In my opinion, a Creative Writing degree is not there to teach you how to write. This may seem a strange thing to say, but you have to have the passion there first. The degree hones your skills. Most importantly, what a degree can do is to give you a chance to try on lots of different voices and find the one that fits you best. When I first did creative writing at University, I had a very set idea as to what sort of writer I was, by the end of my undergraduate degree I found that I couldn't have been more wrong. The voice I thought I had didn't exist instead I found I was a writer for young adults. It is easy to say that you could do these things away from university but actually it is not that feasible. It takes dedication and effort and constructive feedback to help work out what is right for you. All of which a degree can provide. At Winchester, for example, you can have a go at various types of scriptwriting, writing song lyrics, short story writing, poetry, writing for children and non fiction writing to name but a few. As lecturers we are all practitioners. We understand what it means to write - both the good bits and the bad.
To reiterate one of Danuta's points, please be wary of any course that says by the end you will have a publishing contract and an agent. That's not what it should be about and no one can promise that. We can, and will, introduce you to agents and publishers but at the end of the day your work has to be good enough and different enough for them to want it. At Winchester, we are aware that very few writers can support themselves on writing alone, therefore, a few years ago, the department made a conscious decision to create modules that are outward facing. Consequently, we not only show you how to submit your MSS, pitch your script, and create your own online presence, we also encourage you to engage with the 'real world' and future employment. For example, two modules we offer look at writing for display in exhibitions/museums or you can explore teaching creative writing. Several students have gone on to work in these sort of areas as a specific result of these outward facing modules. Make sure any degree you are looking at considers all aspects of your future.
In a previous post I spoke about employability and despite many people's preconceptions a creative writing degree prepares you for so much. You are equipped with so many transferable skills but not all of them are obvious immediately. I do a lot of Open Days and I have rooms full of very excited prospective students and some fairly glum looking parents who quite obviously do not believe doing a Creative Writing degree is the intelligent choice. As I do my whole presentation on employability and what our students have gone on to do after their degree it is wonderful to watch these parents as a smile appears and their whole bodies relax because they have realised doing a Creative Writing degree is actually a very good choice. (Check us out at http://www.writingatwinchester.com/)
So in answer to my question 'why do a creative writing degree?' the answer is simple it prepares you for your future life, it gives you a chance to polish your passion. My suggestion for all writers who are considering doing a degree, whether at undergraduate or post graduate level, is to follow your heart.
For all doing exams or contemplating the future here is Jack Johnson's Sitting, Waiting, Wishing....stop wishing and go for it ;-)