So now that you’ve been admitted to, or already started, college, you want to know how it will be different from high school. College courses use essays as a important part of your evaluation, along other things such as oral presentations, lab reports, and even creative projects and 9 out of 10 students hate writing essays. Your ability to write good essays will have a significant impact on your course grades and your GPA. Having a good essay structure might boost your C+ to a B, and if you great ideas but don’t know quite how to express them, knowing how an essay works can transform your B into an A-.
Types of college essays
In college, you’ll have to write different kinds of essays. The most straightforward one is the expository essay. The expository essay is meant to introduce your reader to a certain group of facts and information, and to show that you are knowledgeable about a topic. It can describe a step-by-step process, or a historical chronology, for example. In expository essays, the goal is to explain clearly and coherently what you know about something. For example, “The Process of Aging”, “The Events of the American Civil War” and “The Life of Pablo Picasso” could all be titles for expository essays.
Things get a little more complicated when you are asked to write a persuasive, or argumentative essay. In these kinds of essay not only do you have to show that you know a topic, you also need to support a specific point of view about that topic. For these, controversial topics with two or more opposing sides are the best to choose from. Are you for or against the legalization of marijuana? Do you think our society does enough to prevent eating disorders? Is the criminal justice system doing enough to discourage crimes?
Persuasive essays, contrary to high school essays, do not ask that you give your opinion based solely on your personal thoughts, feelings and experiences. An argument, in academia, is based on facts, objective and distanced from emotional issues it might bring in the writer or the reader. The side you choose to support can be close to your heart, but you need to argue for it in a cool, rational manner. Always remember to support your arguments with evidence and to treat the opposing side fairly. Be aware that this is the type of essay most used in the humanities and at high-level hard and social sciences courses.
Sometimes you will be asked to write reviews of books and articles. Depending on the instructions of your professor, your review might be mainly summary, or include some elements of analysis. A review should provide at least a short summary that gives a basic idea of the argument to the reader who has not read the source. It should evaluate the effectiveness of the argument and the source’s possible impact on future research in the field. If you are given a literary text to review, your final paper should briefly summarize the plot, provide context about the work and its author, and explain some of the ways in which the book is important and significant. Sometimes, reviews can be good door-openers and give you ideas for persuasive essays. Reviews are used in college classes to assess whether you have done the required reading or not; a botched review will be obvious to your reader and betray the fact that you have not done the work.
The research essay is a combination of the persuasive essay and of the review. In a research essay, you are asked to present your knowledge about a topic, to focus it to one important issue, to argue one side or the other, and to show that you have read sources dealing with the same ideas. You should include sources that both agree and disagree with your own argument. You can build on the former and refute or show the weaknesses of the latter. As long as you are fair and rational, you can argue that this or that scholar is wrong, in part or fully, about your topic.
A note about essays in literature: they are much the same as persuasive essays, only they use the words of the text as evidence instead of data or facts. They can also become research essays when they include external issues such as politics, history, or biography.
The basic structure of a college essay
A college essay may require more than five paragraphs. Your introduction can take one, two, or even three paragraphs when the essay is very long. It is true that a paragraph should describe one idea, but it may take several ideas to develop an argument fully. Thus, do not feel that you must follow the format you have learned in high school. Instead, write as many paragraphs as you require to both explain your ideas fully and to fit within the length requirement for your essay. Conclusions are also still present, but like the introduction they can take more space than a single paragraph. Be flexible, and think in terms of your argument, not in terms of number of paragraphs.
Mechanics of the college essay
All college essays must be grammatically correct and free of spelling errors. Most professors will not mind a few mistakes here and there, but if mechanical problems cause the essay to become unreadable, your grades will suffer. Make sure you learn the proper rules of grammar and usage, and verify any difficult word in a dictionary. Do not expect your word processor spellcheck to find out all the mistakes for you. Sometimes it finds mistakes when there are none, and it usually misses the most obvious ones. The word processor cannot know which word you mean to use, so it will not see that you want to write “hart” when you type “heart”.