writing levels: High school, College, University

Difference Between High School and College Writing — Transitions Within Academic Levels

Sep 26, 2019

The transition from high school essay writing to college one can sometimes be a real challenge. The change in format and style can be confusing. Sometimes, you can even be asked to prepare papers that are completely unknown to you. And, while in high school, you could often get away with various assignments easily and quickly, essay writing in college requires much more time, efforts, competence, and specific skills.

Likewise, a lot of what is "good" or "great" in high school projects may be "weak" and "insufficient" when it comes to college essay writing. That is not because professors are stricter or more demanding, but due to the high expectations to that kind of writing.

The differences in assignment preparation for high school and college are important to remember. Here are the most relevant aspects!

  • The overall approach to writing and the skills you need
  • The time required to accomplish the assignment
  • Research, the formulation of thesis statements and arguments
  • Paragraphs/paper structuring and formatting

Here, we are going to discuss the major differences and features of academic writing in different educational stages. You'd better not close this book too soon if you wish to be competent in that issue!

Major Changes to Anticipate on Different Levels

Students may find themselves a bit flustered during their first essay writing in college. There could be several reasons for that.

For some learners, for example, the college-level demands can be ambiguous. As in high school, you need to submit a coherent paper with proper punctuation, grammar, and spelling, as well as adhere to the guidelines and standards. But in college, the instructor won't be impressed with the basics. Here, you need to pay more attention to the context of your essay. Make relevant statements, prove your points with more extensive evidence, provide non-trivial facts, and come up with reasonable and compelling conclusions. That's not about simple narration. You will be faced with more complex issues, lots of thoughtful research and analysis, and most of the writing assignments focused on your specific field of study.

Below, we have listed some expectations one has to meet on the way to impressing college instructors.

  • Demonstrate individual critical and analytical thinking skills.
  • Generate new thoughts, concepts, and ideas that are relevant to the topic.
  • Express new and interesting views on key issues and concerns.
  • Apply analysis, synthesis, and evaluation while investigating a subject matter.
  • Provide a strong, sound argument that is echoed throughout the writing.
  • Present reliable evidence that effectively defends your statement or claim.

High school teachers may also demand some or all of these elements as well, but it depends on the teacher and whether the class is advanced or not. But the key differences are generally with the degree to which some of these things are required.

For instance, high school English teachers usually push their students to apply their best skills and brainstorm new ideas in many classroom and homework writing assignments. But the high school teacher may be satisfied with a few original concepts and ideas. It can be just a couple of sentences or a paragraph. The college professor may require not only several points of discussion but also that these points are developed and analyzed in several paragraphs instead of just one.

Structure and Format

Some other differences that may come about are with paper/paragraph structure and format. High school, as well as middle school teachers, usually introduce interesting acronyms, outlines, and useful tips and tricks to help students develop their ideas and formulate various kinds of papers.

In college, many of these "tricks" are discouraged because they mirror a structured and formalized approach to writing that many English professors frown upon. There can be much more paragraphs and sections in paper assigned, and formatting here may go far beyond simple APA.

What differences exist in structure and formatting?

  1. Five-paragraph-essay
    College writing is generally not compatible with the five-paragraph essay as it limits students analysis to three main points or three body paragraphs.
  2. Paragraph contents
    High school students are usually guided to include a limited amount of points in each paragraph. College writing has fewer restrictions on paragraph contents and encourages lengthy paragraphs to fully satisfy a particular objective (that may require several pieces of evidence, highlights, etc.).
  3. Thesis statement
    High school papers usually include some form of a thesis statement, it is frequently short and general and may resemble a topic sentence. On the higher academic stage, the thesis statement is required in most assignments and needs to be quite developed and complex, going far beyond a simple topic or introductory sentence.
  4. Format
    Some high school teachers may require students to submit papers that meet standards of style guides such as MLA and APA. This may be loosely required in high school, but it is more of a standard for the writing of other academic institutions. Papers may be significantly marked down or rejected if formatting guidelines are not met.
  5. Presentation
    Usually, college essay comes in a "no-frills" format. For instance, professors are usually not impressed with any type of graphics, bright colors, or images on the title page as well as special binding or packaging. So, if you ask yourself, "Should I put that bright image on this page?", it's better to consult your professor's requirements first. Simple white paper with black lettering is usually the best way to go.

Those differences may seem simple and minor, you have to pay close attention to them. That way, you can be confident about the high quality of the assignment.

Misconception about College and University Writing

High school seniors will typically apply to both colleges and universities before graduation, without really knowing the differences between the two. Since both terms can be frequently used interchangeably, some confusion may occur. The definition of each depends on a person's geographical location. For North America, for instance, colleges and universities in the US both offer four-year-degree programs, though in Canada the term "college" only refers to institutions that offer diploma and certificate programs. Likewise, the term "university" there generally refers to schools that offer undergraduate and graduate studies (i.e., bachelor, master, and doctorate).

So considering the terminology, how do writing classes differ for colleges and universities?

If using Canada's system, there may be a slight contrast in writing instruction and expectations for colleges as compared to universities. That may be because the programs at Canadian colleges are like ones in trade schools. They are career-oriented and may be limited in some aspects of education strategies. Likewise, the instructors for universities will usually hold graduate degrees, whereas an instructor for a college may only hold a bachelor's diploma.

In the US, however, no real distinctions can be made because universities are made up of colleges (that is, one university will have several colleges in it). Therefore, writing expectations and levels can really be based on a particular school's curriculum and a variety of writing assignments. And, that's not about whether the institution is a college or university.

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