The “rules” of writing essays

Many higher education students might agree with me that most perspectives set in high schools are considerably different to those set in colleges and universities. This applies to many aspects, varying from academic standards to social life. As many schools, SUNY Geneseo’s GLOBE (Geneseo Learning Outcomes for Baccalaureate Education) states: Geneseo’s mission underscores an institutional commitment to transformational learning experiences’ and ‘a rich co-curricular life’. In the academic standards of colleges like Geneseo, writing sticks out as a very distinct and growing process that sometimes triggers the mind of the students.
In high school, we mainly write essays to fulfill our assignments, to pass the English Regents exams in New York, or to get a good grade in the writing part of the SAT/ACT or AP exams. All of these have some set of rules that we must follow in order to reach full credit. In my high school, for example, my English teachers would use a strategy to make the students remember the steps to take towards academic writing. It was called TEEL, which stands for Topic sentence, Explanation, Evidence, and Link. That was how they taught us to remember how we were supposed to write our essays. We had to follow that structure all the time; write the topic sentence in the last sentence of the introduction, find all the evidence we were asked for and explain it each time, and at the end link back to your topic sentence in the conclusion. If the directions said that we have to choose a side in an argument, it did not matter which side we would choose, as long as we used all the TEEL steps correctly. We were never required to give our full honest opinion about the topic we were asked to write about. We were only writing to fulfill the needs of New York State standards and to show them that high school students are capable of writing the way they want them to, not that they are capable of thinking and actually standing up to an argument that they might feel strong opinions about.
The essays and papers we have to write in college are significantly different from the ones in high school in many senses. In college, we are asked to write our honest thoughts about the topic in hand, and our papers might sometimes require to be longer, making them more thoughtful for us. This all depends in the class you are in and the‌ professor you have because here the teachers do not have to follow such a strictly made curriculum like high school teachers do. That is why each professor in college has a syllabus that they make specifically for the class they are teaching and it is something that the college students do have to follow if they want to pass their class. However, it varies from class to class and they are allowed more liberty than in high school. Since in high school we were not allowed to use “I.” It is quite a shock to some students that in college we might be allowed to use “I” depending on the assignment and the professors.
This semester I have INTD 203, a class for education students, and the writings that I have to do in this class vary from easy to hard. I have to do two response papers throughout the course of the semester and these papers according to my professor, Dr. David Granger: “should be your own thoughtful, personal response to some idea, issue, or person addressed either in the class readings and/or class discussions. The topic should be something that interests you in some way; and I want to know what you honestly think about it, not what you imagine I want you to say about it.” After I read this on the syllabus for the class, I realized just how different college’s standards of writing are from high school’s. Even though this assignment is supposed to be only two to three pages, it makes the students really focus on the argument they want to state in their paper since it is something we choose, giving us more freedom to express our emotions towards something we are really passionate about. In this same class I have to do another assignment that is weighed more in my overall grade and requires twenty to thirty pages of work. It is a research paper of an elementary, middle, or high school of our choice focusing on a diversity and equity issue the school we choose went through in the past or is currently going through. This paper will be a challenge for me since I have never done such a big research in an important and relevant issue today. This is something that colleges want their students to leave with, knowing that it was something that they accomplished while they were there. SUNY Geneseo is no exception; my school signals this point in its integrative inquiry of its Learning Outcomes for Baccalaureate Education when it says that students will have: “to ask meaningful questions connecting personal experiences to academic study and co-curricular life; to synthesize multiple bodies of knowledge to address real-world problems and issues.” Not only my INTD 203 class, but my INTD 105 class with Dr. McCoy lets its students truly connect with the class and the topics we decide to write about, like this post that I am writing right now.
Coming to college and seeing all the liberty we have in academic writing and realizing that there are no such “rules” to writing essays might make many students uncomfortable because they have been accustomed their whole lives to write based on those sets of rules they were taught while they were younger. But, if we work hard and every time we write we remember to write from our hearts and consider what our honest opinion about the topic in hand is, the process will become easier. GLOBE also explains this in its learning outcomes on Critical Thinking: “Students will demonstrate to formulate questions or frame issues in ways that permit examination or investigation; to explicate and evaluate the assumptions underlying the claims of self and others; to establish and pursue systematic and valid methods for collecting and evaluating relevant evidence; to draw soundly reasoned and appropriately limited conclusions on the basis of evidence; to relate conclusions to a larger body of knowledge.” College’s and university’s goals for students is to get them thinking about what is right and wrong in the society we live in today and to not be afraid to stand up to what they think is right, despite everybody else’s opinions.

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