Here’s a very common question from my beginning translation students: “Do I need a…(Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree, translation certificate, translator certification, etc.)” with corollaries such as “Am I better off getting a foreign language MA or a translation certificate?” “If I don’t have a Bachelor’s degree but I’m ATA-certified, is that OK?” and so on.
I can answer all of these questions with two words: it depends. There you go! That’s somewhat tongue in cheek, but it does really depend on your background, your goals, who you work for and what you do. And in this post, I’m talking about the norm, not the exception; I know a couple of self-taught conference interpreters who have tons of work, people without Bachelor’s degrees who are doing fine, and lots of people who are not ATA-certified and still make a squadrillion dollars a year. But here I’m talking in general, and I apologize in advance if this gets long!
Also, there are some very notable exceptions to these observations. For example let’s say that you want to be a court interpreter at the state level. In many U.S. states, the only pre-requisite to take the court interpreter exam is that you have to be 18 and legally eligible to work in the US. In theory, even a smart and motivated high school student could study for and pass the exam. And once you’re certified, everyone generally is paid the same rate. So in that case, and for that specific job, there may be absolutely no advantage to having a Bachelor’s degree.
Do you need a Bachelor’s degree? Yes, in most cases, I really think that you do. As with the court interpreter scenario above, of course there are exceptions. But at least in the US, I think that if you don’t have a Bachelor’s degree, you are seen as A Person Who Did Not Go to College; whereas whether you have a BA, MA, PhD, law degree…
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