One would think that good writing is good writing no matter when and where it is done – yet in reality you are likely to be in for a nasty surprise after writing your first college essay. Only several months prior your writing won good marks and praise of your teachers at school, but now your tutors are dissatisfied and outright annoyed – you are not doing something right.
It is, of course, understandable – one would expect that college sets higher quality standards than even a very good high school – but the thing is, more often than not, the problem isn’t that your writing should be better than it was at high school but that it should be different from what you are used to.
Yes, it is misleading: for all intents and purposes at school you are taught one kind of writing, but after going to college you have to forget a lot of what you’ve learnt and start all over again.
There are many very different tasks that you will face with while studying at college, and all of them will require different sets of skills; but what your professors want from you first and foremost is the ability to analyze and build an argument.
This means that you should know not only how to read a text and recount it in your own words, but to understand what is said in it, read something between the lines that are not expressed directly, find signs of not-so-evident meanings, analyze the relationships in which different elements of the text are and make conclusions.
The three elements of most good college-level writing assignments are claim, evidence and answers to counter-arguments.
Claim is an idea, preferably an interesting, original and not self-evident, that you present to your professor.
Evidence is facts, reasoning and proof that this claim is valid.
And as any not self-evident claim is challengeable, you should prepare answers to possible counter-arguments that may try to disprove it – it shows your ability to think critically, look at things from different viewpoints and prove your point.
On the one hand, college essays have some very clear requirements to follow; on the other hand, the rules according to which you have to write are far less strict than in case of high school. For example, the five-paragraph structure in high school essay is often perceived as a goal in itself – you can write paragraphs of any size to fit this structure, even if it looks unnatural and clumsy. There should be no more than 3 points covered in the main body of the essay – again, in order to follow a predetermined structure.
In college-level writing you are given much greater liberty. There are no arbitrary limitations and restrictions – or, rather, these limitations and restrictions are less concerned with formal rules (number of paragraphs, what each paragraph should start with) and more concerned with overall structure, quality and appearance of the essay.
One thing is for sure – even if you were considered an ace at school, you have a lot to learn before you excel at college-level writing.