writing levels: High school, College, University

What is the difference between writing levels: High school, College, University

Dec 28, 2012
The transition from high school level writing to college level writing can sometimes be a difficult one to make. The sudden change in writing format and style can be confusing and even frustrating for some. For instance, when first entering college, students that are accustomed to doing very well in English courses, may find out that not only is their writing considered to be below average but that they must also 'unlearn' much of what they learnt about writing in high school.
Likewise, a lot of what is considered 'good' or 'great' writing in high school may be considered 'weak' and 'insufficient' in college. Not because all college professors are hard to please, but simply due to the high expectations of college writing.The differences between the two are very important to note for the success of any college freshman. Some of those key differences include; (1) the overall approach to writing and its accompanied thinking process, (2) the amounts of critical thinking and evaluative efforts needed to accomplish a work, (3) the formulation of thesis statements and arguments, and (4) paragraph/paper structuring and formatting.

High school writing vs. college writing: Major changes to anticipate

First time college students may find themselves a bit flustered during their first English Composition class. This may be due to several things; one of them being the sometimes obscure or ambiguous demands of college level writing. A high school English teacher for instance, may be satisfied with a student that hands in a paper that uses proper punctuation, grammar, spelling, transitions as well as adhere to the guidelines of the assignment. A college professor on the other hand will likely not be very impressed with these basic components and he or she may actually provide lots of commentary that request several alterations and demand that the student put more effort into the work.
So what is exactly is this more that they are calling for?

College professors are often looking for students to...

  1. Demonstrate critical thinking skills and the ability to think on their own
  2. Generate new thoughts, concepts, and ideas independently with little or no assistance
  3. Complete assignments that may or may not spell out all the key issues and concerns
  4. Use higher levels of thinking such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation
  5. Conduct a significant amount of research corresponding to the depth of the assignment
  6. Craft a strong, sound argument that is echoed throughout the paper or essay
  7. Present clear evidence that effectively defends a statement or claim
High school teachers likewise may also demand some or all of these elements as well (though this often will depend 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 think on their own and brainstorm new ideas in many classroom and homework writing assignments. But whereas the high school teacher may be satisfied with a few original concepts and ideas-perhaps just a couple of sentences or a paragraph-the college professor may not only require several points of discussion but also that these points are developed and analyzed in several paragraphs rather than just one.

Changes in 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 often introduce interesting acronyms, outlines, and useful tips and tricks to help students develop their ideas and formulate various kinds of papers. Though in college many of these 'tricks' are discouraged because they mirror a structured or formalized approach to writing that many English professors frown upon (mainly because it's viewed that they hinder students from fulling exploring and evaluating topics).

Some common differences in paper structure and format

  1. Five-paragraph-essay: College writing is generally not compatible with the five-paragraph-essay as it limits students analysis to three main reasons or three body paragraphs
  2. Paragraph contents: High school students are often guided to included a limited amount of points in each paragraph. College writing has less restrictions on paragraph contents a encourages lengthy paragraphs in order to fully satisfy a particular objective (that may therefore require several evidences, highlights etc.)
  3. Thesis statement: Though high school papers usually include some form of a thesis statement, it is often short and general and may resemble a topic sentence. In college writing a thesis statement is often required in most writings and needs to be quite developed and complex; going far beyond a simple topic or introductory sentence.
  4. Format: Some high school teachers do require students to submit papers in accordance to standard styling guides such as MLA and APA. Though this may be loosely required in high school it is a standard for college writing; and papers may be significantly marked down or rejected if formatting guidelines are not met.
  5. Presentation: Most college papers and essays come 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 of a paper as well as special binding or packaging. Simple white paper with black lettering is usually what is required.
The other category that has not been touched on as of yet is the differences between writing while attending a college and writing while attending a university.

A common misconception about colleges and universities

High school seniors will typically apply to both colleges and universities before graduation, without really knowing the differences between the two. Since both terms are often used interchangeably some confusion may occur. In most cases 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 institutions that offer undergraduate and graduate studies (i.e. bachelor, masters, and doctorate).
So considering the terminology, how do writing classes differ for colleges vs. universities?
Well in short-there really isn't much difference with regards to writing expectations. If using Canada's system there may be a slight contrast in writing instruction and expectations for colleges as compared to universities. This may be because the programs offered at Canadian colleges are similar to trade schools in that they are career-oriented and therefore may be limited in some aspects of educating students on the craft of writing. Likewise the instructors for universities will usually hold graduate degrees whereas an instructor for a college may only hold a bachelors degree.
In the US however no real distinctions can be made because essentially universities are made up of colleges (that is, one university will have several colleges in it). Therefore writing expectations and levels can only really be based on a particular school's English program and not on whether or not the institution is a college or university.
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