Yes, Freelance Writing Without a Degree is Absolutely Possible
The qualifications for freelance writing and what clients really care about
The percentage of US workers doing freelance work is increasing with each generation, according to a 2020 study by Upwork. Gen Z (50%) and millennials (44%) are either freelancing full-time or moonlighting alongside their day jobs.
With the freelancer population skewing younger, questions about college are likely to surface. Specifically, do you need a degree to be a freelance writer?
The short answer: Freelance writing without a degree is 100% possible.
Now, the long answer.
Full disclosure: I have an English degree.
Yes, the college graduate is talking about how you don’t need a degree for freelance writing. But, hear me out.
I’ve been freelancing for nearly two years — worked with multiple clients, wrote 100+ (paid) blog posts — and not once has a prospective client asked me about a degree.
I don’t even mention my college degree on my website or in my cold emails. Why? Because freelance writing clients don’t care.
What freelance writing clients actually care about
How do you show results? Writing samples. By compiling your past work and social proof (testimonials, metrics, case studies), you showcase:
- Your writing ability
- Subject matter expertise
- ROI (more traffic, email subscribers, sales, etc.)
Freelance writing clients want writers who can communicate their brand and product/service through writing — blog posts, website copy, email newsletters, etc. — while being engaging and informative.
A college degree doesn’t (necessarily) prepare you for freelancing
When I was finishing up my English degree, I learned tons about Victorian poetry and young adult fiction… But it would’ve been useful to learn about:
- How to write for the internet
- Different ways to monetize your writing skills
- Business and marketing
Pretty much, how to make money writing.
I was approaching my final semester and I realized my remaining courses wouldn’t teach me what I wanted to know. No problem.
I decided to undergo a self-imposed “second” education.
Below, I’ll share four resources I used to build my freelance writing business from zero.
#1 Read books about writing, blogging and marketing.
Unlike a college course, you can choose a specific book about a specific topic and learn a specific skill.
I say writing, marketing and content strategy because I consider these major pillars of freelance writing.
- Chefs use knives and musicians use instruments. Writing is your tool of choice. Learn how to use it and improve it over time.
- Marketing knowledge helps you land freelance writing jobs. It also helps your writing score customers for your clients.
- A deeper understanding of content strategy — SEO, pillar posts, and sales funnels, for instance — will help you understand how your writing fits within the bigger picture.
If you’re interested in freelance blogging, I recommend Master Content Marketing by Pamela Wilson. She breaks down how to craft compelling blog posts — headlines, introductions, subheads, all of it.
#2 Consume articles and videos about freelancing.
There are tons of FREE articles and videos floating on the internet. Medium publications like The Startup and Blank Page are great places to pick up writing, business and marketing skills.
If you’re a visual learner, turn to YouTube. Find other freelance writers who are documenting their journeys. Learn from them.
On the fence about freelancing? Learn about the freelance writing pros and cons to determine if it’s the right path for you.
#3 Enroll in online courses.
This is the route I took.
I took a paid certification course in online content marketing. While certification is not necessary, here are the top two reasons why I made the investment:
- Convenience. Somebody else organized the information I needed to write on the internet — and get paid doing it.
- Access to writing professionals that could answer my questions.
The course was worth every penny. It paid itself off within a few months after I started landing regular freelance work.
If you have the funds, consider enrolling in an online course from somebody who has already done/is doing what you want to do. Linkedin Learning has tons of courses available and is worth browsing.
I still take online courses today. Online courses help me build new skills and update existing ones.
#4 Study blog posts.
I recently started keeping tabs on talented freelance writers and studying how they write. I read their new pieces and takes notes on…
- How they write the introduction, body paragraph, etc.
- Captivating headlines and subheads
- Sentence length and structure
- Interesting writing devices (anecdotes, similes, metaphors)
- Which sources they’re using and how they weave it into their writing
Reverse-engineering how something amazing came to be can help you understand the nuts and bolts of excellent writing.
Of course, tailor this to the type of writing you want to do. If you’re into email marketing, subscribe to your favorite brands and study their email sequences. If you want to write website copy, check out the top companies in various industries.
Freelance Writing FAQs
What are the requirements for freelance writing?
Many freelance writing opportunities don’t require specific credentials, such as a college degree or certification. However, a strong writing portfolio, marketing knowledge and experience within a target niche can help freelance writers kickstart their freelance business.
How do I start freelance writing with no experience?
Building a freelance writing portfolio from scratch will establish a solid foundation for most freelance writing businesses. Top-notch (and relevant) writing samples with bylines can help beginner freelance writers land their first paid client.
Formal education does not mean necessary education
A college degree is not necessary for starting a freelance writing business. If you learn how to write, how to create stellar writing samples, and how to market yourself, you have all the skills you need.
The best part? You can learn all of this on your own terms — and for a fraction of what a college degree would cost.
Dan is a freelance writer specializing in small business and personal finance. He works with FinTech and B2B companies and has written extensively about small business, from startup guides to payment processor reviews. Hire him to write for YOU at danmarticio.com.