Overwhelmingly, time and time again, research has shown the ability to write well is key to overall college success. This is no surprise. After all, writing at its core is thinking on paper, and the ability to think and reason is what separates great students from mediocre performers. In my transition from high school teacher to college professor, I have noted five distinct differences in high school and college writing. If each of these differences were addressed, students, especially adult learners-- those returning to school after a long absence, would make a smoother transition to college level work because writing is needed for almost every class.
High school students write papers that are informative whereas college papers are explorative.
College students are expected to be embrace new concepts and expand upon those ideas in their papers. Most high school papers are generally informative. A high school teacher generally assigns students papers to check for their understanding. For instance, a high school teacher might be ask a student to write a paper on the Civil War. The student is expected to regurgitate facts and ideologies discussed in class. A history professor, on the other hand, wants the student to discover new ideologies about the Civil War that were not discussed or explored in class. Furthermore, the student may be asked to research another war and note political, economic or other similarities to the Civil War.
High school students write general thesis statements, whereas college students are expected to form solid argumentative thesis statements.
In high school students wrote very general thesis statements, if they wrote them at all. Students might write: I am going to discuss the way Romeo and Juliet interacted with their families. However, a college thesis is much more specific and directive and really drives the paper. For instance, a college thesis might be: It will be proven that the friar’s lack of religious influence caused the death of Romeo. The college thesis should be opinionated and it show be written in such a way that it could be challenged by someone with an opposing view.
High school students may surf the web and find sources to use in their paper whereas college professors will only accept scholarly research sources.
In high school students googled and used popular sources like magazine, websites and books in their papers. For the most part, if students did not plagiarize, these sources were accepted as authoritative. College writing, on the other hand, requires the use of scholarly sources. Scholarly sources are research references that are peer-reviewed or an articles or books from an academic publisher. A website has to meet certain criteria to be scholarly.
High school students were taught to write in a simple form, whereas college writing requires more invention.
In high school most students were taught to write the typical five paragraph essay. This essay generally included an introduction, conclusion and three body paragraphs and each body paragraph elaborated on each point. This was the way most students prepared for the writing portion of the SAT. In College writing students are expected to write expansively and decipher each point, and the five paragraph essay just does not meet the standard.
High school students write papers using a loose form of MLA or generally no form at all, whereas college professors require strict adherence to form.
Students should know how to cite in Modern Language Association (MLA), Association of Psychological (APA), Chicago, etc. The font should always be 12 point. The research within the paper should be cited a specific way.
These five areas, if addressed will help students to write well in college and beyond. Adult learners, especially those returning to school and those taking online classes, often struggle repeatedly with some of these issues. However, once students master these skills they quickly transform into strong students.
Cheryl Carter is a college professor who enjoys helping other write with clarity and power. She is the author of Essential Writing Skills for College Bound Students and several other books. Her books have been translated into several languages. In addition to writing, she manages an online writing school. Visit www.writeforcollege.org for information on how to be better prepared for college writing.
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Cheryl Carter is a busy homeschooling mom, who is never too busy to help others. She has helped countless homeschool parents navigate the college admission process. Her unique insights and practical advice will give your child the competitive edge in admissions.