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Writing In College and High School: How To Find a Difference?

Essays are assigned to students of all academic levels, but when it comes to transitioning from one academic level to another, students face one hell of a challenge. Everything changes when you enter college: surroundings, subjects, formatting, and writing style. Sometimes, you can even be required to prepare papers that are completely unknown to you. In high school, you could often get away with various assignments easily and quickly, but any assignment requires much more time, effort, competence, and specific skills in college.

Likewise, something that seemed easy to you in high school may be hard in college. College professors aren't stricter or more demanding, the reason is the higher requirements for college-level writing.

Finding and remembering the aspects that make these two levels different is crucial. Check the key differences here and keep them in mind.

The overall approach to essay writing and the skills you need

The time required to accomplish the assignment

In-depth studying of the information, the formulation of ideas, 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. So 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. Submitting a coherent paper with proper punctuation, grammar, and spelling, as well as adhering to the guidelines and standards, is enough for high school. But your college professor won't be impressed with the basics. A college student should be concerned about the context of their 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 writing assignments will focus 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 piece of sound evidence.

Present reliable evidence that effectively defends your statement or claim.

You may face the need to meet these expectations even in high school, but much depends on your educator and type of discipline. But the key differences are generally with the degree to which some of these things are necessary.

For instance, English teachers usually push high school students to use their best skills and brainstorm new ideas in the classroom and homework writing. A few original paragraphs, fresh ideas, and concepts can satisfy the high school teacher, but these few paragraphs won't be enough for a higher-level professor. They may require not only several points of discussion but also an in-depth analysis of these points in several paragraphs instead of just one.

Structure and Format

Other differences that may come about are the paper/paragraph format and its structure. High and well as middle school teachers usually introduce interesting acronyms, outlines, and useful tips and tricks to push students' thoughts in the right direction and complete various assignments easily.

Many of these "tricks" in college are discouraged - educators think they mirror a structured and formalized approach to writing that many English professors frown upon. There can be many more sections in the paper, and formatting here may go far beyond simple APA.

What differences exist in structure and formatting?

1. 5-paragraph essay

This type of essay can be assigned in high school only. 5 paragraph essay presupposes writing only three body paragraphs, which means that students can't use their analytical skills to the maximum. College never limits students.

2. Paragraph content

If you're guided to include only a few points in your paragraph, you're a high school student. In college, people don't face so many restrictions, and the longer your paragraph is, the better. You're welcome if the higher length helps you achieve your goal.

3. Hypothesis

Even though even high school essays require students to include thesis statements, they greatly differ from a real thesis statement. It would be right to call them the topic sentence. In college, academic writing. In the higher academic stage, the thesis statement is required in all papers and must be complex enough, going far beyond a simple introductory sentence.

4. Format

Some educators in high school may require students to submit papers using formatting styles: MLA and APA. High school requirements don't imply using formatting styles, but academic institutions of a higher level made them a standard. If you don't meet the guidelines set by your professor, your paper won't get an A grade.


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, but you must pay close attention to them. It's the only way you can be confident that your assignment is completed perfectly.

Misconceptions about Writing for College and Writing for University

School graduates will typically apply to colleges and universities at once, without a proper understanding of both. Since both terms can be interchanged from each other, some confusion may occur. In addition, the definition of each depends on a person's geographical location. In North America, for instance, colleges and universities in the US offer four-year degrees, though, in Canada, the term "college" only refers to diploma-awarding institutions and certificate programs. Likewise, the term "university" generally relates to institutions offering undergraduate and graduate studies (i.e., bachelor's, master's, and doctorate).

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

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

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

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There are different types of essays: narrative, persuasive, compare\contrast, definition and many many others. They are written using a required citation style, where the most common are APA and MLA. We want to share some of the essays samples written on various topics using different citation styles.

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