Choosing your college major is difficult. It’s not unusual for students to switch majors during their collegiate years. Another common trend we’re starting to see is people choosing to work in fields that are completely different from what they studied in college. Many writers fall into this category. While there are plenty of novelists and poets who studied English or writing, just as many opted to study subjects that were very different. It might surprise you to learn what your favorite authors majored in and what they intended to do when they first started out.
Luckily for us, they all ended up writing.
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One of the most accomplished and revered writers of our time, Mailer has never failed to impress nations with his work. He’s been awarded the Pulitzer Prize in both fiction and non-fiction of this works The Armies of the Night and The Executioner’s Song. Given his many honors and decorations, it’s surprising to learn that Mailer didn’t start out as a writing student. At only 16 years old he enrolled at Harvard University, but opted to study aeronautical engineering, mostly for the sake of his nervous parents. He took plenty of writing electives, though, and his talents were quickly recognized.
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Some writers rotate between multiple majors that don’t involve writing, even at the graduate level. Kingsolver was a student at DePauw University who began her collegiate career as a music major studying classical piano. She later switched to biology and would go on to obtain a master’s degree in ecology. While she never studied writing, her background in the sciences helped propel what would become her future career, as she impressed editors with her ability to produce journalistic articles on scientific subjects.
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Another writer whose background in the sciences helped his writing significantly was Cook. A medical school graduate, Cook easily could have worked as a doctor, but he was more interested in writing. He did, however, use his vast medical knowledge to write novels such as Fatal Cure and Vital Signs. Through his books, readers have gained important medical knowledge regarding topics that can seriously affect public health. Cook is regarded as having made crucial contributions to the medical world, despite not working directly in it.
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Not every college writing department satisfies its students. Crichton began his career at Harvard University as a student of English, but was not happy with the school’s program and opted to major in biological anthropology. Following his graduation, he went on to earn an MD from Harvard Medical School, but still wasn’t satisfied in his career choices. Like Cook, his education in the medical field would serve him well as a writer, with titles such as A Case of Need and Five Patients.
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During his early days at Cornell University, Vonnegut was urged by his family to major in chemistry. He didn’t take to it, though, and was failing classes by his junior year. He later earned a degree in anthropology from the University of Chicago, although decades later, the publication of Cat’s Cradle earned him a master’s in the subject. It was decided that a published work of that quality could be worth as much as a dissertation. During his lifetime, Vonnegut was an outspoken advocate for the notion that writers should have backgrounds in subjects other than literature. The other writers on this list would likely agree.
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