Interview with a former Writing Graduate Student - How I Chose My Writing Graduate Program
By Laura Morrison, January 2015
Writing Graduate Program Graduate Scott Singleton is a technical writer at RTI, Inc., a small computer software company that offers business solutions for a variety of businesses. He has served in this role for over a year. As a technical writer in a small company Scott writes documentation for the organization's software, which includes the User Guides and descriptions of new service packs. He also works as a marketer, writing press releases, case studies, newsletter articles, and participating a variety of other marketing initiatives.
Prior to his current position Scott worked as a writer in a marketing and publications office at his alma mater. He also participated in writing based research assistantships while in grad school.
GS: What is your favorite thing about your job?
SS: I enjoy the writing process in most contexts. For me, the process of creating something out of nothing, or from an idea or concept, is challenging and rewarding. I also enjoy the creativity needed for writing good marketing copy and the challenge of finding the right words to get and keep the reader’s attention.
GS: Why did you decide to earn a graduate degree in writing?
SS: My undergrad degree is in English, which focused on literature and theory more than writing. I knew I wanted to write professionally, and that I had a lot more to learn. I also finished my undergrad in the middle of the recession, and I wanted to do something useful while searching for a job.
GS: What school did you ultimately attend?
SS: I attended the Master of Arts in Professional Writing program at Kennesaw State University, in Kennesaw, GA.
GS: Did you earn a master’s or Ph.D.?
SS: I earned a master’s degree in Applied Writing.
GS: What were the career/educational goals that led you to decide to enroll in a writing graduate program?
SS: I decided to focus on writing because I recognized the need for excellent writers in every business across all industries. Whether it’s with website content, newsletters, direct mail, magazines, press releases, social media, blogs, etc., the ability to write clearly and effectively is a skill that can be applied anywhere. I also knew that if I ended up doing something other than writing for a living, solid communication skills would still prove to be a valuable asset. I also noticed bad writing in many places—company websites, in particular—and saw an opportunity to develop a skill that companies need.
GS: When researching schools did you have a specific set of criteria that helped you narrow down your options?
SS: Yes, I had a list of items that were important to me in finding the right program.
GS: What were these criteria?
SS: The most important factor for me was location. Since I was not willing to move out of state for grad school, my choices were automatically limited. And I knew I didn’t want to attempt any distance or online programs. There’s no substitute for face-to-face interactions. Beyond that, I wanted a program with some course diversity because I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do yet. Finally, I wanted practical, focused courses on writing professionally. As much as I enjoyed studying Transcendentalism and Gothic literature, I was ready for courses like Business and Technical Editing and Web Content Development.
GS: What was the reason you ultimately decided to enroll in your chosen program?
SS: Well I found all the things I was looking for. It was close to home and offered diverse and practical courses. The course diversity was a big factor. The program offers three concentrations, and students select one as their primary area and another as a support area. As a result, I was able to take writing courses and education courses simultaneously, so I could still pursue teaching if I wanted. I also found a list of program alumni that included their current positions. Not only did I know that graduates were getting jobs, but that they were getting the kinds of jobs that I was interested in.
GS: Knowing what you do now, would you have used the same criteria?
SS: Yes, I would. I might expand the list some.
GS: What would your additional/different criteria have been?
SS: If I modified my approach at all, I would probably attempt to contact some alumni, or ask the office to provide some references, in order to learn more about how the program prepared students for their careers. Speaking with alumni would have also helped me select the best courses and professors. Although a variety of courses is a good thing, it can make it difficult to choose. And since grad school requires far fewer credits than undergrad and certain courses are offered infrequently, it’s important to choose your courses wisely.
GS: What 3 pieces of advice would you give to individuals who are currently going through the process of selecting a writing graduate program?
SS: First, find a list of program alumni. See what other people are doing with that degree to determine if it lines up with your career goals. And if you don’t have specific careers in mind yet, that list is a good place for ideas. If you can’t find a list on the website, ask for it. You want to be sure that graduates of the program are getting good jobs in industries that are relevant to your skills. And as I already mentioned, it could help to contact some of them and ask about the program. Most people don’t study something in grad school that they’re not passionate about, so they’re probably happy to talk about it.
Second, ask about the professors. Ask current students and alumni. Don’t just rely on anonymous online reviews. One professor can make or break your experience in the program, and the right professor can change the course of your career.
Third, don’t underestimate the value of location. Even for those willing to move long distances for grad school, find a place you want to live and work, even if it’s only while you’re in school. If you’re not happy where you are, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to enjoy school. And if you don’t enjoy it, you might be wasting your time and money.
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