A question that often comes up with careers in copywriting is “What should I major in?” “Or what degree do I need” or even, “Do I need a degree to become a copywriter?”
Here, in my experience, and in no particular order, are the seven main educational routes into copywriting:
- English. The most obvious one and yes, if you asked copywriters what degree they took it’s most likely to be some variant of English language and/or literature. All the same, I wouldn’t say that it’s what a majority of most successful copywriters have studied.
- History. Quite a common one this. I think it has something to do with the fact that a successful copywriter has to have a high degree of curiosity and be prepared to do research, both of which are intrinsic to being a historian. It’s also what I majored in (with a minor in History of Art on the side). Although to date I can’t say that the early modern witch-hunting craze in Europe (my specialist area) has been of much use to me so far in writing ads.
- Another arts degree. Particularly French, Spanish, German or other languages – well, if you’re good with words, it stands to reason, n’est-ce pas? It can also help if you’re looking to sell your British copywriting to overseas clients.
- Art and design. The reason for this is that a lot of advertising creatives in the past have teamed up at art college. Technically, they’re both art directors, but what has happened is that they’ve tossed a coin and one of them has ‘become’ the copywriter. While this could work ok when it comes to thinking up ideas, it tends to mean that the actual copywriting side of things got neglected. Nowadays, there’s a move away from traditional teams. Also, if you want to make a living as a genuine copywriter, you’d better know how to write long copy as well as come up with concepts.
- Specialist copywriting degree courses. Once upon a time these simply didn’t exist, at least here in the UK. Then there was Watford (nowadays West Herts College). This was the first and is still the best place to go if you want to study advertising and its many modern variants. There are also a number of other mainstream colleges offering similar courses, which can be good. And one or two other specialist copywriting colleges which tend to be less good, at least if you want to go the agency route.
- Journalism. Nowadays there are a lot of ex-journalists in advertising, particularly the freelance rather than the agency side. They know all about writing long copy and writing to deadlines, although the art of persuasion can be harder to come by. With journalism a fast-shrinking profession, I’d be surprised if that many people still study it at college, but it’s not bad training in many ways.
- The university of life. There have always been plenty of successful copywriters who have never been to university or college and there probably always will be. Studying the rules and earning qualifications only get you so far in any business, and it’s more true of advertising than most. Advertising is also mostly a meritocracy, and there will always be room for talented people from all walks of life, whether they have letters after their name or not.
So that’s it – it’s not an easy life nowadays, but there are more routes into copywriting than you might think. Good luck!