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College Essays

Writing your first college essay can be as nerve wracking as meeting your new college roommate. Just like adjusting to communal living, transitioning from high school to college essay-writing requires patience. Below are a few tips to help you successfully complete your first college essay.

Choosing a Topic

College students often have the freedom to choose their own topic. Having the freedom to choose a topic that interests you will simplify the writing process, make research exciting, and keep you focused resulting in a better essay. However, with this freedom comes greater academic responsibility. When choosing a topic, it is important to be sure that what you are passionate about meets the requirements of the assignment. Understand your professor’s expectations, such as mastering a writing skill, evaluating a course topic, or specified research. Make a list of topics that interest you, and discuss them with your professor to explore the different ways they relate to the assignment, then make your decision.

Research and Citations

Once you’ve chosen a topic, start conducting research and organizing citations. Research and citations are essential to every critical essay. Conduct most of your research in the library. Use evidence from books in your library, an online collegiate library, and academic journals found on scholarly databases. If you have any questions about the legitimacy of your source, bring a copy of that source to your professor. They will check for legitimacy, and guide you towards more reputable sources.

College professors also have strict standards for formatting citations. There are huge penalties for improper citations, including dropping full letter grades, academic probation, suspension, or expulsion depending on the severity of the violation. To avoid penalties, review your schools Academic Honesty Policy. Also save the syllabus for every class because it will have that professor’s preferred citation style. If you are confused about citations, ask your professor for an example of proper citation. When in doubt, always cite, even for paraphrasing. It is always better to over cite than to lose a letter grade for a mistake. Remember, when it comes to research and citations, honesty is the only policy.

Writing the Essay

After choosing your topic , doing scholarly research, and recording your citations, it is time to start writing the essay. Start by developing a strong thesis statement. To develop a thesis, review your research and understand how the evidence relates to your topic. After you have written your thesis, organize your various points and supporting evidence in an outline. Double check that your research supports your claim, and both support your thesis. Professors are mostly concerned with content, so be clear with your statements and thorough in using your research for supporting evidence. Refer to your outline if you find you are falling off the track of your thesis statement and remember to always double check your citations for accuracy.

Dealing With Writer’s Block

Even the strongest writers will encounter writer’s block at some point. Learning how to cope with writer’s block is important to be successful in your college classes. Address this issue by utilizing the writing resources available to you on campus. Make an appointment with your professor, campus writing center, or ask your peers for advice on the direction of your essay. Discussing your essay with others often sparks new ideas that will put an end to writer’s block. Do not assume writer’s block will not happen to you. Writer’s block is extremely common, be prepared to take the time necessary to handle the situation and complete your essay on time.

If you are truly stuck, be honest. Never try to trick your professor. Professors will notice if you slightly change margins or use “the punctuation trick” and you will be penalized and likely have to rewrite that paper. To avoid a massive grade deduction and wasting your time rewriting the paper, complete your essay without using tricks. Understand your professor’s late policy, and schedule a meeting with that professor before the due date to explain your situation. Weigh your options based on your professors grading policy, to choose which method will least affect your letter grade. Being slightly under word count or turning in the paper late is better for your GPA than academic dishonesty, and professors will work with you to keep your grades on track if you ask for their help.

Last Edited: November 2015

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