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High School vs. College Essay Writing

girl in bed working on laptopWhen students first enter college in the US, they’re often puzzled by the differences in expectations between college essay writing and high school essay writing.

Essays that were getting perfect grades in high school are often criticized in college. Don’t panic! Your writing hasn’t changed; college essay writing requirements are simply different than those of high school essay writing. Here’s how to make the grade and improve your college essay writing:


While high school essay writing is focused on illustrating that you’ve understood what you read, usually by rehashing the plot in a “book report” style, college essay writing requires something more: an argument.

Your professors don’t just want to check that you’ve done the required reading, they want to see that you’re able to make a critical judgment of that reading as well. Your argument, or “thesis,” should be clearly stated in the opening paragraph of the essay.


Now that the argument has been stated, college essay writing requires that it be supported throughout the rest of your essay by evidence. Evidence can be taken from the source (a quote from the novel you’re discussing), or credible outside sources such as literary articles and books written on the subject.

Here’s a good study tip: get as many sources as you can find and then use the ones that most accurately fit your argument.

Weaving evidence that supports your initial claim into your essay gives your argument ground to stand on, and that is what earns you the “A” on your paper.

Admitting Limitation

When reading your paper, professors look for answers to questions like “But what about . . . ?” and “Have you considered . . . ?” They want to see that you’ve approached the argument from more than one angle, and that you’re able to admit its limitations.

Without question, college essay writing is more demanding than high school essay writing. Bu just like anything else, it’s a skill that you progressively develop with time and practice as you adjust to college life. So keep at it, and you’ll turn your excellent high school essay writing skills to excellent college essay writing skills in no time!

And remember, you can always use your professor’s office hours to your advantage i.e. going over a past paper where you’re not sure where you went wrong.

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