College writing vs. high-school writing

Students in high school are often told that they are being prepared for writing assignments in college. This is true to a certain extent. However, they often find that they are not as prepared as they imagined they would be. That’s because although they are being prepared, they are not being fully prepared—some of the further development required to write college level writing assignments must by necessity take place in the college classroom. Here are some differences between college and high school writing:

  1. Emphasis on the thesis statement
  2. In high school, most—not all, but the majority—of the instructors students have will not place undue emphasis on the thesis statement. In fact, many high school assignments only really require that a student choose a general topic for their essay, rather than a true thesis statement. Even when instructors insist that students choose a defendable thesis, they are very lax about how broad or narrow it is, so long as the student presents some arguments in its favor. Learning to write a truly well crafted thesis statement is something university instructors will insist upon.

  3. Formal style guides
  4. Often, high school instructors will assign a few requirements in terms of citation and formatting, but will only rarely insist that a student follow a formal style guide (APA, Chicago, MLA, etc.) to the letter. College instructors will almost invariably expect a paper to be flawlessly laid out in a certain style, however. This is especially true of in text citations. In high school, students are generally only expected to cite direct quotations or facts, and they can do so just by mentioning the author or book. In college, however, concepts, ideas, and opinions that are borrowed from other sources must be cited, and they generally must be fully cited according to the rules and requirements of the assigned style guide.

  5. Grammatical requirements
  6. These will become more apparent as a student gets more involved in their major. Different disciplines have different grammatical and morphological conventions. For example, the use of passive voice is frowned upon in the humanities. In the sciences, qualifying adjectives are never used when quantifiable terms can be chosen instead. Students will need to pay attention to their instructors preferences as well as published journal articles in their field of interest in order to determine whether there are grammatical conventions specific to their discipline.