Many freelance writers have the mentality of lifelong learners. In fact, it is almost a job requirement. However, that does not always mean college. When it does, it is often difficult to decide exactly what degree to pursue.
Fortunately, there are many degrees out there that actually benefit freelancers more than just putting some new letters beside your name. Whether a degree will actually work for you — and by “work for you” I mean offer you a reasonable return on your investment — you need to answer a few simple questions. You need to look at your education from a business perspective.
How Am I Going to Pay for It?
Let’s face it: College is expensive, and you need to have some good ideas about how you are going to cover those costs. There are a number of ways for freelancers to pay tuition, and each has their advantages and disadvantages.
- Grants and Scholarships
This is obviously the least expensive way to attend college: you don’t have to pay back grants or scholarships. However, for many of these, you have to attend full time. This might not be a good option for you if you have a thriving freelance business. Not only do you have to factor in the time you spend attending classes, but homework and other related tasks as well.
Even if you can attend classes part-time, grants and scholarships do not always cover all of your costs like books and specific software you need for classes.
College for freelancers is often different than for more traditional students. You may be trying to expand your knowledge base or be more qualified so you can get better clients, but you are probably not bucking for a raise or looking for a new career.
So going into debt for school is risky. It may or may not pay off in the long run, and this is something you need to evaluate for yourself. Of course, it is always best as a freelancer to keep debt to a minimum, especially if you already have student loans. The good news is, you may be able to defer loans while you are in school and consolidate them when you are done.
- Client Payment
If a client wants you to be more qualified on paper for a particular assignment, they may be willing to pay for part of your schooling in order to get you the right certification or degree, especially if you already have a degree or are part way there and just need a few credits.
Often, this is simply about asking. If a client likes your work enough, often they will go to great lengths to keep you on their team. Keep in mind that writing is not a commodity — it is a skill businesses need, and they will often pay a high price to keep you engaged.
You can pay for classes yourself. This might be a good option if you are making good money as a freelancer, have an LLC, and can use the tax deduction. The biggest downfall of this method is cost: classes can run in the thousands of dollars, especially once you purchase books.
The advantage is that you control the pace of the schooling you take, control the costs, and don’t go into debt. However, if you get to the point where you cannot pay for classes any more for whatever reason, you may have to reset and look at one of the options above.
What Degree Do I Choose?
No matter what degree you choose to pursue, you will learn something. However, it is good for your degree choice to be focused on one of two things: either a skill or specialty where you write and need more credentials or on the business or skills side of writing.
If you need guidance, consult a degree guidebook directory that will let you know the types of degrees that are available, especially at the graduate level. Often these link to even more information about the degree, so you can determine if it is right for you or not.
Degrees in business, marketing, and accounting always work well for freelancers at the undergraduate level, and a degree in communication is also valuable (and you will probably learn some things).
At the graduate level, business and writing degrees are not all created equal. For instance, I am pursuing a Masters in Writing and Rhetoric instead of an MFA in Creative Writing because I like the rhetoric side of the degree, and it does open up opportunities for me to go higher in my education, whereas an MFA in Creative Writing is a dead-end degree, at least education-wise.
Graduate degrees in other specialties can work in your favor if you write in areas like healthcare, technology, or other niches where degrees are often equated with knowledge and status.
Should I Attend Online or in Person?
It used to be that online schooling was primarily offered by for-profit universities, degrees were often worthless in a short period of time, and credits did not transfer well, if at all.
However, online classes are much more respectable now, are offered by major universities, and include interactive and innovative learning sometimes superior to that of a traditional classroom.
For many freelancers, this is a better option. A flexible schedule is important to help you stay focused on client work while attending school, and the learning styles are often more appealing than on-site classes.
For some classes, though, in person lessons are superior. It depends on your field of study, and often a mix of both online and traditional classes is best.
As far as cost, most of the time the tuition is similar, the books cost about the same, but a certain amount of money and time are saved by not having to commute to campus.
When considering going back to school as a freelancer, there are a number of factors you should take into consideration. These are only a few, but by evaluating the cost and the return on your investment, determining how to pay for school, choosing a degree, and determining whether to go online or in person, you will have a good start on how to continue your education.