High School vs College Essay: Mind the Difference

By: root / Oct 18

Writing essays is one of the most difficult tasks students have to face during their scholar lives. An essay is an activity that implies not only a good commandment of the language and a high capacity to organize ideas, but also a degree of mental maturity that is not always easily achieved depending on the age and the academic level of the student. Besides, the composition of an essay requires an extensive process of background research for which students must have some previous training. For these reasons, the requirements observed to essay evaluation vary according to the institutional context in which this activity is developed.

More often, student’s training on essay composition starts as early as elementary school, starting with easy assignments complying text commentary about, for instance, historical or literary texts or programmed books reviews. However it is when pupils enter high school when they become acquainted with those requirements in depth. Usually, the standard rules applied to essay composition in high school are intended to achieve a series of goals, mainly:

  • To increase the ability on the student’s part to develop original ideas and grounded opinions so that it may lead them to the acquisition of a critical view.
  • To enhance the student’s writing skills and vocabulary use throughout the employment of complex syntactic structures and linguistic resources (connectors, transition sentences, paraphrase, citation, etc) that provides the text with cohesion.
  • To teach how to create macro-linguistic structures by following a set of basic norms of organization addressed to the creation of a coherent and well-structured text and to provide the student with a consistent work scheme.

A simple essay at high school level usually has five paragraphs containing up to one hundred or one hundred and fifty words each, or a maximum of ten pages depending on the topic dealing with and the teacher’s requirements. They are highly structured, and must include three main sections: an introduction, the body and the conclusions. A good starting point when dealing with essay composition is to make a careful planning of the task. It is highly recommended that students begin with the identification of a topic they can feel comfortable and confident with so that they can proceed with the development of their thesis statement where their main ideas appear. Sometimes this part of the process becomes troublesome for ideas do not come up so easily, especially if the author’s opinions are not well positioned. Making some brainstorming is a good exercise to help ideas flow and to discard those ones that may deviate from the focus of discussion.

The essay must contain at least three well identified discussion points or parameters that support the thesis. Such parameters must be proved through factual examples. For instance, if the essay deals with social issues such as the problem of alcoholism between youngsters and teenagers, the author must first state clearly their opinion about the theme, then provide three arguments that support that opinion, and finally give illustrative examples that may prove those arguments (could be a personal experience, or those of his/her relatives). It’s important, nevertheless, that those arguments are discussed from an objective perspective as much as possible, so the addition of official and/or statistic data taken from the media could be useful to grant that perspective.

These rules of composition also apply to college essays; however, writing college essays is not only an exercise of composition but also one of self-assessment and individuality. Writing a college essay as a class assignment or as a medium to be accepted by the admission committee of a university requires a student to show personal style that makes them look like an interesting person, different and unique, a person the readers want to know more about and who has to be taken into account. They must be able not only to engage their possible readers into the topic they are dealing with, but also to demonstrate a sufficient mental maturity to cope with a great amount of topics and the requirements college education demands. Perhaps the main difference between high school and college essays is that the author has a non-so strict structure to follow, albeit basic norms of composition must be always observed.

Due to the length a college essay usually has (it may have from twenty to hundreds of pages), the number of discussion points increase, being necessary to divide the work into sections and/or chapters that comprise as many sub-topics as required to develop the different discussion points. This gives the author the chance to digress, given that the subject does not miss its primal focus. For this reason, it is important to delimit the length of paragraphs, which ideally should not surpass the quantity of two hundred words.

With college essays objectivity becomes a must, so that any personal statement or opinion ought to be grounded and scientifically proven throughout a process of previous research. Likewise, any reference made to scientific or professional data provided by specialists on the field that frames the topic of the essay must be properly cited in the corresponding section; so as it can be seen, a college essay is structured into the introduction, the body, the conclusions and the references. Finally, specialized essays dealing with scientific issues and requiring the analysis of data must include appropriate sections for that matter, such as a corpus description and an explanation of the methodology employed in the investigation. If necessary, some appendixes with examples of the collected data that had been previously discussed in the body or the description of the corpus will be added.

Language management and writing skills are compulsory for college essay composition, so it is really useful to have one or various good dictionaries at hand. Many teachers recommend having a formatting and style handbook that may provide students with basic rules for structuring, citing and composing their essays. Nonetheless, it is necessary to always keep in mind that college essays must be distinctive, featuring the author’s personality and style. And this is a long-term and hard work that must be accomplished through practice, study and perseverance.