Are you a high school student thinking about what classes will be most helpful for college, or a returning adult student wondering what skills you should practice before you go back? Here’s something many students don’t realize: college students need to know how to write, and how to write very well. In my experience, it sure seems like high schools are failing students terribly when it comes to teaching them how to write.
Unfortunately, many high school students simply are not being prepared nearly well enough in the crucial area of writing skills. There’s often a huge gap in what professors expect students to know how to do in terms of writing, and in what students actually do know how to do. This results in low grades, frustrated students, and frustrated instructors. It also results in many students falling through the cracks and never learning how to write well enough, which can be an enormous disadvantage when it’s time to get a job.
When I was a professor, the level of writing exhibited by many of my students was incredibly frustrating. In my experience, here are some of the elements of writing instructors expect students to understand that they do not:
How to use punctuation properly—especially commas
How to use proper nouns properly
How to write and use a thesis statement
How to organize a paper in a way that makes the information easy to understand and easy to follow
How to write a bibliography
How to follow a style guide (APA, MLA, etc.) and cite information correctly throughout the text of a paper
How to cite information in a way that doesn’t unintentionally plagiarize
How to back up claims made throughout the paper with evidence
How to write a strong paper introduction
How to do research for papers that doesn’t exclusively involve the Internet
So, if you’re a high school student, how do you obtain the skills you need to write well enough for college? One thing you can do is to take all the writing classes you can in high school with teachers who have a good reputation for knowing how to teach writing. If you’re not doing well in these classes, meet with the teachers for extra help. If Advanced Placement English is available in your high school, consider taking it, even if English really isn’t your thing. Hands down, AP English was the best class I took in high school, and it prepared me well for college level writing.
If you’re a returning student, how can you prepare? If your writing skills aren’t as strong as you think they should be, consider taking a remedial class at a community college before officially enrolling as a student.
For all students, here’s one thing you can do to help you become a better writer: read, and read often! Many of the skills needed in writing come intrinsically as you immerse yourself in language.
How to Become a Better Writer