3 Tips for Preparing Students for College-Level Writing

Students walking around autumnal college campus

There are a variety of ways that English teachers can approach preparing high school students for the demands of college-level writing.

From leaving home and making new friends to exploring new subject areas and meeting elevated academic expectations, the transition from high school to college presents a host of challenges for young adults. As an English teacher, there are a number of ways you can help students navigate this transition, including developing students’ social-emotional skills and preparing students for college-level writing.

While a strong writing skill-set is pivotal to an individual’s success not only in college, but in the workplace, many students find themselves overwhelmed by the rigor of college-level writing. According to a Center for American Progress report, roughly 33% of students entering two-year institutions and 13% of students entering four-year institutions enroll in remedial English during their first year. This often has significant downstream effects, as less than 10% of students who enroll in a remedial course in college complete either a two- or four-year program on time.

Regardless of whether your students are college-bound or not, helping them improve their college-level writing skills is among the most powerful things you can do to set them up for success in their future pursuits. Below, we share several tips for promoting the development of advanced writing skills in high school and, in so doing, preparing students for college (and the workplace).

1. Encourage students to develop their voices

Building a rock-solid foundation of writing fundamentals is a must in any high school English classroom. Before students can think about college prep, they need to master the writing skills required to communicate clearly and effectively. That said, once your students master the basics, you should encourage them to work on developing their unique voices by experimenting with techniques that push beyond rudimentary writing (think: deploying rhetorical questions, using figurative language, and playing around with creative sentence structures and punctuation).

By equipping students with the tools to make writing their own, you nudge them toward taking ownership of their writing craft as a means of expressing their individuality. When students recognize that there’s more at play in an assignment than meeting a word or page count, they tend to think more critically about their writing.

2. Emphasize the importance of reading

Reading frequently creates opportunities for students to expand their vocabulary, identify specific writing styles, and understand the construction of narratives and arguments. As students become increasingly familiar with what strong writing looks like, they often start incorporating sophisticated techniques into their own writing subconsciously. To support this process, try asking students to read and respond to mentor texts or analyze the craft of a piece of literature you’re teaching.

While reading literary works is important, these works represent but a sliver of the wide swath of texts students will encounter in college. Introducing students to texts like academic papers in peer-reviewed journals, technical writing, and challenging poetry is a great way to teach a variety of writing skills that students may need in higher education settings.

3. Make time for constructive feedback

Providing meaningful feedback is a critical component of helping students grow as writers. Most notably, research shows that feedback targeted at how students should apply areas of strength and address areas for improvement from one assignment on a future assignment tends to lead to markedly better essays over time.

Of course, confidence is an equally critical component of student writing growth, so be sure to emphasize to your students that each feedback cycle is an opportunity for improvement, not merely an occasion to identify their mistakes. Make a concerted effort to commend your students’ efforts and highlight the positive aspects of their writing in addition to providing constructive criticism.

Prepare your students for college with NoRedInk

Helping students become strong writers equips them for success in secondary school, in college, and in the workplace. Doing so in a consistent, equitable fashion can be overwhelming, which is why many educators incorporate writing skills programs like NoRedInk into their daily routines.

NoRedInk engages students with exercises based on their interests, boosts their skills with adaptive practice, and guides them step by step through the writing and revision process. Through interactive tutorials, models, and lessons, NoRedInk gives students the support they need to unlock their potential as writers.

Ready to start building stronger, college-ready writers in your classroom? Sign up for free today!

Thomas collaborates with colleagues from across NoRedInk to craft stories that illustrate how NoRedInk ​​builds stronger writers. He holds a BA in Religious Studies from Occidental College.