No Degree? No Problem! Start Your Freelance Writing Career Now

No Degree? No Problem! Start Your Freelance Writing Career Now

If you’re thinking about becoming a freelance writer, there’s a good chance you feel underqualified. It’s okay. It’s something almost all of us went through when we started freelancing.

You might not have any professional writing experience. Maybe you don’t have any writing samples. And what happens if you dropped out of college? Would you have better luck getting work if you had that fancy degree?

I do have a bachelor’s degree in the field. (It’s a mouthful, but here it goes: I hold a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis on professional writing and a minor in social media marketing.) And guess what?

I didn’t really need it.

This is actually something I learned quite early once I decided to freelance full-time. If my only reason for getting a bachelor’s degree was to get a job, I would have dropped out of college within my first year of freelancing full-time (which I was doing while going to school). In my case, I got my degree because it’s always been a dream of mine, but I didn’t need it to become a successful freelancer.

As someone who’s worked as a freelancer on both sides—without a degree and now with one—I can offer a little insight into the topic. Take a look.

What They Don’t Teach You in College

Let me be completely honest with you. While I learned a lot in college, most of the skills I use in my freelance writing career are self-taught.

While I learned a lot in college, most of the skills I use in my freelance writing career are self-taught.Click To Tweet

Yes, I took classes in writing press releases and putting together media kits and writing for the technical industry. But most of that I don’t actually use… and most of it you can learn free online.

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I also learned a lot about marketing, psychology, and graphic design, but these skills—while helpful—are far from the main focus of my job.

As someone who specializes in blog writing, I found that college didn’t teach me anything new about making a living as a freelance blogger. I had one social media class where our course project included starting a blog. And since I already knew how to write blog posts and work with WordPress, I didn’t really learn anything in that class (but at least I aced it!).

Here are just some skills I use as a freelance writer that I didn’t learn in college:

  • Writing blog posts
  • Finding clients
  • Managing self-employment taxes
  • Working with WordPress
  • Negotiating my rates
  • Pitching guest posts to publications
  • Networking with influencers
  • Tracking my income
  • Working with contracts

Where did this knowledge come from? Most of it came from reading blog posts (and a lot of them). Others came from paid coursework I took through freelance writing mentors. And most of it came just from doing it, from learning from my mistakes and improving every chance I got.

Do Clients Value a Degree?

While I wasn’t going to school to kick-start my career (since I was already freelancing), I did think that once I had my degree, I’d suddenly start making more money.

That wasn’t actually the case.

I raised my rates on my website because I thought that having a bachelor’s degree would make my services more valuable. However, I’ve had very few people bite at those rates. (Luckily, my other clients are on-going, so I still have a steady stream of work.)

Not a single client or contact has mentioned my degree. No one says,

“I’m impressed that you hold a bachelor’s degree!”

You know what they do say?

“I’m impressed by your writing samples.”

Because, you see, clients don’t care if you hold a bachelor’s degree. What they do care about is if you can write.

And a degree doesn’t prove that. A portfolio does. Testimonials do. Social proof does.

And a degree doesn’t prove that. A portfolio does. Testimonials do. Social proof does.Click To Tweet

A college degree matters more if you’re writing in a specialized area. For example, a client in the science industry is going to want to work with someone who knows a thing or two about science. Therefore, someone with a degree in physics is probably more suited for that job than someone with a degree in journalism.

Building your portfolio and finding your first clients without experience are topics for another post, but the point is this: If you don’t have a degree in some writing-related field, don’t let it bother you; it won’t bother your clients.

Is a Degree Necessary to Become a Freelance Writer?

I think we’ve established pretty well that you don’t need a degree to become a freelance writer. While the experience and clips help later on down the line, all you need to get started is a little writing talent and a willingness to succeed. Everything else you need to know about freelance writing you’ll learn and acquire through the experience.

The best place to start, in my personal opinion, is freelance writing communities.

The best place to start, in my personal opinion, is freelance writing communities.Click To Tweet

This can include blogs like this one, online forums, courses from other successful freelance writers, Facebook groups, etc.

In these communities, you’ll be able to ask specific questions, learn through videos and articles, and even get information about available jobs. My first decent-paying client actually came from another writer I’d met through an online forum. She knew I was looking for work, so she referred one of her old clients to me.

In Conclusion

Does any of this mean I don’t value my degree? Of course not! I wouldn’t have finished it if I didn’t value it. But my degree is more about me as a person and less about me as a freelance writer.

Don’t get caught up in the idea that you need to have a degree or professional writing experience before you jump into the world of freelancing—and don’t make the mistake of thinking a degree will help over other valuable qualifications if that’s your only reason for going back to school. The information is out there, and you’ll find it without a college degree…

…or heaps of debt, for that matter.

Do you have a writing-related degree? Never went to college? Dropped out? No matter your level of college experience, you can become a successful freelance writer just as much as the next person. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments below.

Alicia Rades

Professional Blog Writer at AliciaRades.com
Alicia Rades is a professional blogger for hire who specializes in blogging, freelancing, and lifestyle topics.

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31 thoughts on “No Degree? No Problem! Start Your Freelance Writing Career Now

  1. Hi Alicia,
    You right that to become a freelancer no one needs a degree, but they only need to work and must be knowing about their work. So, Thanks for sharing.
    Have a good day.

  2. Hi Allicia,

    I always feel legendary while seeing your posts!!

    This post is a great insight for me. I always use to feel that Degree is the valuable thing which makes a man to reach the next level and me also afraid of paper writing due to the lack of skill.

    But now, it is a great pleasure for me, and I had a great new hope of kickstarting the works of being a freelancer.
    This is so generous of you

    Regards,
    Sathish Arumugam

  3. Hi there Brent,

    Believe me, this post is a life saver for me, due that I don’t want to take a papper degree and without getting the skills that I want. I think it’s better being a freelancer, learning things that you are interested in, and not school interests.

    Regards,

    Clay Smith

    • Hi Clay,

      If you have the time and money, there’s no harm done obtaining a degree. I would just recommend choosing a field that may eventually allow you to realize a return on your investment.

      But if you’re thinking of going to college just for the sake of going to college, you should probably wait a year or two and then decide. Teach yourself the skills you need to thrive in this new gig economy in the meantime.

      Best wishes,

      Brent

  4. I feel like when I want to do something or achieve something, I can hardly get to it. But when I don’t focus on something and I could relax myself a little more and practice my way up to where I wanted. But still, I do feel fine when I can’t dunk a basketball.

    Really happiness first more than anything else.

  5. I agree with you, Brent. Alicia is a gem and any readers who havent yet visited AliciaRades.com are in for a positive experience when they do. (Another of my favorites is Elna Cain of ElnaCain.com.)

    Like you, Alicia, nobody has ever commented on my degree which – like yours – is a mouthful. Mine’s a Bachelor of Internet Science & Technology. Or BIST for short, but who’s ever heard of that?

    It probably gives me an edge if I’ve managed to catch the attention of a prospective client in a somewhat-related field, but who knows. So I totally agree. It’s your writing samples that are the make-or-break. Not your degree or other studies.

    • Hi Gary,

      Great of you to stop by and leave a comment for us!

      Elna and I try to grab a call (or at least an email exchange) once every so many months. Aside from being a fellow Canadian freelancer, she’s a total rock star. Both Alicia and Elna are great resources — plenty to learn from each.

      If you haven’t already caught it, Elna published a guest on my blog a few months ago. And Alicia was a guest on my show Better Freelancing. You might be interested in both of those posts.

      I personally don’t have a degree. I did a year of political science in university, and a year of business in college, but eventually dropped out of both to pursue a career in sales. I continued to learn, but more through independent study, reading, and trial and error. I attended a lot of conferences and workshops, too. Networked with other sales professionals.

      I think it’s key to note that education is crucial for success — but education is not only obtained in a lecture hall.

      Best,

      Brent

  6. Hi Brent and Alicia,

    This is the right piece to consider. I’ve been asked by several fellows who’ve fear to start a freelancing career. There are super-intelligent people, who in real don’t have any such degrees, but are smart enough to learn strategies to freelance. I loved the conclusion part where Alicia wrote, ‘ The information is out there, and you’ll find it without a college degree…’
    Thank you for bringing out this post for a number of future freelancers.

    • Hi Arfa,

      I’m really glad Alicia wrote this blog post. This topic has been on my mind for a while. Whether it’s freelance writing, graphic design, web design, or another skill altogether, there are many who fear starting because they don’t feel they know enough.

      In truth, anyone can start. And as we learn new skills, we can win better clients at higher price points.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Brent

  7. Hi Alicia,

    It’s such a long time since I got my degree that I don’t even think freelance writing existed back then. Certainly not for the internet!

    I agree with your points here. You can learn so much more ‘on the job’ if you want to be a freelance writer. And there are plenty of online resources to help, including your course.

    Thanks
    – David

    • Hi David,

      Thanks for commenting and sharing.

      Well, you’re right about that. Certainly there were always freelance writers, but the concept of being a freelance blog writer — for instance — didn’t exist until the internet came along.

      This is part of the problem with traditional education. Unless we continue to learn throughout our lives, at some point our skills will grow outdated. Ongoing learning is key.

      Brent

  8. Hi Alicia, Hi Brent,

    Great stuff.
    So many people go to college – not always because they’re looking to develop the skills of the career choice they’re in love with, but because they feel it’s the only true way to secure themselves a job. I’m certainly not knocking college, but it isn’t the ONLY way to go.

    I’ve known people with Master’s degrees who couldn’t find work, so there really are no guarantees to go along with such an expensive investment. I hate to see people start their adulthood with an enormous amount of debt when there are no promises they’ll be able to pay that off within a reasonable amount of time.

    In my late teens/ early 20s, I attended Cosmetology school and became a hair stylist. And years ago, I attended personal training school at a private vocational (like) school with an education equivalent to a Bachelor/Master’s degree in Exercise Science. It was wonderful to go into the health and fitness industry with, but when it came to freelance writing, it was all me.

    No skills, no background and definitely no formal education. Also, no school debt.
    I’ve been writing for years now and with hundreds of articles published all over the web and two books (with a third on the way), I’d like to harmonize along with your message that with a strong desire and a willingness to keep honing in on your craft, it’s definitely possible, even without the education behind you.

    Thanks for sharing this. Good to meet you, Alicia.
    And hey Brent!

    • Thanks for commenting, Dana. And great of you to share your own experiences.

      You’re right — college isn’t the only way to go. There are several roads that lead to success.

      Nothing wrong with going to college and earning a degree. But my best advice to others would be to consider what they intend to do with their degree before investing tens of thousands of dollars and years of their time. So many go off to college or university because they believe it’s the right thing to do. Destiny, or something like that. Brainwashing, maybe. And then they stand in the unemployment line upon graduation like so many others.

      Kinda nice we figured out how to carve our own paths, huh?

      Chat soon,

      Brent

    • Hi Dana.

      I agree. College is ONE path. It is necessary in many cases, but it isn’t needed in freelance writing. I definitely don’t regret it. I did it for ME, but I think it’s good for other people to know that they can find success if they don’t have the means to go to college.

  9. Hi Alicia,
    Good to see you on Brent’s space here 🙂
    You brought out a thought provoking piece.
    Yes, I could very well relate to some of the areas mentioned in this post.
    Though I have a degree and an extra degree on Journalism nothing helped me much in relation to freelancing.
    Of course as you said, that does not mean that it degrade the value of the degrees we hold, but in reality, it does not teach much on the practical freelancing. That only comes on the way by a lot of struggle and hard work.
    I appreciate you for bringing out this post.
    Hey, Brent, I appreciate you too for bringing Alicia on your esteemed pages 🙂
    Keep sharing
    Have a great time of sharing and interaction ahead
    Best
    ~ Phil

    • Hi Phil,

      Nice of you to drop by.

      How have you been?

      Yes, there certainly is value in obtaining a degree. But not having one doesn’t prevent someone from succeeding online. I’ve been successfully freelancing for more than two years now and I don’t happen to have a degree… might still earn one at some point, though. You never know.

      Alicia is a gem, so if you don’t follow her already, please do!

      Have an awesome day,

      Brent

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