What kinds of schooling should a teenager, trying to decide on a college, consider, if she is looking to grow to become a successful writer?
There are about 1,000 times more English majors in the US than there are jobs in anything such a degree could prepare you for.
If you are one of the few who will make a living from writing, you are talented enough that you can afford to major in something else and pursue your writing as a minor, or through electives, or outside university altogether.
If you are one of the many who will not make a living from writing, you must have more in-demand skills so that you can work a 9-5 (or less) and leave time for your writing, instead of working two jobs trying to scrape by on a burger-flipping salary and never having time to write.
In other words, unless you are going to teach, don't be an English major. It's probably not best for you or for your writing career.
From talking to people in the classes I took the following 3 creative writing programs came up repeatedly:
- Sarah Lawrence College
- University of Iowa
- Columbia University
I never had the money or time to go back for an creative writing degree but I found a lot of good teachers at the Gotham Writers Workshop. They also have online classes.
From experience the two things that have helped improve my writing the most were:
- Write a lot (one of my teachers recommendation was write 10 pages a week no matter what) - probably the single best piece of writing advice I ever got.
- Find a workshop where every member is required to give feedback and it should be in the form of:
- One good aspect about your work.
- On aspect that needs improvement.
- They can only judge your work - not you.
Hope that helps.
Look at it in another way. Don't let your desire to write choose what your education will be. Let your education define what your writings will look like. Just remember that every single person has a different knowledge, and the more specific or broad this knowledge will be, the better his writings will be covered with interesting details.
I am a master of mathematics and the logical consequence of the field helped me a lot. No. A lot. In the art of writing.
You should choose whatever you've always wanted, it is really hard to gain useless knowledge. Even the meanest sociology has its beauty and could be adopted manywhere. Get a great knowledge in the one field, let it bring money to you, and then write. And then begin to study other fields. You can start with reading the wikipedia's "did you know" list every couple of days (they even had a feed for the topic once, but now it's gone somewhere). If you'll find the power of knowledge exciting, you'll finish with the academic books in your hands.
I don't think it matters what degree you have. What matters is whether you know how to write and can give editors what they need.
My only degree, a BBA, is in accounting. My writing career began after 8 years as an auditor and financial analyst. I took two creative writing courses in college -- that's the only formal training in writing that I ever got. Yet I still managed to build a very good career as a writer.
Degrees don't matter. Skills do.
If this particular teenager is looking to be educated in writing, a bachelors of arts in creative writing, or English with a writing concentration, or something along those lines (different schools call the major different things) would teach her many of those skills. A major in English literature on the other hand would give her even more time to read lots of great writers. The writing part of a literature degree focuses more on criticism than on creative writing, however. A writing degree will have some reading to it, but less than a literature degree.
For even further schooling, this aspiring writer could get a Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) in writing. As far as I know, there is no PhD in writing. An important thing to consider is that a master's degree in a liberal arts subject such as writing is often of dubious value economically - whatever the value to her writing. It is improbable that the MFA program will pay for itself by giving her a better salary from her writing. However it may provide opportunities that she would not otherwise have had. It's just not likely.
A writing degree is of course not necessary to being a successful writer. Since many writers do not support themselves from their writing, this young teenager may look to gain skills from her college education that can allow her to have a day job while she finds her feet as a writer. Even if she does not want to do this, in general the aspiring writer should focus on the liberal arts in the oldest sense - a focus on getting a broad education and seeing how different disciplines interact. The more knowledge this young woman can draw on, the richer her imagery and metaphors will be. The tasks of a liberal arts education will also help to broaden and stretch her mind to give her a richer mental life from which to write.