To meet the expectations of university writing, you will need to unlearn rules you may have learned in high school. Those rules may have helped you to plan and write your essays by providing a ready-made structure you could fit your ideas into. But continuing to rely on these rules will limit your freedom to develop more sophisticated arguments and a more mature style.
Here are some important differences between high school rules and university expectations:
|High School Rules||University Expectations|
|Essays consist of three main points.||There is no predetermined number of points that your essay must include.|
|Essays have a five-paragraph structure: an introduction, your three main points, and a conclusion.||Essays have as many paragraphs as needed. You should choose a structure for your essay that serves your ideas and your argument.|
|Paragraphs are as long or as short as needed to meet the five-paragraph requirement and the page limit.||Paragraphs are usually between one-third and two-thirds of a page and vary in length according to the needs of the paragraph.|
|Each paragraph must begin with a topic sentence that explicitly echoes the thesis statement.||Paragraphs will be clearer and more coherent if they begin with a topic sentence that sums up the main point of the paragraph.|
|Paragraphs generally end with a conclusion that reiterates the point contained in the topic sentence.||Your paragraphs should end whenever you have provided enough evidence and analysis to support the point in your topic sentence; repeating that point would be redundant.|
|Alternatively, paragraphs may end with a transitional sentence that anticipates the next paragraph.||Provide a transition only when it helps the reader follow your train of thought. But your paragraphs will be more coherent if you place the transition at the start of the next paragraph.|
|Essays must include a thesis statement.||Not every essay needs a thesis statement.|
|The opening paragraph must end in a thesis statement.||The opening paragraph often ends in a thesis statement, but a thesis can also occur elsewhere.|
|The thesis statement must be supported by three main points.||The thesis statement does not have to be supported by any specific number of points.|
|A thesis statement must be one sentence in length.||A thesis statement can be two or three sentences long, or even longer if the argument is complex.|
Introduction and Conclusion
|The introduction should begin with a broad and general statement and eventually be narrowed down.||The introduction should raise the essay topic or question as soon as possible in specific and concrete terms.|
|The conclusion should provide a summary of the main points of the paper.||The conclusion should do more than merely summarize what you have already done in the paper.|
|You may add narration and description to remind the reader of events or particulars.||You may incorporate narrative or plot elements into your argument as long as you analyze them in sufficient depth.|
|Argumentative essays can be based on personal experience or opinion.||Argumentative essays should be supported by evidence from your sources. In some disciplines, your professor may invite you to supplement your argument with an account of your personal experience.|
|Your essay should not acknowledge opposing viewpoints because they will weaken your argument.||An essay that addresses counter-arguments becomes stronger and more persuasive by acknowledging the complexity of the material.|
|Students may receive credit for visual effects.||Professors are concerned with your ideas and your writing and expect you to submit your essays in a plain format with no fancy fonts, colours, title pages, and binders.|
Here are the overall differences between the two institutions in philosophy and approach:
|High School …||University …|
|Provides formulas.||Discourages formulas.|
|Offers you a ready-made structure to work with.||Provides freedom for you to come up with your own way of structuring your argument.|
|Teaches just one model for an essay that you then apply in all of your courses.||Offers discipline-specific guidelines for approaching written work.|
|Encourages repetition.||Discourages repetition.|
|Provides rules.||Encourages critical thinking.|
|Rewards you for demonstrating your knowledge of the material.||Rewards you for engaging in analysis.|
Today’s post comes courtesy of a new website, LiberalArtsColleges.com, which was created by David Kochanek after he realized that there wasn’t a single online source dedicated to all liberal arts colleges.
As some of you know, I’m a huge admirer of liberal arts colleges and both of my children ended up at one. I believe liberal arts colleges represent the best academic choice for many, many students, but in reality less than 3% of students end up at one of these institutions.
I hope you enjoy the post:
Colleges versus Universities
Many people assume the terms “college” and “university” are interchangeable but these terms describe two very different education environments. Most students say “I’m heading off to college,” even if they are enrolled at a state university and many school titles only add to the confusion. For example, Bethel University is actually a quaint liberal arts college.
So how can you tell which is which and does the distinction really matter?
What’s the Focus?
While both colleges and universities are out to educate America’s finest, universities tend to emphasize research and advanced education programs.
Large universities boast enrollment numbers of anywhere from 30,000 and up, with class sizes ranging from 10 students in a science lab to hundreds of students in a lecture hall. Often times the focus of the faculty (and devotion of resources) goes into research projects, graduate students, teaching assistants and advanced degree programs. This is great for the graduate students and those interested in research opportunities.
On the other hand, small schools are usually undergraduate centric in their focus. They keep enrollments low, usually between 1,000 and 3,000 students. Most liberal arts colleges focus exclusively on undergraduates, which means faculty members are not incentivized to devote their energy to research programs.
To learn more about the difference in focus, we spoke with Eric Sieger, Director of Media and Public Relations at Carleton College. He emphasized the fact that undergraduate students get a great deal of attention at Carleton College.
“Every course at Carleton is taught by a faculty member, not a teaching assistant,” Sieger says. “A student-faculty ration of 9 to 1 ensures that Carleton students have plenty of opportunity for interaction with their professors, in class and out.”
Does Classroom Size Matter?
In big universities, where faculty focus is on research projects and graduate student programs, undergraduates may be tempted to just get by in the larger classes. This is especially true if the professor doesn’t know students by name and in cases where grades are determined by performance on tests and papers, not by participation and class discussion. Students may decide to do just enough to get the grade desired, without ever engaging with professors or classmates.
Liberal arts colleges value the interaction of professors and students. Seiger tells us, “As respected scholars, scientists, and artists, our faculty are at the forefront of their fields. But it is in the classroom that they truly shine.”
Small classes foster an attitude of learning and collaboration and make a “just getting by” approach nearly impossible. One student, Vincent Spinner of Brownsville, MN, shared how the small class sizes challenged him:
“Through small-group collaboration, I learned that our arguments proved to be stronger by combining all of our great ideas and diverse perspectives. Along the way, I learned to concede an idea that I first thought was indestructible.”
Can’t Get Lost in the Shuffle
Bill Giduz, Director of Media Relations for Davidson College, says the real difference between attending a university and a small liberal arts college is the close-knit community.
“What makes Davidson College special is the personal relationships between students and the outstanding faculty,” Giduz says. It is an opportunity for one on one education. “Students have access to these brilliant minds through so many channels… small classes, office hours….”
“Ninety-six percent of our students live on campus,” Giduz says. The town is small, so students run into professors at coffee shops, the student union and other spots around town.
There is an added benefit – students are well-known on campus.
“People watch out for you here,” Giduz says. “If a student is in trouble academically or emotionally, someone is going to notice and make sure the right person finds out… You simply can’t get lost in an environment like this.”
This sense of belonging— the whole “you can’t get lost here”—is something you can’t get from reading a brochure. At a large school, one of the real risks college freshmen run is feeling like a small fish in a huge ocean. Teenagers who had been captains of track teams and heads of high school newspapers may suddenly find themselves drifting through a university campus, anonymous and uncelebrated.
Loneliness and insecurity can quickly drive students to withdraw or to engage in unhealthy behaviors. This is where being a part of a small college really makes a difference, especially in the crucial freshman year.
About the Author
Rachel Mork is a freelance reporter who covers college and education issues and frequently writes for LiberalArtsColleges.com.
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