4 Ways to Prepare for Writing Essays in College
by Story2 Guest Author, on Oct 8, 2014 12:03:00 PM
You’ve worked hard, crafted an amazing admissions essay, and succeeded in getting into your dream school. Congratulations!
Now that you can stop worrying about getting into college, it’s time to start worrying about all that college homework—particularly writing college essays. (Did someone just play the theme song to Jaws?) Whether you are planning to major in English or engineering, your journey into college essay writing is just beginning.
Are you ready?
You might not be. It turns out that 60% of incoming freshmen aren’t prepared for college-level courses. How can you make sure that you’ll be one of the 40% who are ready to tackle college-level writing head on? If you’re reading this post, then you are probably ahead of the pack. Continue on to learn 4 critical things you need to know about writing essays in college.
1. Stop summarizing.
In college essay writing, you need to stop summarizing and start analyzing. If you are asked to write an essay on Frankenstein, for example, don’t you dare write a summary that reads like a book report. Your college professor certainly expects that you are smart enough to understand a novel’s plot by now. College writing goes way, WAY beyond basic comprehension.
For example, it’s easy to write a summary like this one:
None of the above summary offers anything new or insightful about Frankenstein. Much like when crafting your personal statement, avoid the obvious in your college writing.
Instead, let me show you an example of analysis:
Do you see the difference between these two examples? The second goes beyond summary and analyzes the sociopathic nature of Victor Frankenstein.
2. Learn to argue.
Nearly every piece of college writing will require you to argue a point. I’m not talking about the type of arguments you have with your parents or siblings. I’m talking about the critical thinking and discussion that comes from taking a thoughtful, researched position on a topic. When selecting a topic to write about, ask yourself two questions: 1) is it possible for readers to disagree with your position? and 2) how can you convince them to agree? If the answer to both of those questions is "yes," then you've selected a strong, argumentative topic.
Here is an example of what not to do:
“A honey bee visits a flower and gathers nectar. When the bee stops, it gets pollen on its feet. Then it flies to another flower to gather more nectar and leaves pollen from the first flower behind. This is how pollination works.”
Describing how honey bees pollinate might offer some important information, but it’s not going to inspire discussion or debate.
A better choice would be to take a stance for or against pesticides that are reportedly killing the honey bee population.
“Researchers have made a definitive link between neonicotinoid pesticides and Colony Collapse Disorder (Pettis et al., 2013). The U.S. government should ban the use of these pesticides immediately. Failure to do so will result in a loss of pollinating bees and serious crop shortages.”
Do you see what a big difference taking a stance and arguing a point make? The result is higher level thinking and a more interesting paper.
3. Plan your time.
Don’t expect your professor to break down your assignment into small, digestible pieces. And definitely don’t plan for a lot of in-class writing time (if any!). The majority of college-level work takes place outside of the classroom. Most universities suggest that you should plan to spend two to three hours doing homework for each credit hour you take.
This means that your three-credit English course is going to require as much as nine hours of outside homework time per week. Most of this time will be spent reading course material, planning and researching for papers, and writing college essays. Be prepared to manage your own time! In September, your professor may tell you that an essay will be due in October, and that will likely be the last you’ll hear about it until it’s due.
You might be tempted to think “October is so far away, I have plenty of time!” If you think this way, the next thing you know, the essay will be due tomorrow. (Aack!) Don't procrastinate. Instead, as soon as you get your syllabus, set a plan in action for each of your upcoming projects.
Let’s say you have a month to write a 5-page analysis of The Great Gatsby:
- Weeks 1-2 read the book and take thorough notes.
- Week 3 outline and begin writing your college essay.
- Week 4 finalize and edit your essay.
4. Edit your work.
Your professors expect that you have already learned basic grammar and spelling—at the very least. It’s extra important that you turn in polished and clean assignments in your college classes.
One high school English teacher wrote an open letter to college professors in which she stated that high school education does not adequately teach students about higher level thinking or “proper grammar, usage, syntax, and structure.” Don’t let bad grammar get the best of you! You might have crafted a strong argument, made an interesting analysis, and turned your paper in on time, but if your professor is confused by your misplaced commas or atrocious spelling, you can be sure that your grade is going to suffer. If this sounds like your downfall, see if you can’t spend some time in your university writing center brushing up on the basics, and don’t be afraid to seek the help of an editor if you need one.
Writing essays in college is much more demanding than writing essays in high school. You’ll need to develop your critical thinking chops to survive. You will also need to stay organized and avoid procrastination.
One final thought. Don’t worry too much—your freshman-level classes will help you to develop the skills you need to survive the increasingly difficult upper-level courses. College professors expect a lot from you, but many of them also understand that you need time to grow and learn.