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Creative writing, journalism, English, and communications – what’s the difference?

It seems like schools will often offer a variety of writing programs that all seem vaguely similar, and your guidance counselors, teachers and the plethora of pamphlets that colleges hand out don’t give any helpful advice for choosing between comparable majors.

But don’t fret, because I went through the exact same ordeal before settling down on journalism. A year later, as a sophomore, I am generally satisfied with my choice. So to help you, I’ve broken down each major to explain its focus, probable classes offered by the major (based off what my own school provides), who it’s suitable for and future careers these majors can lead to.

Creative Writing:

  • What It Is: Because it is focused on the craft of creating a work of prose or poetry, this major is obviously going to be writing-intensive. You’re probably going to be studying and reading a lot of classic literature and workshopping your own writing.
  • Possible Classes: American Literary Traditions, writing/reading classes for poetry/fiction/nonfiction
  • Who It’s For: Because of how intensive it is, choose this major if you are serious about going into writing as a career, not just if you want to generally improve your writing.
  • Who It’s Not For: Among the majors I’m discussing, creative writing might be one of the more narrower options, in terms of future careers. I would also not recommend this major if you want to focus on a broader range of subjects, not just a writing component.
  • Future Career Paths: writing/poetry (duh), publishing

English Literature:

  • What It Is: This major is pretty similar to creative writing, just with less of a focus on developing your own writing. You’ll be analyzing English literature from medieval times to the present, and discussing its influence on broader culture.
  • Possible Classes: Introduction to Shakespeare, Studies in Medieval Literature, American Novel
  • Who It’s For: If you love literature and can talk about geek out about it for hours, consider this major! Having an interest in history doesn’t hurt either, since much of the texts you discuss will be from before the 19th century (think “Beowulf”) and you’ll get opportunities to connect these works to the cultural context of that period as well.
  • Who It’s Not For: If you get bored by classic lit or history and want to do more of your own writing, this probably is not the major for you. Similarly in regard to creative writing, you might not want to choose this major if you want a more varied selection of classes.
  • Future Career Paths: writing, publishing, teaching, library work


  • What It Is: This is probably the broadest major out of all the ones I’m discussing, as it encompasses a lot of disciplines and topics. The major is all about providing tools and theories for people to analyze and develop communication in areas of personal and professional interaction. You’ll study everything, from cinema, the media, business and how communication plays a role in those environments.
  • Possible Classes: Public Speaking, Popular Culture, Communication and Technology, Rhetoric, Social Networks, etc.
  • Who It’s For: If you are into writing or reading, but not exactly sure what to go into, this could be a great starting point to explore how language shapes and affects different fields. Additionally, if you want a more well-rounded education and learn about a variety of things, this is also a good choice.
  • Who It’s Not For: Of course, if you have already narrowed your focus to reading or writing, you don’t have to choose something so broad. Similarly, this major can seem a little too vague and open-ended at times. I have a friend who currently studies communications, and when I asked what her major exactly entails, she replied with a very assuring, “I have no idea.” However, she really likes her classes, if that makes you feel any better.
  • Future Career Paths: Because the major is so broad, you can probably work in a variety of fields after graduation, from marketing and advertising, public relations, journalism, to even working at nonprofit organizations or in the government.


  • What It Is: A lot of people assume journalism school trains people to be the next Walter Cronkite or Anderson Cooper, but that’s only one aspect of the discipline. Journalism is all about creating media and training students to be writers, anchors, documentary makers, or whatever our hearts desire. Choosing this major will allow students to learn the basics of reporting, like how to use multi-media platforms like audio or visual storytelling. There are also courses for people who want to specialize in certain areas, such as investigative, sports, political or interactive reporting.
  • Possible Classes: Reporting and Writing, Multimedia Storytelling, Investigative Journalism
  • Who It’s For: If you want to tell stories about what is happening in the world and learn tools to do so, consider a journalism major! It’s not just about talking into a mic; you learn how to be a more concise and engaging writer, and gain skills in photography, video and design. If you’ve always wanted to travel the world and learn about different people and cultures, direct a documentary, become a Photoshop wiz, interview Kanye West or take iconic photos, journalism might be the path for you. Furthermore, journalism is an on-the-move kind of career – you will frequently be outside, whether to interview sources or gather b-roll for a video project.
  • Who It’s Not For: If you want to focus more on fiction writing or work that is more descriptive and fantastical, journalism might not be the best place. Additionally, speaking from experience, going into journalism means you will have to be on deadline all the time and anxiously checking your emails 20 times a day to see if your source has replied. If you want a more low-key, sedentary career where you avoid having multiple heart attacks (like a sane person), you might not want to choose journalism as a major.
  • Future Career Paths: working in a radio, broadcast or editorial format; marketing, graphic design, editing, publishing

Why I Chose Journalism:

For me, I think I’ve always been a little better at nonfictional writing. Creating my own universes and characters has never been my strong point. Thus, I thought journalism would be a good fit, as I get to talk to real people and report on their stories. Additionally, reporting is a great way to get to know people from all walks of life, people who you wouldn’t otherwise meet. I’ve gotten to interview scientists, authors, a human rights lawyer, and even a DJ.

Furthermore, I think journalism is a good stepping stone to other careers. I have interests in other areas, such as in the entertainment and film industry, and a journalism major will help me gain the skills I need in those areas, such as learning video production. However, I think it is a little bit easier finding a job after college, as opposed to majoring in creative writing or film, since I’ve been trained in writing and other formats like audio reporting and photojournalism. I can (ideally) choose from writing/editing at a newspaper, magazine or online outlet, or find my way into the entertaining industry and do more creative things.

Hopefully that was a helpful run-down of the different offerings these writing-related majors have to offer. By no means is this an exhaustive list, and by no means are you limited to the opportunities and career paths they may lead into; you are free to double major or minor or switch majors. People change their minds all the time and are fine – your major does not dictate your future success.

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  1. A decir on December 1, 2015

    Comparative Literature is also an important route. Comparative Literature is very heavy on literary theory theory, like English Literature but has an international focus. You have to study 1 or more foreign languages for the undergraduate and generally 3 or 4 in graduate studies. Comparative Literature departments frequently house translation as well, but do your research first, or you will be do all theory. 🙂

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