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How High School Writing Differs from College Papers

College and High School Writing: What Is the Difference?

On getting into college, even those students who never had trouble with writing assignments and who believed themselves to be pretty good at academic writing often discover that they are completely incapable of meeting the requirements of their professors. It turns out that they have to learn everything about writing all over again, from scratch, as the conventions of college-level writing are quite different from what they were taught in high school. Following the old habits no longer bring good grades – one has to learn all kinds of new approaches and skills to achieve any kind of success. So what is different about college-level writing? What exactly do you have to change about your writing to meet these new requirements? Let us find out.

How High School Writing Differs from College Papers

Structure: Five-Paragraph Essay vs. Freeform

In high school, students are most commonly taught how to write five-paragraph essays consisting of an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. It is done to teach them how to present their thoughts in a structured manner as opposed to a rambling stream of consciousness. In other words, it is only a tool, not the desired result. In college, you are strongly discouraged from using this structure exactly because it looks helpless and amateurish. Firstly, college-level assignments are usually too large and complex to comfortably fit into such a rigid and limited format. Secondly, you are expected to break away from limitations and explore alternative ways of expressing yourself while retaining the structured approach to your writing.

Formatting: No Specific Requirements vs. Rigid Conventions

When writing in high school, you either were not given any specific instructions as to the formatting of your essays or were asked to follow the requirements imposed by individual teachers. Even when such requirements are present, they are usually not very rigid and do not cover all the aspects of the paper, leaving you with many opportunities to do things your way. In college, you usually have to follow one of the commonly accepted formatting styles, such as MLA or APA. These styles are very particular about every aspect of paper formatting, from the size of the margins to the way you arrange your bibliography. You have to be careful to follow all these requirements, as failing to do so usually leads to worse grades.

Graphics: Freedom of Use vs. Limited Use

In high school, you are free to decorate your printed essays and other kinds of papers with graphics if they are thematically appropriate. In college, you are usually not allowed to use graphics at all. Even if they are permitted, they are typically limited to charts, graphs, and diagrams. If you want to use graphics in your paper, you should always clarify with your professor if you can do it and what kind of graphics you can use.

Thesis Statement: General vs. Specific

Usually, high school students are taught to include a thesis statement (i.e., the main idea of the paper in a condensed form) in their writing. Typically, it is located at the end of the introductory paragraph. However, a high school thesis statement is very different from what goes by this name in college. To give you a better idea, here is a thesis statement you can expect in a high school essay: “In this essay, I will discuss the image of Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.” As for a college-level thesis statement, it would run something like this: “In spite of Shylock’s justification of his actions, he is obviously a villain, not a victim in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.” As you can see, a high school thesis simply specifies the topic of the paper, without giving any additional information. Meanwhile, a college thesis statement offers a specific argument and, what is even more important, takes a definite position on it.

Sources: No Quality Control vs. Strict Control

In most cases, for a high school paper, it is enough to gather some information using Google and Wikipedia and restate this data in something akin to a book report. In other words, you do research for research’s sake, to show that you are capable of finding information and presenting it in your own words. Meanwhile, the purpose of a college research paper is almost always to make an argument. You do research not to show that you successfully found N sources on your topic, but to prove your argument right. In addition, college-level papers are much more restrictive as to what kinds of sources you can use. You are supposed to differentiate between them based on their credibility and no longer can use random Internet pages and Wikipedia entries to prove your point. The bulk of your sources is supposed to consist of peer-reviewed papers from well-reputed magazines and serious scholarly books.

Conclusion: Repetition and Summary vs. New Ideas

In high school, we are often taught that a conclusion is little more than a restatement of the thesis statement and a summary of what you wrote in the body of the essay. You simply have to repeat what you said in the introduction using different words. This approach no longer works in college – at this level, you are supposed to do more than simply restate the obvious. You have to add something new to the argument, show that you have done some research, and reached an interesting conclusion. You can also point out potential new directions of research and investigate the implications of your findings.
As you can see, there are many qualitative differences between high school and college writing. The difference is not just in the topics they cover – it goes much deeper. If you find it difficult to get used to this new state of things, you can always buy a college paper from a reliable writing service – in this case, make sure that the text you get meets all the requirements of college-level writing. Otherwise, it may turn out that you spent your hard-earned money in vain.