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Best colleges for English/Creative Writing??


Joker
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We're just getting ready for this whole college thing. Oldest is a sophomore. She has her heart set on going overseas but we have been honest that it would be probably be too difficult financially. We will let her apply to her favorites but she knows she needs to look closer to home (we're in the Midwest). 

 

So, she wants to major in English or Creative Writing. She loves writing and hopes to be an author but knows she needs a backup plan. She's not yet sure what that will be yet but wants to pursue writing while in college as well. She's currently in the top 5% of her large class (almost 700 students) and is taking all Honor's and/or AP classes. She's taken the PSAT since 8th grade and I'm not really worried about test scores. She has talent and drive. 

 

I am getting overwhelmed though and this is our first time through this. I didn't go directly to college and dh's parents pretty much picked his college and he just followed along. Neither of us has experience searching out a college based on an actual interest or major. Her guidance counselor wasn't much help either. 

 

Where should we start? Does anyone have any recommendations? 

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We didn't look, but a family we know well "sent" their daughter to Iowa as well for creative writing.  I don't remember where else they looked.  I know she applied to NCSU, but that was her safety school.  (I hate to say that since for so many local kids it is their top choice, but it's not a writing school per se.  It's an engineering school.)  Oh, and UNC-CH.

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I have a creative writing degree.

I was so burned out afterward I haven't written in 11 years, and probably never will again.

It didn't really help employment wise either.

 

I strongly suggest a double major with something employable.

Thanks for sharing this. It's too long to type out why but this is really timely for me.

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University of Iowa really doesn't have a creative writing major until the masters' level.  They have some creative writing classes for undergrads, and insist that that doesn't help with admission to their masters' program.  (I found this out on a tour there that included a special visit to the English department.)  I was extremely impressed with the university overall.  They do a lot around student safety, they have fantastic food (really quite remarkable), they tend toward traditional lecture style classes, they are big enough to have a very broad selection of majors, and of course the Iowa Writers' Workshop is the best writing instruction in the world.  It reminded me of Cal Berkeley when I was there--a great program but not horribly impacted.

 

Having said that, my creative writer daughter did not want to go there and slog through a ton of general ed classes.  I had been insisting that she get a well-rounded education, and at that point I decided to support her in wanting to specialize.  So she is at Columbia College in Chicago now, and VERY happy.  She is majoring in Creative Writing-Poetry, which is an unusual undergrad major.  Last summer she worked in sales at a computer store.  She will always be able to get a job, whether in her field or not.  I don't think that education is just about employment, but I will admit to being a bit anxious about her future, but she will be well prepared if she has to get an education masters to teach later on or something like that.

 

Other schools we considered seriously:  St. John's College in Taos has an excellent classical ed program, and I think that would have been excellent background.  You have to start there as a freshman as they don't credit coursework from elsewhere.  Way on the other end but also seeming pretty good to me was Bennington College in Vermont.  They are kind of like the Sudbury School of college, which scared me half to death but when I went to one of their alumni and prospects events here on the West Coast I was really impressed with the quality of the conversations and careers and interests that their graduates and teachers displayed, and I think a self-motivated student would find a tremendous creative community there.  Both of those schools would not give creative writing majors per se, but at St. John's a student would be well-prepared for precise, thoughtful work, and at Bennington a student would develop initiative and wild creativity.  

 

Other pretty reasonable options:

Concordia University--Irvine has a great English program, and a fantastic library and bookstore.  It's small, a 'city on a hill' type environment, very pleasant, great climate, excellent professors.  It's a conservative Lutheran college, so there are some theology class requirements (maybe two?).  Chapel is available but attendance is not required.  Their teaching program is particularly strong.  Excellent choral program if you like that kind of thing.  Maybe a lower level student body a bit.

 

University of Nevada--Reno is a solid mid-sized university with a reasonably strong English program.  Not a lot of creative writing options, but a few.

 

University of Wyoming has a great master's level creative writing program that I have been very impressed with the results of.  However, like most of the rest the undergrad program is much more general.

 

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PS  When it looked like we would not be able to find a creative writing major that really worked at the undergrad level, I was encouraging DD to major in a soft science, so that she would have something unique to write about.  For instance, Barbara Kingsolver is a fantastic novelist, and her writing works in her botany (or maybe biology?) background extraordinarily effectively.  I think it really makes her work far more engaging.  I think that hard science or engineering is too competitive and the courseloads are too severely prohibitive of humanities courses to pursue without actually loving them, but something like geology or archeology would lend itself to a wellrounded education with a pop of something unusual in a writer.  That is perhaps worth considering.

 

Edited by Carol in Cal.
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I second Carol in Cal. There are so many wonderful literary nonfiction authors with backgrounds in entomology, botany, geology, anthropology, archeology, paleontology. History is also a ripe field for writers.

 

I have a tiny sample size of two friends who have PhD's in English and are English professors. Their creative writing is INFECTED with literary criticism! Seriously, it is painful to read. I have known one of these professors since high school, before all his lit crit training had him, well, writing backward. Gone are his quirky stories, in is his THEME (usually Marxist, though he is not a Marxist), standing out like a sore thumb and keeping anyone from getting lost in his prose. And the only thing he has actually published is a textbook. The other English professor has also never published any fiction despite writing and submitting it.

 

Writers write, all the time, and from the heart. Their characters or their loves (the objects of their nonfiction writing) are alive in their minds. A college degree is not necessary to become a writer, but can be helpful. I agree with the other posters who suggest creative writing (not English) and a secondary degree in a field that interests her and that might add content to her writing.

 

 

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  • 3 weeks later...
Guest Piddlepuppy

They're all good.  And you can get a relatively poor instructor for any given introductory course at any of them.  I would point out that just because you go to The University of _______ as a freshman and perhaps sophomore too, doesn't mean you will graduate from there, or that that school will have the greatest impact on your education.  

 

The course that had the greatest impact on writing for me was introduction to comparative literature, it taught me what I didn't know about writing.  I personally think the library at the University of Wisconsin is hard to beat, as is the Memorial Union (student union) across the street.  Both are superb places to read, study, write, or just relax and think.

 

Being an in-state student at a public university should be a consideration for those first 2 years.  And while doing well in those first 2 years, getting the right work study placement can be the most valuable learning aid there is.  Get to be a valued part of that professor your working for's staff, and that professor can guide you like no instructor with a 300 student into lecture can. 

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I have a creative writing degree.

I was so burned out afterward I haven't written in 11 years, and probably never will again.

It didn't really help employment wise either.

 

I strongly suggest a double major with something employable.

 

Just to add another experience, I have a BA in creative writing, and I'm currently applying to MFA programs.  I was burnt out immediately following undergrad, but I got back to it within a couple of years.

 

 

It's most definitely not the most lucrative degree, but I suspect she already knows that. :) FWIW, I graduated from San Francisco State University.  They aren't nationally known, but it was a great program, lots of authors passed through while I was taking classes.  SF at the time had a huge poetry scene.

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I don't mean to be discouraging. The Internet and self publishing has vastly reshaped how we as a culture consume the written word. I also no longer believe in "following your passion." I strongly believe in education for education's sake, but again, the explosion of MOOCs and the ability to learn about everything with just a few key strokes is allowing for self education at a much higher rate than ever before. I now believe college should be viewed as a means to an end and that end is gainful employment. I have degrees in philosophy and creative writing with a minor in theater. I could have self educated the philosophy and utilized, say, a business and writing double major. The people I know who added a practical second major onto something less clear cut are much better off now, almost 12 years after college graduation.

 

I am now returning to my alma mater to earn a B.S. In human resource management. My 20-year-old self would be appalled.

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Thanks for sharing this. It's too long to type out why but this is really timely for me.

I joke with DS, who wants to be a writer, that I will continue to save for law school. Well, I don't joke about it in his presence anymore as I don't want to be perceived as discouraging, but I continue feeling the same.
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I steered mine into degrees which will lead to actual gainful employment where they will make enough to support a family.  including my girls  - just becasue they marry a man with a good income doesn't mean they can count on it.  things happen. unemployment, death, divorce, etc.  I also think an educated mother can more easily teach her children.  (dds are both in fields they can work part-time, and still make adequate money. neither has children yet.)

 

1dd is a classics major.  I kept asking her what she was going to do with it.  she got pretty irked at me, but eventually wished she had listened and thought about what she was going to do with her education before putting all the time and effort into one.   classics makes a great UNDERGRAD for something like law (I still think she'd have loved contract law.)  but not if it's going to be your only degree.  and a good classics degree (NOT classical studies) gives a better understanding of how english works than a modern english degree.  (that was clear from one of her prof's who has about a 50/50 mix of classics/english majors. it was also clear from some of ds's high school/college english teachers . . . wow, just scary.)

she ended up getting a bunch of computer certifications is now a systems engineer.   makes good money doing that too. (classics understanding of language actually does translate to understanding computer languages.)  

Edited by gardenmom5
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I don't know anything about what is reasonable or in the Midwest, but my oldest is working on her transfer paperwork now. She wants a double major in English and Visual Art.

 

She is applying to 8 schools, I think, but the one that looks the most exciting to me is California College of the Arts.

 

My sister-in-law gave a talk there and was so impressed by the campus.

 

If I were a writing major, that place looks like it would be a dream come true.

 

At that price, it may well remain a dream, though.

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I would also encourage a teaching certificate or double major. 

 

This is a general statement spurred by this comment and than one somewhere on another thread that referenced art. 

 

I don't think the default recommendation for those pursuing  humanities degrees should be to get a teaching certificate. I hear this advice a lot, especially in regards to art and English. I used to hear it in reference to languages, but I think people are starting to realize the wider need for people who know multiple languages. 

 

Not everyone is cut out to be a teacher. It's a really hard job to do here in the US and I think now, more than ever, teachers need to really be good at what they do. I don't know that someone who is doing the job to make a living would be first, have the talent for teaching, and second, have the dedication needed to work in the current educational system.

 

Teaching is now much more than teaching and teachers are generally paid much lower than other professions with fewer opportunities for merit pay increases and job advancement/promotion. Often they are required to get advanced degrees but, like in my state of residence, are not compensated for having them. 

 

There is also the fact that hours spent in the classroom and in doing school related paperwork and activities limit the time that a person can spend honing their craft. There is also a lack of peer support for the arts in schools. There is plenty of peer support for teaching itself, but it is not generally where someone would go to get support, inspiration and accountability in writing or drawing, for example. When one makes a decision to be a teacher, while they are teaching about a subject they love, but it is also highly likely that they will be reducing their opportunities for hands on involvement in their chosen specialty. 

 

Teaching isn't something that should be entered into as a fallback position, IMO. 

Edited by TechWife
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  • 7 months later...

I came across this thread while looking for something else. I just wanted to mention a university that might fit the bill so to speak. University of Dallas is a Catholic liberal arts university with a great English program, though the focus is much more on literature than it is on creative writing. I don't think it is possible to graduate from there in any major without becoming at least a decent writer as the number of essays required far exceeds your average college.

 

They also have a semester abroad in Rome that most students participate in, which is why I decided to mention this since you said that is what your daughter longs for. Our oldest two are there, and my husband and I met and graduated from there as well. It is strongly Catholic and one of a handful of colleges that is faithful to what the Catholic Church actually teaches for the most part. Nonetheless, there is a significant percentage of non-Catholic students (I don't know what your background is), and a non-Catholic student wouldn't feel weird there I suspect. Also, don't be toooo afraid of the tuition. They give big merit scholarships and lots of financial aid.

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I don't know about creative writing degrees as an undergraduate either.  There is the practical employment aspect, of course, but even totally apart from that, there really are a lot of undergraduate students that don't have anything interesting to say, because they don't actually know much of anything.  I found the same thing with art students at our local art college - however much time they spend making art, and whatever skills they gain at it, it isn't going to be very worthwhile as more than a hobby if they haven't enough content.  Many of them don't even have much knowledge of art history.

 

So - even for some young person who had some kind of trust fund income, I would tend to suggest they think about what it is they need to know to say something or relevant interesting or important, as much as what they need to know to write in a competent way.

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I'm glad you said this.

 

I've been biting my tongue on a couple of recent creative writing school threads, not wanting to shatter anyone's dreams :)

 

The reality is, an undergrad creative writing degree is pretty much a waste of time. (I've done one, my dh teaches them).

 

I'd encourage a different undergrad. Heck, I am at this very minute encouraging my (very talented writer) dd to do a different undergrad.

 

At the very least, a double major.

 

Are you encouraging your dd to do a different undergrad because you think the creative writing degree is a waste of time (I'd love to hear more about why - because you don't learn to write from classes? Or because the programs are so focused on deconstructing literature that they ruin writers? Or some other reason?)

 

Or because you want her to have a degree that is more suited to employment? Or some other reason?  What kind of double major are you encouraging her to pursue?

 

Just trying to unpack the suggestions, as I have a dd who loves creative writing and has just started looking at schools with CW programs. I'm wanting to expose her to lots of good advice on the subject.  :)

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I have a creative writing degree.

I was so burned out afterward I haven't written in 11 years, and probably never will again.

It didn't really help employment wise either.

 

I used to really like to write when I was in middle/high school, also took a high school creative writing class and loved it.  I took a creative writing class in college as an elective.  I have never written a word of creative writing since then.

 

One of my dds really likes to write too, but she's never written CW for an assignment, just for fun.  I've discouraged her from even taking a class in college, and if she loves it just to find a writer's group (and make sure it's a supportive one).  If it turns into something, it does, if not, she'll have a major in something employable and can write for fun.

 

I strongly suggest a double major with something employable.

 

 

Or a major in something employable/minor in CW. Or major in something to write about... I'd love to know how many successful, published authors actually majored, or even minored, in creative writing...?  It would be one thing if that were the path to a career writing novels, but it seems to me the opposite is true- it's not like I've studied up on it, but it might be interesting to look at he bios of successful authors and see what their educational background was.  For example, JK Rowling?  BA in Classics and French. Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games) - degrees in Theater and Communications. CS Lewis, Latin/Greek Lit and Philosophy.  Ursula Le Guin (one of my faves :) ) degrees in Renaissance French and Italian Lit...  those were just off the top of my head...  not that any of those are any more employable than CW ;) , but it might be less likely to lead to burn out??  Seems like good writers really like to read as much as write...

 

ETA: Here's a good one, Barbara Kingsolver started as a classical piano major, but 'she changed her major to biology when she realized that "classical pianists compete for six job openings a year, and the rest of [them] get to play 'Blue Moon' in a hotel lobby" '   She also has graduate degrees in ecology and evolutionary biology... but she's ended up a novelist...

Edited by Matryoshka
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Can you even major in "creative writing"? I've been assuming one needs to be an English literature major...If he persists on this path, I am going to encourage DS to add some sort of language component and double major (or do a combined degree like at some of the British schools).

 

 

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Can you even major in "creative writing"? I've been assuming one needs to be an English literature major...If he persists on this path, I am going to encourage DS to add some sort of language component and double major (or do a combined degree like at some of the British schools).

I wondered about this, too, and the answer is, yes, at a very few colleges.

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Saw this pop up and find it funny how things can change so much in such a short amount of time.

 

Ds is no longer interested in CW as a major. He is still very much into his reading and writing but he's found a bit of a calling in doing peer tutoring at school and other volunteer opportunities outside of school. He's seriously considering social work instead. He's not giving up on his writing but is now thinking of it more as a hobby or something to do with free time rather than something to do for a career. 

 

 

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My guess is that DD will always write, but not necessarily use her degree for income.  And I'm good with that.  For her being able to study this with other interested students, and to be an editor of the poetry review, is a tremendous luxury.  And it's a luxury that we have decided to support her in having, given that she knows that she will probably have to make her living some other way, and given that she has earned significant scholarships and awards for her hard work in that field.  I don't think any of us is being unrealistic about probable outcomes, but for now this is a wonderful thing.

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It's interesting to me that at my college, the things people are suggesting about CW programs are very similar to what many said about the journalism program, even though that had really significant technical elements as well as the writing aspect. 

 

THat is, if you do an undergraduate degree in it, make it a double major, and that it might well be better to do the one-year honour program after completing an undergraduate program elsewhere. 

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My guess is that DD will always write, but not necessarily use her degree for income.  And I'm good with that.  For her being able to study this with other interested students, and to be an editor of the poetry review, is a tremendous luxury.  And it's a luxury that we have decided to support her in having, given that she knows that she will probably have to make her living some other way, and given that she has earned significant scholarships and awards for her hard work in that field.  I don't think any of us is being unrealistic about probable outcomes, but for now this is a wonderful thing.

 

When this thread was first posted, I was on track to start applying to MFA programs.  Because of life circumstances, I had to put it on the back burner and when I was able to come back to it, I was in a different frame of mind about what I wanted a "career" to look like.  I am now changing course and going to apply for a masters in Public Health.  I've been told on numerous occasions that my undergrad in Creative writing will be an asset because of the ability I developed in communicating with the written word.

 

I still want to write, and I think I will always be a writer.  I don't regret my undergrad at all, even though I'm changing fields.  It sounds silly but it really fed my soul at a time when I really needed that.

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