Out of Creative Writing?
The good news is that depending on the skills you're looking to build, you will find that writing is an immensely valuable and marketable skill if you're willing to work hard. Opportunities for writing work are available in industries as diverse as law, advertising, medicine, public service, social work, fashion, the beauty industry, childcare and environmental protection.
But where should a young writer go to study creative writing? There is a myriad of possibilities, especially for students with talent. Many people agree that it's not attending a top MFA program that will make you a good writer, but your desire to pursue the craft and practice, along with pushing through frustration and challenges to increase your skills.
What Is the Best College for Creative Writing as an Undergraduate?
There are a number of programs where a person might choose to study creative writing. Creative writing can be pursued at the undergraduate level, the graduate level and even the postgraduate level. However, there is no educational requirement to become a writer. Unlike a doctor, an architect or a dentist, a writer doesn't have to have a degree to pursue his or her art. However, many people find studying with professional writers in classes with other aspiring writers helps to galvanize their motivation and elevates their performance.
At the undergraduate level, Northwestern University's Creative Writing program is considered one of the very best in the United States. The school also has a journalism program for students interested in pursuing nonfiction writing at the professional level.
Columbia University has an excellent undergraduate creative writing program as well. Its proximity to New York City's many publications, publishing houses and literary networks make it a top choice for the serious writer. Emory University's undergraduate creative writing program is equally well-renowned. In addition to excellent professors, the school has a unique lecture series and question and answer sessions with top writers.
On a smaller scale, Oberlin College in Ohio boasts intimate seminar-style classes and an immersive progressive environment. Writers who are interested in exploring English, literature and the other arts will be right at home. In upstate New York, Hamilton College is another small school with an impressive creative writing faculty, small class-size and ample opportunities for publication.
What Are the Best Colleges for Creative Writing at the Graduate Level?
Many students enter their undergraduate years in college knowing exactly what they want to do with their lives after they graduate. However many don't discover the career that they believe to be their passion and purpose until much later in life. Many people find that it isn't until after they've graduated and spent some time in the working world that they realize what they'd actually prefer to be doing with their lives. This is often what motivates students to apply to graduate school.
Graduate school programs in creative writing are generally called MFA programs. The top MFA creative writing programs are specialized. They are where students devote all of their study time to pursuing their writing and have the benefit of small classes, personal attention from professors and access to noted literary figures. They are also expected to not only study the work of great writers but to produce a good amount of their own work as well and be constantly working on their writing.
One of the best and most renowned MFA programs in the country is at the University of Iowa. The Iowa Writer's Workshop is remarkable in the breadth and scope of its curriculum and its impressive faculty. A close second is Brown University's MFA program, which requires students to not only work on their writing but read widely as well. MIT and Johns Hopkins are two schools that are best known for their science and engineering programs, but they have formidable creative writing graduate programs that are well worth considering.
What Do Students Learn at Writing Colleges?
Creative writing is often available to select as a major at the undergraduate level, but most students who are pursuing their bachelor's must study other topics. Whether you have declared your major to be creative writing or are an undeclared major, you will more than likely be required to take classes that are outside of this area of interest. This is actually a good thing, as most studies external to your writing major will help to influence and shape your writing in positive ways.
Almost all writers agree that one of the most important things for creative writers to study is the writing of others. Reading extensively broadens the mind both in terms of topics and in use of language. Getting familiar with a writer's voice and a writer's use of words is an excellent way for writers to strengthen their own work and improve it. Creative writers often study English or literature and in particular the literature of countries outside of their own.
In addition to studying writing, literature and English, most creative writing majors will find themselves taking a linguistics course. Linguistics is a sort of language-science. Depending on the writer's interest in the subject of language development, it can become a valuable tool for his or her development as a writer. Writers may also study history, journalism, sociology, psychology or science. The belief that a wide range of interests and a broad scope of the study is beneficial to writers is shared by most people in the academic world.
What Should You Major in to Become an Author?
To become an author, you need to write. To write well, you need to read. If you are hoping to do a particular kind of writing, like poetry, nonfiction or criticism, it's a good idea to read a great deal of that kind of writing. However, it's also important to read other styles of writing from the kind you practice yourself and to read other authors rather than the ones you typically gravitate toward. For this reason, many people who hope to become writers choose to major in English or in literature.
There is not one particular major that is required for people who are hoping to become authors. For the vast majority of people who become published authors, their college major was not a deciding factor. Many people major in subjects like science, art history, pre-medicine or economics, only to find that their calling within their field or outside of it is in writing. The best way to become an author is to study the topics that interest you and to write about them and to do it often.
However, if you are planning to be an author, and you feel that your writing skills are currently subpar, your undergraduate years are a fantastic time to change this for the better. You can take courses in writing, in history, in linguistics, in literature, in philosophy or psychology. All of these humanities courses will require you to read a lot and to write about what you're reading. These are also all excellent majors to help you explore your curiosities and find out exactly what it is that is most compelling to you and that may help you improve as a writer.
What University Has the Best English Program?
English has long been a very popular subject for writers and authors. In addition to the history of the language, English majors typically study the history of literature, writers and the public's response to their work. Pursuing an English major is one of the most valuable things a writer can do. It allows you to spend time learning the history of literature in English, the use of language, and the ways in which it has been utilized to evoke emotion and appeal to readers.
In the United States, there are many prestigious universities with excellent English programs. Among them are the Ivy League colleges like Harvard, Princeton, Brown, Yale and Columbia, which are renowned for their humanities departments and include the study of English and the English language. Additionally, UC Berkeley has one of the most celebrated English language programs in the country. In the same part of the country, Stanford University boasts another strong English department.
The University of Chicago is another strong choice for hopeful English majors. Also in Chicago is Northwestern University, which is another formidable school for students pursuing studies in English. On the east coast, there are schools like Johns Hopkins, New York University and Rutgers University, which have very strong English departments. Many state and city colleges like CUNY Graduate Center, UC Irvine and Penn State boast excellent English programs that are just as impressive as many private colleges.
What Colleges Are Best for English Majors?
It's difficult to say which are the best writing colleges because each individual's experience will be different. Ultimately, a writing college is not simply good because it has a strong faculty or access to good libraries, speakers or publishing opportunities. All education is largely self-directed. If a student is motivated to seek out opportunities for learning, growth and intellectual development, a strong English program and a strong English department are bound to be tremendous assets in his or her learning.
The best way to select the right college to pursue your English major is to think about the kind of student you are. Are you self motivated? Do you need structure? Do you need small class sizes? Do you want personal attention? What is most important to you? Is it access to professors with good reputations or opportunities to publish? Once you know exactly what it is that you hope to get out of your English major, you can be more deliberate in your selection of a college program.
Ashley Friedman is a freelance writer with experience writing about education for a variety of organizations and educational institutions as well as online media sites. She has written for Pearson Education, The University of Miami, The New York City Teaching Fellows, New Visions for Public Schools, and a number of independent secondary schools. She lives in Los Angeles.