If you’re good with words, a role as an editor might be for you. These media and communication professionals get written material ready for publication in a book, magazine or newspaper or on a website. They may be involved in every part of the content creation process, from the big-picture planning of stories to the detail-oriented task of proofreading text. Aspiring editors need a college education that equips them with strong skills in management, writing, story planning, fact-checking, catching spelling and grammatical mistakes and many other aspects of this career.
What to Expect From a Career With an Editing Degree
Editors have different roles depending on the industries they work in, the type of publication they work for and their specific job titles. Some editors, particularly those at larger publications and organizations, may fulfill very specific roles. However, others handle a wide range of editing tasks.
At the start of the writing process, an editor may determine what stories the publication will tell and how it will go about telling that story. This includes the target audience for the story and the writing style the author will use. The editor may work closely with writers, guiding them to meet these editorial goals.
An editor assesses whether the publication should print the piece and what changes the writer will need to make to it. The editor may look for grammatical and stylistic mistakes, factual inaccuracies and awkward or confusing language. Some editors write content for the publication or organization themselves, while others focus exclusively on reviewing and improving the writing of others.
Editors made a median salary of $63,400 per year as of 2020, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. The highest-paid editors typically work in religious, grantmaking, civic and professional organizations, which in 2020 paid a median salary of $71,520. Unfortunately, fewer than one in ten editors in the U.S. work in this industry. However, the industry concerned with other information services and the scientific and technical services industry paid median salaries near this range, at $69,460 and $69,150, respectively. Among editors who work for the newspaper, periodical, book and directory publishers industry – more than a third of the occupation, according to the BLS – the 2020 median salary was $58,260.
The job outlook for editors isn’t great, with the BLS predicting a slower than average rate of growth of just 5 percent between 2020 and 2030. The main reason for this mediocre job outlook is that fewer people are reading print media than ever, resulting in an expected decline in the number of editor positions available, the BLS reported.
However, online publications and websites still need someone to write and edit content. Current and aspiring editors who are flexible and adjust well to electronic forms of communication can still find opportunities for success in this career, even if traditional editing roles are on the decline. All in all, the BLS expected there to be around 11,200 job openings per year for editor roles between 2020 and 2030. Editing jobs today may not look like they did several decades ago, but they’re far from obsolete.
One in ten editors working in the United States in 2020 was self-employed, according to the BLS. Earning potential among freelance editors can vary a great deal, as the discrepancies across salary comparison sites reflect. While Glassdoor reported the national average salary for freelance writers at just $53,657 for early 2021, ZipRecruiter listed a much higher rate of $69,599.
Why Do You Need an Editor Degree?
Having a good eye for catching mistakes and the creativity to flesh out a story idea can make you a good candidate for a career in editing. However, your natural writing and proofreading skills will only get you so far. To attain an editor position – particularly one with a distinguished publication – you’ll need a formal college education.
Ideally, students who want to become editors will choose writing-intensive majors that include studies in the appropriate writing practices for different forms of written communications. They may learn about the principles of ethical journalism and about literary and rhetorical devices. Just because you can write well in one style or voice doesn’t mean that you can write sufficiently well for different audiences and purposes, in different tones and formats or with different priorities in mind. A college degree program that is writing-intensive will help you develop the breadth and depth of your skills as a writer and an editor, as well as give you plenty of opportunities to practice writing and revising your work.
It isn’t only what students learn in the classroom that helps prepare them for the job duties of an editor. Having real-world experience writing and editing content beyond typical classroom assignments can be very valuable for aspiring editors. You can gain this experience through internships with media companies or publishing houses or even by participating in college newspapers and magazines.
Using your time in school to gain experience writing and editing a variety of different kinds of texts and content can help you succeed in launching your editor career. Not only do you gain valuable skills through hands-on work in the field, but you can build connections with industry contacts, cultivate a professional reputation and generate writing samples and “clips” that can fill your portfolio.
You don’t have to wait until you get to college to start getting writing and editing experience. Dedicated high school students can contribute to high school newspapers and magazines, find writing groups online to help them practice their craft, read books on writing and, above all, practice writing.
What Degree Do You Need to Be an Editor?
Editor Education Requirements
Getting an education is an important part of becoming an editor – especially if you want to do more than the proofreading work of a copy editor. In fact, the vast majority of editors have at least a four-year degree. Bachelor’s degrees are reported as the highest level of education for 80 percent of the occupation, according to O*NET. Another 17 percent of the occupation has a master’s degree. Rounding out the top three most common levels of education for this profession is a post-baccalaureate certificate.
Why is a college education so important for editors? Remember, the role of an editor is extensive and involves a diverse array of job duties. Depending on your field of employment and your editorial position, you may be responsible for everything from conceptualizing a story to overseeing writers. An editor has to be a creative professional but must also be able to reign in other creative professionals, like writers and artists. They must have the skills of a manager but must also be willing and able to dive into hands-on work of editing drafts and manuscripts.
Editors who work in specific niches or areas may need expertise and formal education beyond a bachelor’s degree in a relevant content area. For example, science and health editors and writers may be expected to have a master’s degree or even a PhD in the applicable area of science. On the other hand, even senior-level editor roles at newspapers, magazines and publishing houses very rarely expect candidates to have a doctorate.
What Major to Become an Editor?
Most editors start with a bachelor’s degree in a subject such as English, communications, journalism or writing. You might also choose to major in a subject area if your goal is to become an editor in a specific industry.
English Majors for Aspiring Editors
English as a college major gets a bad reputation, but a degree that focuses so strongly on reading and writing has more value than many people think – particularly for individuals dreaming of an editing career. When you major in English, you focus heavily on the study and critique of literature written in the English language. Most English major curricula include studies in poetry and narrative writing (the writing of stories, both fictional and nonfictional), as well as studies in historical literature.
Beyond this fundamental core coursework, English majors typically choose an assortment of courses pertaining to their area of interest. For some students, this may mean focusing the bulk of their major coursework on the study of a particular genre of writing or content, a particular literary style or movement or work produced by authors from certain backgrounds (for example, women authors or minority authors). Other students may specialize in the combination of literature and philosophy or in foreign language literature. Some English programs allow students to build a concentration in creative writing themselves, but much of the coursework in an English degree program has more to do with reading, analyzing, interpreting and critiquing existing works of literature than with composing your own creative works.
Communications Degrees for an Editor Career
Broader than an English degree is a communications degree. While typical English degrees tend to emphasize the critical analysis of works of literature, communications programs tend to look more broadly at communications as an industry and at communication in different forms of media.
As a communications major, you will likely focus less on literary analyses than an English major, but you may take classes in the media industry, communication behavior, popular culture in the media and the research methods used in the study of communication. A communications curriculum may allow for customization of your degree with a wide range of communications electives to choose from and optional concentrations to pursue.
Some of the concentrations you might consider as a communications major include audiences and persuasive rhetoric, culture and society, politics and policy, advocacy and activism, public relations and strategic communications, communications and entrepreneurship, healthcare communications, data and network science, digital journalism and new media, film study and visual communications. Your coursework pertaining to the media industry and to the production of communications messaging, including persuasive rhetoric, is particularly relevant to your career ambitions in editing.
Journalism Majors for Editor Positions
If you want to be an editor at a magazine or newspaper, specifically, then journalism is an especially good choice of major. Journalism refers to the activities of producing and distributing news-related content, and much of the focus of this degree program is on preparing students to create their own journalistic content, as opposed to merely analyzing someone else’s literary content or media industry market. If, on the other hand, you aspire to work in a publishing house editing books, another major might be more relevant.
A journalism curriculum will likely include some coursework in the media industry and writing for media communications, but students will also take introductory through advanced coursework in reporting, as well as studying the quantitative methods used in journalism and digital skills for multimedia content creation. Classes in journalism ethics and communication law are important. Often, students of journalism will take classes that cover different types of journalistic writing, including sports reporting, feature article writing, opinion writing and race, ethnic and community reporting.
Writing as a College Major
Being a good editor requires a considerable level of writing skill and knowledge, so it makes sense that some editors come to the field with a background in writing specifically. A writing degree will typically focus more on cultivating skills for high-quality writing than on the study of literary works or of the media and communications industry.
There are different types of writing degrees available. Creative writing degrees are probably the most well-known type of degrees that are based specifically on writing and usually encompass a curriculum specific to the production of creative forms of written communication such as poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, scripts and screenplays. Professional writing programs are geared more toward students who want to pursue non-creative careers in writing, such as freelance writers. General writing or writing arts programs may include many different aspects of writing, allowing students to prepare for a wide variety of writing roles. Depending on how specific you want your degree to be, you may opt to major in technical writing, business writing or science and medical writing.
STEM Subjects, Pre-Law and Other Content Areas of Study for Editors
Some editors are experts in a content area first and media and communications professionals second. For example, a scientist may end up holding an editor position at a scientific journal that publishes peer-reviewed studies and articles. If you want to be an editor in this kind of capacity, you might major in one of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects or in another subject of particular interest, while taking every opportunity to build your writing and editing skills through coursework and hands-on experiences.
Editor is a creative career that won’t require you to be a starving artist. Today’s editors play an important role in the creation of written content. They don’t just proofread final drafts of copy but instead shape the stories a publication features and the storytelling strategies it uses.