Writing a college essay is fundamentally different than the kind of writing practiced in many high schools. College essays are generally longer, more complex and require some form of citation. Although the guidelines differ by discipline, some fundamental aspects of college essays remain true across the board. Many guidelines for high school writing simply do not apply in college.
College essays tend to leave more room for creative and critical thinking than high school essays, with their five-paragraph structure. When writing a college essay, which is typically much longer than five paragraphs, the high school model ceases to be useful and can hamper critical thinking.
The five-paragraph high school essay and a college essay have in common a thesis, although it does not necessarily have to be encapsulated into one sentence in college writing. Since college writing usually involves revision, you may find that your thesis changes slightly, and sometimes entirely, during the writing process. This is a normal part of college writing. Postulate a thesis that is defensible and makes sense to you, but be open to changing it as you research evidence, refine your ideas and receive guidance from your professor.
College essays usually have a length requirement given as a number of pages. Unless otherwise specified by your professor, pages should be double spaced. Use a common 12-point font for your writing. You can extend the number of pages of an essay with a larger font, but professors generally will be unimpressed with this tactic and may deduct points from your grade.
Revision is an essential part of college essays. Take comments from your professor seriously and try to address her concerns accurately and concisely. Most colleges have a writing center that provides writing tutoring to students. No matter your level of writing skill, you can benefit from a trip to the writing center by having a fresh set of eyes examine your paper for mistakes you've overlooked. The writing center can help you learn how to properly cite sources, which is of utmost importance in college essays. Citing needs to be done carefully and correctly for every source you use in your essay. Lack of citations can be considered plagiarism and result in a failing grade for the assignment or even expulsion from your institution in severe cases.
Professors generally are willing to address student concerns or questions. If you have questions about your assignment, citations, or are in need of general guidance, feel free to visit your professor's office during his posted office hours. It's best to think of college writing as collaborative process rather than an end product.