As you might expect, writing in college is very different from writing in high school. There are different types of assignments, different expectations, different grading, and different time structures. Yes, writing is still writing, but both the process and the end result are quite distinctive.
In high school, writing assignments are usually clearly defined. There are set topics and set ways to format the essay. The expectation in high school is that you will be able to effectively regurgitate other people’s ideas and research, with your own opinion relegated to a background role.
On the other hand, college assignments are often quite open ended. Gone are the days of uniform essay prompts and hand-holding guides to walk you through your paper! Professors will also expect their students to develop their own unique arguments and justifications for those arguments. Oh, and not to mention, college papers can be really long! If this sounds scary to you, don’t worry; it’s not so bad. Writing in college can actually be really fun. Just because college writing is different doesn’t mean you won’t be able to handle it. If you do need some help making the leap, here are some ways to make the transition from high school to college writing as smooth as can be:
1. Be confident in your own opinions. As 18-year olds talking about ideas that the big time academics have debated for years, there is a tendency to defer to the bigwigs’ thoughts and research. Describing instead of evaluating is a hallmark of a young, unconfident writer. In college, this won’t fly; instead, you need to stake out your own positions and defend them with your own crisp reasoning. You can use scholarly research to inform your opinions, but ultimately a good college paper hinges on proposing a unique, critically developed argument.
2. Make concrete plans – with incentives. The lack of structure on college writing assignments can be disconcerting. Sometimes professors will hand out essay topics one day and not mention the paper again until the day you hand it in. In order to avoid waiting around for help (that likely won’t come unless you seek it out…) and stressfully leaving it for the last day (trust me, it’s a bad idea…), it’s crucial that you make a writing plan and stick to it. Plan out when you’ll research. Plan out when you’ll take notes. Plan out when you’ll make an outline. Plan out when you’ll write the final essay. In short, plan! Writing your plan down, in a planner, scheduler, or your online calendar, is a good way to make it more concrete. Finally, take a hard look at yourself and realize what incentive you need to stick to your plan. Some people reward themselves with nice meals for accomplishing their goals. Other people force themselves to give away money if they fall behind. Find what works for you, and hold yourself to it!
3. Take advantage of all the writing resources at your disposal. It can often seem like you’re all on your own for papers in college. This lack of structure and aid is understandably scary. But never fear! There are always people to help you out, if you’re brave enough to seek them out. You can go to your professor’s office hours to bounce ideas off of her. You can meet with TA’s for more specific questions about content, style, and structure. If you’re lucky, your college will have a writing center that works with students on their writing assignments. If you did get this lucky (or were smart and chose a college that provided writing aid to students), definitely take advantage of this. The more smart people you have looking at your essay, the better the final product will be. Once you start searching around, you’ll find plenty of people willing and eager to help you out.
As long as you’re confident, disciplined, and willing to seek out help, success in college writing is right within your grasp!