Do You Need a College Degree to Be a Copywriter?

Motivational quote board: Start where you are. Use what you have.

At almost every AWAI event I’ve ever attended — online or in person — the issue of college degrees has come up. New writers want to know if a college degree is going to make or break their careers.

Let’s start with the facts. Fresh data from the 2020 Census reveals that only 32% of Americans have a college degree (it’s similar in Canada, though a bit higher in the UK and Australia).

That’s a minority of the workforce, any way you slice it.

The reason for going to college used to be to prepare for a career … to get the additional necessary education to successfully do the job. And for some careers, a college degree (or several) may be a required step … But not all of them.

If a job requires specialized skills, like being an electrician, plumber, or mechanic, then a trade school teaching those skills might be a much more useful route.

In certain professions, you can be successful without a college degree — your skills and talents can get you hired.

The idea that everyone has to have a college degree is a more recent phenomenon than you might realize. Now a degree is supposed to indicate completion of a holistic educational experience — the concept that you’re more “well-rounded” by graduation. Of course, corporations — especially those utilizing electronic sorting algorithms — use that degree “tick box” to classify or eliminate job applicants.

Yet according to workforce studies of the post-pandemic recovery, it’s estimated there will be 55 million job openings in the U.S. — but of that, only 35% of those will require a bachelor’s degree.

Still, when writers ask me about college degrees, many do so in a tone of voice that implies they feel as though they are the only one in the world without a college degree.

I can feel their anxiety, self-doubt, and even embarrassment about not having a degree leaking out from every line they write me.

It’s a fear and worry that keeps far too many writers from launching themselves into a freelance career — or even an in-house writing life — that they’d love. And, since I’d like to help as many people as possible make the leap into the writing life, I’m going to tackle “the college question” head-on for everyone.

Together, right now, let’s look at three of the biggest issues around college degrees for writers. First, we’ll discuss whether or not you really need a college degree to have a successful writing career. Next, we’ll cover what to do if you want to apply for a job that asks for a college degree when you don’t have one.

Then — last but not least — I’ll share some tips to help you make yourself so attractive to clients, they’ll never even ask about your degree.

Let’s start with the big question …

Do You Need a College Degree to Be a Successful Content Writer or Copywriter?

No.

Again, NO.

And one more time, because it bears repeating …

You absolutely DO NOT NEED a college degree to be a successful copywriter.

We know very successful AWAI members who admit they struggled to pass English class in High School.

As Rebecca Matter has written:

I know so many successful copywriters who either have no degree, or would never disclose having a degree, simply because it doesn’t matter. And I couldn’t imagine ever asking a writer for their degree … I’d want to see samples. And if they have experience and a track record? Wow — even better.

In the world of direct-response writing, the focus is on outcomes and results. Did the email you wrote for your client get opened and lead to sales? Does the blog post get engagement and traffic? Is the social media account lively and attractive to prospective buyers?

So put your focus on learning the fundamentals, practicing and practicing some more, and working to polish your skills.

Your words are what will impress your clients.

If you can write clearly and persuasively — or you’re willing to learn that skill — clients won’t be asking about your education … They’ll be asking if you’ve got room on your schedule.

Makes sense, right?

Yet this is the part where writers nod along with me and say, “Yes, but …”

What If the Job Posting Asks for a College Degree?

In many job postings, you’ll notice as you scan down the list of requirements/preferred qualifications that the company asks for a degree.

Usually this is phrased as “Bachelor’s degree in English, Communications, Marketing, or other related field” or some similar verbiage. And all too often, this is where perfectly talented and skilled writers who happen to not have a college degree will sigh, click away, and give up on going after a job they would have absolutely ROCKED.

Don’t give up! You can work around this issue.

There are three things to do here:

  1. Apply for the job anyway. Leave the education section off your resume entirely, or fill it with relevant copy skills training courses. See if they even ask you (many times, they won’t).
  2. If you can’t move forward with the online application because “college degree” must be selected on the form, stop banging your head against that wall and go around it. Research who the marketing team members are and reach out to them directly with a well-crafted email introducing yourself and your talents to them. You can try to connect with them via LinkedIn also.
  3. Reach out to your writing network (the AWAI community groups are an excellent place to start) and see if you can get a referral into the position. Our profession is big in the sense of having thousands of opportunities available, but small in that there aren’t that many professional writers in the world. Using the “six degrees of separation” element of our industry can often connect you to almost anyone — and any job — you’d care to have.

These three tactics should help you get your foot in the door pretty much anywhere.

Although, that brings up the next thing many writers worry about — being ASKED about their college degree. The thinking goes like this …

‘I’ll be found out in the interview. They’ll hear I don’t have a degree and show me the door. I’ll be embarrassed and ashamed and have wasted everyone’s time.’

That’s the moment to remind yourself … You, as a trained persuasive writer, are capable of bringing businesses attention, customers, and sales. You get them Likes on their social media, opens for their emails, clicks on their sales pages, and money flowing into their pockets.

You’re not wasting anyone’s time offering your extremely valuable skills to them. Smart marketers are going to be thrilled to meet you, put you to the test, and then never, ever let you go again.

You just have to present yourself in the right way at the start …

How Can You Make Yourself so Attractive as a Writer That a College Degree Doesn’t Matter?

The first thing to remember is this: Focus on what you have, not what you lack.

All too often, writers without college degrees bring it up in an attitude of apologetic insecurity. “I’m so sorry, I don’t have a college degree.”

It’s a tone and verbal positioning of weakness.

You are not weak, inferior, or unworthy.

You are a WRITER.

Writers do not need college degrees. Writers need to get results.

So, shift the focus to what you have and what you can do. Be confident, solution-oriented, and full of ways to help.

As I mentioned earlier, you can fill the education section of your resume with copywriting training.

You can include a link to your sample portfolio in your cover letter, and mention the results you’ve gotten for other clients in your application and communications with the company.

Results and samples are HUGE to marketers and business owners — much more valuable than a college degree! (Don’t have samples or results to report? Here’s how to get them fast.)

So, your initial connection letter might read something like this:

Dear Amy,

Blogging is my specialty, and I noticed that you were looking for a weekly blogger for your fitness gym.

For more than three years, I’ve published blogs on fitness, body building, and nutrition for my clients.

One client saw a 30% boost in traffic to their website, and for another client, I created a blog series that helped them sell out their annual wellness retreat in just two days.

You can see these blogs — and other samples — in my online portfolio here.

I’d love to connect with you to talk more about how my blogging skills can help you get more traffic to your site and members in your gym. Would you be available next Tuesday or Thursday morning for a phone call to talk about your needs?

Sincerely,

Tom K.
AWAI Certified Writer

Or, you might write something like this:

Dear Matt,

Our mutual friend, Jared G., told me that you’re looking for a full-time sales letter writer for your “Opportunities in Tech” publication.

I’m attaching a recent sample letter created as a part of my AWAI financial writing training, along with a link to my current portfolio. Jared has also offered to serve as a consulting writer for me on my next project — which could be the project we do together.

Is tomorrow afternoon good for you for a phone call?

Pam L.

Neither letter is long. Neither mentioned a college degree. The emphasis is on what’s needed and how you can provide what’s needed.

That’s what counts in our business. And the ability to be the solution marketers need is what’s going to get you hired, again and again, for projects, part-time work, and even full-time positions.

So — though I can appreciate that it’s difficult — let go of the idea that not having a college degree will hold you back. If you want to be a successful writer, you can absolutely do that. We’ve seen it happen time and again.

And the sooner you start … the sooner you’ll see for yourself how much is truly possible.

For the resources you need to build up your writing skills, check out how you can get lifetime access to AWAI’s entire library of home study and business-building resources by going here.

And keep in mind if you start to worry about needing a college degree … Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg don’t have one … and they did okay financially. 😊 So can you!

Do you have any questions about how to get started? Share with us in the comments so we can point you to more resources.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


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Published: June 8, 2021

1 Response to “Do You Need a College Degree to Be a Copywriter?”

  1. Jen thanks for this article it seems to be a common problem when looking through job boards for writing opportunities. I know I have clicked away from listings due to the requirement of a college degree (started university but ended up not completing my studies due to a need to make an income large enough to survive and always told myself I would return some day to finish, still waiting for that day to arrive LOL) Your article makes some good points and you give great advise on how to work around the problem. Thanks for this

    NovyGuy


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