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How to Prepare for the Demands of College Writing

Updated on June 2, 2022Students
Are you ready for college writing?

College readiness reaches far beyond choosing the right posters for your dorm room walls and scoring a meal plan that includes all-you-can-eat pizza (though, those things are important too).

Even if you passed your high school standardized tests with flying colors and graduated with a decent GPA, you may still find that, despite the best efforts of your previous teachers, you’re just not as prepared as you should be for the challenges of college.

This is often the case with college writing, as professors’ expectations are so markedly different from those of high school instructors. To get a head start on mending the gap, give some thought to the advice below.

Don’t be a slave to structure.

High school writing can be very formulaic. The five-paragraph essay, anyone? How about the underlined thesis statement? The paragraph with a topic sentence, two supporting facts, and a conclusion?

Learning to write according to these structures can be incredibly useful when you’re first putting pen to paper, but in college, you’ll be expected to write much longer, more complex pieces.

Prepare yourself to break free of the old conventions and embrace the freedom to present and order your papers according to your own beliefs and the type of information being discussed.

In other words, ditch the training wheels!

Put on your critical thinking cap.

Whereas high school writing is largely about demonstrating understanding by expressing personal opinions or by summarizing, college writing demands pointed analysis and carefully crafted arguments.

Professors don’t merely want to make sure that you’ve absorbed material, they want to know that you’ve thought critically about ideas, weighed up the different sides of arguments, investigated supporting evidence, and synthesized your own claims based on in-depth research and consideration.

In short, get ready to grapple with the logic behind strong reasoning. Consider enrolling in a basic philosophy class if you need to brush up on the act of crafting and supporting arguments.

Get your scale out.

This is handy both for measuring the freshman fifteen (pounds, that is) that you might pack on and for weighing up the integrity of a source.

Unlike high school papers that depended largely on your own ingenious opinions or experiences (or a single book for a book report), college assignments will hinge on credible, reliable research. It’s essential to understand what differentiates a respectable source from flaky data and facts.

Consider putting together a checklist of some of the questions you should ask yourself when evaluating information. Your college may even have formal criteria that you can use to go about this process.

Find your inner James Bond.

Secret agent 007 was sexy, suave, and smart about relying on helpful resources, like intelligence service head M and a vast array of crazy technological devices. Take your cue from the famous British bad boy and make a point to get a leg up when you need it.

That could mean anything from consulting tutors and getting feedback from professors to equipping yourself with a cutting-edge spelling checker (like Grammarly) and bookmarking great reference material (we love Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL)) for easy online access.

Brush up on your grammar.

Sure, this may come off as a little bit self-indulgent, but the gist of the matter is that thanks to the enactment of the No Child Left Behind education policy, high-schoolers have been increasingly forced to focus on standardized test writing that does not require proper grammar, syntax, and usage.

As a result, lessons about conjugation, punctuation, and more have fallen to the wayside.

While some college professors may be compassionate to this reality, others may, in the words of Justin Timberlake, merely say, “Cry me a river.”

So, if you don’t want to be marked down for poor grammar, commit yourself to making up for lost education time. More specifically, consider enrolling in a basic English class, subscribing to a grammar blog (like ours!), investing in some quality guidebooks, or even watching some old-fashioned grammar instruction via YouTube.

Was this helpful? If you still feel up High School Creek without a paddle, tell us how we can better prepare you to stay afloat in college.

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