If on entering college you think that all you have to do to have good grades is continue to write your essays in the same way you did it in high school, then you are in for a nasty surprise. College-level essay writing significantly differs from what you are most likely used to. The rules applied to essay writing in high school exist primarily to teach you the basics of expressing your ideas and opinions on paper. They are like training wheels you need to get the hang of academic writing but are not expected to rely on throughout your life. In college, you simultaneously have much more freedom and much greater responsibility. It takes some getting used to – and in this article, we will give you some college essay tips to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Forget the 5-Paragraph Structure
In high school, students commonly study how to write a 5-paragraph essay – an essay that consists of an introduction, 3 body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Whatever you write is reduced to this structure, even when it feels restrictive and artificial. Well, it is exactly this – restrictive and artificial, and in college, you no longer have to follow it if you need to organize your thoughts in a different way. The earlier you understand it and start experimenting with structures, the better it is for your overall writing skill.
Do Deeper Research
Even if you do not need a particular book or article as a source of quotations, it is not a reason to skip over it. The more sources you use and the more diverse they are, the better impression your essay is going to make. While you may leave a source unquoted, it still offers you background information on the subject and shows your professors that you took the task of gathering information seriously. In fact, it may even be a bad idea to quote sources too much – use too many quotations and paraphrases, and your essay will start looking as if you have nothing of your own to say.
Get a Second Opinion
Getting a second opinion is a good idea not just in medical issues, but in academic writing as well. After spending a significant amount of time thinking about one thing, doing research on it, and writing up your ideas, it is all too easy to start developing tunnel vision and miss the forest for the trees. Chances are, you are too used to seeing your writing and your perception of the subject matter to view them in a critical light. By asking somebody whom you trust (a friend, a peer from the same class, a relative, etc.) to read your essay and say what he/she thinks about your writing, you can get unexpected and valuable insights into the topic.
Consider this: an average instructor has dozens of essays to read and grade every day, and it is far from being his/her only responsibility. It is hardly surprising that most professors admit that they do not read every essay they deal with. They simply skim through most of them to get their general idea, see if the student is a competent writer and has sufficient knowledge of the topic. It concerns you in two ways.
Firstly, if your essay is hard to read and follow, it is going to annoy the professor who will have to waste extra time to understand what you were going to say.
Secondly, if it is difficult to follow your line of thought, your professor is likely to assume that your understanding of the topic leaves much to be desired and will grade it accordingly.
As a result, readability becomes a crucial aspect of your writing. Structure your essay in such a way that its key points are immediately visible when skimming through it and give the reader a good idea of the general message of your writing.
Use Advanced Vocabulary
One of the ways in which college-level writing sets itself apart from high school writing is the vocabulary you use. Your professors expect you to choose words that reflect your current academic level. This means that you should avoid using general terms like “good” or “bad” and prefer words that are better at expressing shades of meaning and different connotations.
Use Simple Sentences
In high school, your attempts to express yourself using complex, multi-clause sentences were probably looked favorably upon because they demonstrated your understanding of their grammatical structure. However, the college emphasizes clarity and readability in all things. Complex sentences do not demonstrate your sophistication and elaborate writing style. On the contrary, they signal your inability to drive your point home using simply easily understandable sentence structures. Even more importantly, the more complicated your sentences are, the more likely you are to make grammar and stylistic errors. Take your cue from such writers as Hemingway and Fitzgerald, who produced exquisite prose using the simplest possible sentence structures.
Be Thorough in Your Revisions
In high school, you could have expected your teachers to be lenient towards you. If you did not revise your essay enough, you could have expected them to take pity on you and pay greater attention to what you meant to say rather than to how you said it. You have to forget about it in college. There will be no condescension. Your professors will evaluate your essays solely based on their own value. This is why you have to be extremely careful when revising and preparing your essays for submission – nobody is going to overlook your mistakes anymore.
As you can see, writing essays in high school is completely different from doing it in college. You will have to learn a new set of skills and even new ways of looking at the entire thing. Do it, and you will not have any problems throughout your stay in college.