The Differences between Writing an Essay in High School and in College

Quite often, students who breezed through their essay writing tasks in high school come to college believing that their skills and abilities are going to get them through any challenge. Unfortunately, they are mistaken, as essay writing in high school and in college are two very different things, to the point that you will have to forget most of what you were taught if you are going to achieve any results at this stage. Most of the conventions you believed to be set in stone after learning them in school are, in fact, used only for the purposes of convenience when teaching kids without prior writing experience to express their thoughts on paper. At some stage, you may even need a help of an academic assistance company like where you can get a cheap essay – at the very least, to get a better idea of how you are supposed to do this kind of work.

So, what are the main differences between writing an essay in high school and in college? Let us take a closer look.

Five-Paragraph vs. Freeform

Throughout high school, you most likely have been taught a single uniform standard to use in all your essay writing: the five-paragraph essay. It always consists of the same components: a paragraph for introduction, three body paragraphs, and a paragraph for conclusion. While this structure is a convenient way to organize your thoughts, you should realize that it is an artificial construct used exactly for this purpose – to teach you how to put your thoughts on paper in an organized manner. It is a simplified version of academic writing that shows the students how to present an idea and support it. In college, you are expected to have good enough writing skills to be given more freedom. You still have to keep your thoughts organized; it is just that this organization is not that static and inflexible as in a five-paragraph essay.

Form vs. Ideas

In a high school essay, form precedes content. You are given a standardized structure you have to follow, and do your best to fit your ideas into it. Naturally, it is not always possible to do without mangling them. Perhaps there are four extremely important points that are relevant for the subject matter – high school essay structure demands that you never introduce more than three main ideas, and you are forced to drop content that may be crucial for driving your point home. Or vice versa – your essay is based on a single idea you study from various angles. In this case, you will have to invent additional points that have no bearing on your subject matter. In college, ideas are your primary concern. You start with them, and the form follows.

Facts vs. Analysis

High school essays primarily deal with answering four questions: who, what, when, and where. In other words, you should present facts, not analyze them. Of course, it does not mean that you should not express your own opinions, but their importance is secondary. Your teachers want you to learn how to collect information and study the sources; even if you express your own thoughts, you are not expected to be particularly original. In college, your ability to find information is taken for granted, and the main questions you have to answer are “how” and “why”. In other words, you have to analyze the information you have gathered and make conclusions based on it. In addition, you have to analyze the provenance of the sources themselves – in other words, you have to be critical about where you get your information.

General vs. Specific

In a high school essay, you are not expected to delve particularly deep into your topic. Quite often, you do a general overview of the subject without going into specifics. Again, your teachers are more concerned with you presenting the facts in an organized manner than in your saying anything of particular value. In college, generalization just will not cut it. You should get deep into the thick of things, study the specific causes of events, analyze details, and look for exact explanations.

Memorization vs. Argument

A high school essay is primarily concerned with presenting the right facts. What you think about them is not that important. As a result, high school essays often completely or almost completely lack an argument. Typically, a high school essay has a “listing” thesis – i.e., it lists facts related to the topic, e.g., “I will cover how Nazi Germany lost the Second World War by examining the political situation, technology, and strategic decisions of German leaders”. Meanwhile, the aim of a college essay is to build an argument, e.g., “Nazi Germany lost the Second World War because of the combination of strategic mistakes and a general loss of momentum in the later years of the conflict”.

Lists vs. Flow

Because of the listing nature of a typical high school essay, it often lacks flow or the sense of natural development of the ideas presented in it. As the points are presented in a list, the writer is discouraged to treat them as parts of the whole; instead, students often present them as separate entities that are barely connected by the overarching idea. A college essay, on the contrary, is supposed to tightly connect all its elements together as a part of a cohesive whole.

In other words, you cannot simply bring your high school essay writing skills into college. In a sense, you will have to learn writing all over again – but once you do it, it will feel completely natural.