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Thread: Why writing degrees could be worthless

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    Default Why writing degrees could be worthless

    Writers and aspiring writers will find this thread useful and informative, and those who need to hire a writer will gain some beneficial insights since the content directly impacts what you receive when it comes to writing.

    Last week, my wife and I had lunch with a freelance writer I hired and her husband. The meeting was not only informative on the project we met to discuss, it helped shed new light on a deficiency I've observed in our education system. Since my oldest daughter is studying both writing and marketing at a business university, and her daughter is dual enrolled taking college writing classes in high school, we had an interesting discussion that I think makes for a good thread here.

    Part of my interest in bringing up this topic is the number of job inquiries I get from freelancers who mention their "degree" in some form of writing. I am in no way opposed to the education, but let me be blunt is saying that the degree itself is often worthless. The more I investigate this, the less impressed I become with formal education. It's even possible for the degree to be detrimental. In fairness, I took some writing classes 11 years ago at the same university my daughter attends and found them very useful. My point is, don't rely solely on what they teach you in school.

    In the case of my writer's daughter, with her mother being a 20 year veteran writer, she knows a few things. Her daughter wrote a paper but didn't strictly adhere to the "rules" put out by the course and got marked down for it. The "rules" as written resulted in dry, boring results when followed. The instructor even admitted that the paper was better than if the rules had been followed because the rules were designed not for good writing, but for easy grading. I'm glad my writing classes were not structured this way because I find this appalling just like my writer did.

    These kinds of courses are not training writers, they're doing something worse than no training at all. Anyone being taught this way has to unlearn all the crap that doesn't work in the real world. After paying thousands of dollars, these students expect to have been taught something they can use, not something designed to streamline the grading process so the instructors don't have to put in as much effort. Are they training students for the workforce or taking shortcuts to crank out education as a commodity?

    My advice to writers: Find out what graduates are doing with the education they received from the school you are considering attending. I've seen it both ways. I've seen recent graduates whose writing is impressive, and, I've seen mechanical garbage that obviously got them the grades they need to pass but their diploma is nothing more than a cheap piece of paper that says they followed the rules. I'm sure natural writing ability plays an important part too, but the education system is often seriously overrated.

    As for those hiring writers, a degree by itself is a poor measure of quality.

    Considering the importance of good writing on business, it's too bad that this section of the forum is not more active, but this should still make for an interesting discussion.
    Steve Chittenden

    Web design, graphic design, professional writing, and marketing.

    "Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat." -- Theodore Roosevelt

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    I disagree. You get out of a degree what you put into it. You're dealing with a small sample size, which can explain why the people you've spoken to may not have appeared to get value from their degree. I could you point you to plenty of people I know who earned writing degrees and are far better writers than either of us.

    don't rely solely on what they teach you in school.
    Of course not. That's true of every degree and it's true way beyond school itself. You can't rely on a single opinion or a single book or a single anything.

    I've seen recent graduates whose writing is impressive, and, I've seen mechanical garbage
    Again that's the people and not the degree itself. There's a huge difference between going to school just to get by and putting in the work to get as much as you can out of the education in front of you. This isn't anything new either. It's been going on since around the time of the first school.

    I think you're trying to make general judgements about schools and degrees based on a very small sample size.
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    I think education merely installs the foundation; what is done with it is up to the individual. I wouldn't limit your statement to just "writing degrees", either, because you could apply that logic to any degree. You both have valid points, and when I was teaching aviation physiology at a university, I saw both sides of the coin many times.

    How many times have you seen people with MBAs be complete idiots at running companies, while you have college drop-outs build some of the most impressive and successful businesses in the world (i.e. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg)?

    Personally, I don't put much stock in diplomas. Just because someone has a degree means nothing to me. I admire people that can take whatever education they have and leverage it into something beneficial. Unfortunately, it is the people with degrees that "require" college degrees for certain positions, and in my mind that requirement stems from the fact that they have to justify their own education.

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    I think education merely installs the foundation; what is done with it is up to the individual.
    That's what it comes down to. You can't blame the degree. It's the people who may or may not have earned them that are to blame. That's why I disagree with the subject line of this thread. It's not the degree that's the problem. It's much more likely the person who holds the degree. It's also not fair to characterize all writing degrees, based on observation of a few with the degree or to think those observations apply only to those with writing degrees.

    Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg
    I know people like pointing to them as reasons you don't need a degree, but none of them are typical. Clearly each is extremely intelligent and had the drive to be successful. The typical person benefits from a degree. Statistics bear out again and again that those with degrees earn much more over their lifetimes and are much more resistant to downturns in the economy than those without degrees.

    In the end though it's still down to the individual. You can get an education in more ways than one, however it's always up to you to get that education.
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    I agree with you concerning people earning more with degrees over the course of a lifetime, but is it the education or the piece of paper that opened the door for them?

    I suppose at the end of the day it's a moot point, but I have seen brilliance and idiocy from people with and without degrees.

    I just feel a college education in and of itself is somewhat over-valued. I've seen national advertisements with unintentionally misspelled words in them in publication - it makes you wonder who the idiot was that wrote that, and who was the bigger idiot that published it? We have everyone from hosts of nationally televised programs to teachers using words out of context and/or making words up. I've worked with physicians who were great at their medical discipline, but couldn't even figure out how to change a lightbulb. I've seen engineers design mechanical systems that were so overly-complicated that no one could figure out how to fix that system, when it could've been designed much simpler and more streamlined.

    Maybe we should start an online degree program for Masters of Common Sense!

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    It's probably a little of both. I'd say and I think you'd agree it's the education that's the important part. However I think hiring practices still value the degree, because you can't really get a feel for the education on a resume or in an interview. Fair or not the paper is held up as the proof that you gained the education.

    I agree completely that you'll find brilliancy and idiocy from both degreed and non-degreed people. Again it's where my disagreement with the topic of this thread comes from. It's not a writing degree that's worthless, but rather some of the people earning them who are worthless writers. To earn anything you have to meet a minimum standard. There have always been and always will be people who'll find a way to meet that standard through means other than what was meant to actually earn the degree.

    Obviously I disagree about college education being over valued. Misspelled words happen. They happen because there's not always money to hire people for that extra round of proofing. They also happen because today's software autocorrects everything, but not always well. I've watched software change words I'm typing as I'm still typing. They can be hard to find since spell checks won't pick them up. Proofing your own words is hard. You have a tendency to read what you meant to type as opposed to what you actually typed. And the cost to proof and get it perfect isn't usually worth it in the minds of publishers. It's not that they're stupid and don't know how to spell and write. It's that the economic realities say it's not worth making things perfect. It's worth more to move on to the next article.

    I've worked with physicians who were great at their medical discipline, but couldn't even figure out how to change a lightbulb.
    So? I've never paid a doctor to change a lightbulb. They went to school to learn medicine. How many people without a medical degree would you let operate on you?

    I've seen engineers design mechanical systems that were so overly-complicated that no one could figure out how to fix that system, when it could've been designed much simpler and more streamlined.
    Careful. I have an engineering degree. The problem there though isn't that they don't know engineering. It's that they don't know about design. It's a separate course of study. I can tell you having gone through a program in engineering that there was little time for any classes outside of the major unless you were willing to go through another year or two of school. Many of the people I went to school with couldn't write a complete or coherent sentence to save their lives. That doesn't mean they aren't capable engineers. I'd agree that the program should have offered more courses in English and writing, however there's a limit to how much you can learn and teach over the course of a 4 year degree.

    You can't blame the degree for not teaching the person everything they could or should know. It's not the fault of medical school that a doctor can't change a lightbulb. It's not the fault of an engineering school that an engineer doesn't understand design. It's unfair to say that because someone doesn't know everything or that because they make mistakes any degree they earned was worthless.
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    Okay, okay - I should have said SOME DEGREES are over-valued. True education is not.

    I still feel education, especially higher education, should be more holistic and less linnear. It should ingrain the ability to think and reason, and not just perform open-heart surgery or design/engineer a fuel injection system with zero knowledge of how to perform other simple functions in life, or at least communicate like an educated individual.

    A biology professor told me a story one time about his student writing a thesis for his PhD on human reproduction. His paper was brilliant, following the path of sperm cells from generation through the various tubes and canals of the male and female reproductive organs, and ending up fertilizing the female's egg. Once his paper was graded, a perfect score no less, the student had one question for the professor--"One thing that puzzles me & I never quite figured out is how the sperm cells get transfered from the male to the female."

    I rest my case.

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    IMO education teaches you how to learn. I never needed the calculus from college, but the learning skills college taught me have helped me learn new important things through life. Including web marketing which didn't exist when I was in college.

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    I still feel education, especially higher education, should be more holistic and less linnear.
    I agree. I thought that when I was in school and I still think it now. I also think it's easier said than accomplished. There are some courses of study that require so much specialized classes there simply isn't enough room for classes outside the major. I wish it didn't have to be that way, but when you consider the cost and the extra time involved it's probably hard for anyone to justify.

    When I was in school I thought it would be better for all students to spend the first 2 years of their 4 year degree solely taking liberal arts and general studies classes. Then they'd take all or nearly all classes the last 2 years directly in their major. I don't think that works since for some majors there are courses where you need to build up to over more than 2 years.

    IMO education teaches you how to learn.
    I agree. There are some classes where the specific of what you learn is close to what you'll do once out of school, but much of it is becoming better and learning how to learn after. We all have to continue to learn new information through our entire lives. No schools is going to teach you everything you need to know. I know I'm a better student on my own having gone to college than I would have been had I not known.
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    Quote Originally Posted by vangogh View Post
    I think you're trying to make general judgements about schools and degrees based on a very small sample size.
    I would agree that my sample size is small compared to an advanced study, but it's probably a lot larger than you seem to be assuming. My example is a limited sample, but it leads me to wonder how many writing courses use this type of approach. My observations of the effects are much less limited.

    I thought I wrote a balanced post so I'm surprised by such avid disagreement. The comment about disagreeing with the title is especially intriguing. I didn't claim a degree is worthless, only that it could be. I don't see anyone here truly disagreeing with that fact. Like Steve said, it's not just writing degrees either, that's only the example I used, and you're certainly right about this problem going back to the first school. We live in an age and culture though where education is practically worshiped and often given more merit than it earns.

    Because of the way hiring decisions are made in the business world, I would have a degree if I were looking for a job. I have as much of a degree as I need in my situation. I took all the classes that pertain to my business and then some. All I needed to earn the piece of paper was irrelevant gag me classes that universities like to torture students with, and collect tuition money for, before they will admit you're worthy of holding one of their diplomas. Since these classes lacked any value for me other than the ego boost I could gain by completing them, there was no priority for me to keep paying. My boss (me) didn't require a degree so my situation was different. If I feel I need to or there would be some benefit, I can always return or take more classes.

    Since this thread is more about hiring writers, particularly as a small business, I've found the degree to be rather unreliable. That doesn't mean education isn't important, good writing requires it. But in keeping with the intent of my OP, some teaching techniques actually have to be unlearned to be a good writer in the business world. And yes, that principle applies to a lot more than just writing. We could probably fill pages with posts about know it all graduates who enter the field thinking their degree makes them hot stuff and those with real world experience shake their heads wondering how the schools can get away with charging money to teach nonsense.
    Steve Chittenden

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    "Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat." -- Theodore Roosevelt

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