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College Essays

Along with some unappealing aspects of college such as dorm food, odd college roommates, college essays can be extremely dreadful for new freshmen. Things such as note-taking, multiple choice exams, math requirements, and early classes also qualify, but are not as dreadful.

While there aren’t many options in dealing with the issue, other than patience and tolerance, there are ways to make your college essay-writing experiences smoother and more successful. Whether you’re writing a three-page personal essay or a twenty-page research report, follow these tips to help you write a better college essay and avoid pulling an all-nighter each time an assignment is due.

Choosing a Topic

One of the biggest differences between writing for high school and college is the degree of responsibility you have in choosing the topics for your college essays. Sometimes, there is an assigned topic, but even then there’s leeway. Your professors may want different things as well: showing mastery of a writing skill, understanding a course topic, or doing original research. Understanding your professor’s expectations and how to meet them is a crucial part of the process of choosing a topic for your college essays.

Although it is important to please your professor, it’s also important to write on a topic which you’re passionate about. If you can easily write many pages on a specific topic, that is even more ideal. Brainstorming and asking for help from outside sources, such as university writing consultants or instructors, may also be useful. Look through old notes and review your passions and interests and see how they’ll intersect with the class and assignment.

Conducting Research

There are few who can easily write on a topic without outside research, but even if you fall within this category, your professor will still likely want to see citation and source support. Unlike high school, colleges have strict standards as to what is and is not acceptable to cite. Similarly, there are large penalties and consequences for improper citations or lack thereof; often as severe as academic probation or suspension, depending on the degree and violation. Such plagiarism issues can affect your college transcript in the future.

This can all be avoided by early preparation and topic research, and to get a good sense of what your professor will and will not accept when it comes to research evidence. If there are specific things you need to use sources for or do research on to write a successful paper, know them. Research-related requirements are usually fairly inflexible. After all, your college professors see the importance of research, as that they chose to do it for a living. Ultimately, you’ll probably have to spend some time in the library, or at least on a credible scholarly research website for each of your college papers. So plan ahead and give due attention and time to the process.

Writing the Essay

Even if you are excellent at choosing essay topics and doing scholarly research, writing will still be difficult. The beginning can be the most tedious part, and even if you have resolved that, you still are left to write the rest of the paper. Outline your main idea in a clear and concise way and find relevant, supporting evidence and research; this will further simplify writing an essay. Surprisingly, spelling and grammar tend to be a low-priority for most instructors. They are more concerned with what you have to say and how well you are able to elaborate and hone in on the subject matter with credible research. There are nonetheless, college essay writing conventions that you need to follow.

What to Do If You Get Stuck

No matter how strong our writing skills may be, or our passion, we all encounter problems; so being honest and open about those flaws will make steps to improvement easier. This may call for outside advice from a roommate, a classmate, a friend, a professor, or one of the numerous writing-related resources. It is best to familiarize yourself with what’s out there to help and give yourself enough time with your writing to make use of those resources.

If you are low on time, do not resort to playing tricks on your professor. Professors generally have strong experience in their course and instruction and are well aware of the writing tricks students pull. So while stretching your margins, messing with the spacing, enlarging the punctuation or certain words, or other little tricks may seem to help, it is not worth the risk of getting caught. Be familiar with your institution’s academic policy and be sure not to run up against it. While borrowing material may seem like a quick way to avoid a problem, it can create tenfold the original issue. It may be best to know the professor’s late policy and meet with him or her one-on-one, and turn the paper in late.

Last Edited: July 2015

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