Can You Have a Copywriting Career Without a College Degree?

You’re a Writer if in Your Heart You Know You’re a Writer.

Recently, I had someone ask me how they could ever possibly have a career as a copywriter without a degree.

She had the gumption, a natural writing ability, and that beautiful half-creative-half-analytical brain that it takes to write really good copy.

She told me how desperately she wanted to write, but that she didn’t feel like they could make it in a copywriting career because she hadn’t gone to a four year university. College had been drilled into her head since childhood. She thought she could never be successful at what she felt she was meant to do without a college degree.

So, it begs the question: Can you become a copywriter without a college degree?

I’m about to give you a short answer (and a long story, so buckle in).

Yes. I did it, and so can you.

Where it Started…

I learned to read before preschool and never stopped. My grandmother (rest her beautiful soul) used to tell complete strangers on the street how I knew all of the letters of the alphabet at 15 months old.

I remember reading all of the Boxcar Children at five years old, the summer between preschool and kindergarten, out on the front lawn of the house where I grew up. I even had all the titles written on a beach ball and took it to school with me on the first day like “look what I did all summer!”

And even before that, I was “writing” before I could actually write. I would sit at the kitchen table with looseleaf notebook paper and draw out the stick-figure storylines in my head, with plots, twists, and surprise endings.

All that was consistently on my Christmas list was notebooks. I’m still that way. I always will be. To me, there’s nothing that holds more possibilities than a fresh, empty notebook with the spine not yet worn in.

When I got to high school, I was pretty directionless. I hated the confines of the cold, expressionless building and the moment-by-moment structure that was just never meant for me. 

I did the bare minimum in all of my classes…except the college-prep English classes, because it was the only class I had that felt so effortlessly natural.

But  there was no way I was going to college because at some point I realized I just didn’t want to enter the go-into-debt-at-18-to-get-a-job-and-spend-20-years-paying-it-off trap. So I stopped doing schoolwork, except the English classes, because what was the point?

Sure, I understood the material. High school isn’t all that hard. But I had better things to do than spend three hours every night doing homework and writing reports on whatever some middle aged white dudes working at the Department of Education in 19XX decided was critical knowledge.

(I mean really, as much as I’m sure it’s totally crucial to memorize every battle in the War of 1812, I could have really used classes on…you know…taxes or how to change my own oil or how to tell the difference between propaganda and real news or entrepreneurship. But public high schools in Ohio don’t teach you that.)

So I spent all of my time writing and reading, attending spoken word events, and going to the library. Even at seventeen, I found that education isn’t restricted to textbooks and bell schedules and tardy slips.

One day in my beloved AP English class, the kids were all talking about what their plans were after graduation. This shithead kid looks at me and says “Liz is obviously just going to enter the workforce because not even community college will take her grades.”

And the class laughed. 

Every single one of them. 

Every single one of the rule-following, school-spirit-pride, clean-bookbag kids laughed at this shithead kid who, with his straight As and his “Most Likely To Succeed” title, thought he was better than me (side note: mister “Most Likely to Succeed” went on to work at the same high school in the dirt-road, do-nothing town we lived in). 

When the laughter dissipated, I wondered if maybe I’d be just as stuck going to some dead-end job as I felt in school. I thought..maybe I had been wrong the whole time. Maybe I’d rather go to college and get a job I didn’t feel as “stuck” in.  

After all, the entire four years you’re in high school are spent listening to people try and sell you on the “doors” college opens for you. Was I closing doors for myself by not wanting to go to school?

After class, I stayed behind and asked the teacher if he thought I should try and take some courses at a community college. If they’d even take me. And was I too late? Had I ruined my future because I’d blown off taking all of those damn tests about the War of 1812?

He gave me the best advice I’d ever gotten up until that point in my life: That I’d hate it and drop out. That I should spend some time living and figuring life out for myself.

I distinctly remember him then saying  “Grades aren’t a reflection of intelligence. Not everyone is meant to fit into those types of boxes. College won’t open any doors for you that you can’t open yourself.”

I took that advice to heart. 

How It’s Going Now

Flash forward to now: Not only did I open those doors myself, I write for a living. In fact, outside of teaching copywriting courses, I run a full-blown copywriting and content writing agency. My agency writes for some of the boldest, biggest brands on the planet. And we EXCEL at it.

When I hire writers, I don’t even look to see where they went to school…or IF they went to school. I hire based on skill and drive. I  hire writers who also knew they never wanted to be sentenced to a cubicle prison, and that true intelligence is the ability to think for yourself and translate facts into nuance.

I hire people who know in their hearts that they were always meant to be writers.

And I did this all without a college degree.

Do You Need a Degree to Be a Copywriter?

Copywriting is one of those careers where you don’t necessarily need a piece of paper saying that what YOU put down on paper is good enough. 

Yes, EDUCATION IS IMPORTANT in any field you’re in, by my point here is that the education you need isn’t always the education society tells you is the “right one.”

Go to a four-year school if that’s for you.

Take online copywriting courses if that’s for you. 

Learn by experience if that’s for you. 

But no matter how you learn, do it in a way that helps you write your OWN story.

Because If in your heart you know you’re a writer, you’ll find a way to be one because you know, deep inside, there was never any other option. 

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