Help! How do You Write an Essay at University?

Nothing went wrong per se, it’s more likely that no one told you about the expectations of college level writing or you were too nervous at orientation and weren’t listening. Whatever it was, here you are now wondering how to write an essay that’s acceptable in university.


Here are 4 reasons your grades might be suffering.


The Language and Content

Teachers marking essays in high-school are usually looking for errors in grammar, use of transition phrases, and the structure of the essay. They may be looking into the content but it’s mostly just to see if one point flows smoothly into the next.


Often it’s a very different story in higher education! Lecturers and professors are looking into the complexity of the content, use of subject-specific terminology (tells them whether you understand what you’ve been learning or not), structure, and even the tone of the essay. So writing at college or university level requires a better grasp of English, which you can improve on by reading subject-specific texts.


The Structure

In high-school you’re learning how to structure essays so you’ll most probably learn a certain type of essay e.g. the five paragraph essay. Often you’ll even be given a topic that easily allows for you to write about into a template of: introduction, 3 body paragraphs, and conclusion.


In college you’ll be given an assignment and most likely have to figure out which type of essay would suit the assignment. You may have to be a little more flexible and add more body paragraphs than the 3 or 4 that you might be used to. If you’re really stuck you can always ask your professor or the university writing centre for help. Generally, in college and university you’ll be writing argumentative essays but don’t take our word for it – read your assignment carefully and ask around if unsure!


University essays are more complex and structure becomes increasingly important and can make or break your essay because a bad structure can mean that no one understands your essay and ideas (even if they are good)!



The Audience

In high school, you’re usually writing for a general audience. In college however, you’ll need to understand who your essay’s intended audience is and what you want to share with them or convince them of. This will affect how and what you write so it is important. Some questions you can ask about your audience once you’ve defined them or clarified with your prof who they are: What are the audience’s interest? What are their views on the topic you are writing about? What impact do you want your essay to have on them? Do you want to change their mind or just inform them of an issue?


The Word Count

This might be a small overlooked difference but length of your essays from high school to college will change. This will be intimidating because you’ll need more content to go from writing around 1,000 words per essay in high-school to writing papers that can be upwards of 5,000 to 10,000 words in higher education. For longer papers: do the assigned readings; do your own research; outline and figure out what you want to say; and give yourself ample time to write because expectations are higher at university and you’re being judged on a lot more than just meeting the word count!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *