The Crossover: Going from a High School Writer to a College Writer!

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Gilford Tolona was confused: a freshman in college, he came in with heightened confidence in his writing as he had passed all his high school English courses, but after taking a writing placement test was told by his advisor a remedial writing course would probably be best as a first course. This deflated Gilford’s enthusiasm for more writing, but his advisor told him it was quite common. Writing at a high school level can, at times, seem quite good, yet when it is compared to the type of writing that can come out of college English courses, there would be a marked difference. To show what the advisor meant some of the sentences Gilford penned in that placement test were read aloud to the new student: “My name is Gilford Tolona.  I was born in Sageburry, Arkansas. I have two brothers and one sister. And also a dog and triopical fish. My fathers job is a real estate salesman my mother works as a nurse in our local hospital. I played football and basketball in high school, was a member of the drama club and helped out for the senior prom. My teachers told me I did good in math, and I alwars received passing grades in English of which I was qyuite proud.  My goal is to major in Business Administration and eventually work in a bank.”  This sounded okay to Gilford, but then the advisor pointed out items where editing and revising would improve the sentences. Making that important crossover from high school writer to college writer may at first seem daunting, yet with focus, determination, and resources, it can be extremely rewarding.  No, it won’t happen overnight, yet a steady growth is happily possible to where an employer will remark, “Good cover letter – written at a college level!”

Of course, there are advanced English and honors English courses in high school, and often these students come out of such classes with a good beginning to writing at the college level. Yet whether coming from these classes or standard high school English classes, much can be done in the form of knowledge and guidance to assure whatever level of writing one takes from high school, it will transition into writing that will be embraced by university professors and employers in the job market. But Gilford quickly learned what every fresh-out-of-high-school college freshman discovers: no course or book or seminar or specialty instructor exists on How to Become a College-Level Writer. Rather, there is a gaggle of a little bit here, a little bit there, a little bit around the corner that must be gathered, explored,  practiced, and embraced over weeks and months before the badge of  “College-Level Writer” can be worn.

So …where to go? Gilford took the suggestion of his advisor for that remedial course, and he was introduced to a knowledgeable and caring English instructor; the amazing Purdue Global library PG Library); a many-tiered and comprehensive PG Writing Center (PG Writing Center), feedback and insights from classmates. He was taught the importance of reading – books on writing, novels, newspapers, journals –to hone a better writing style, to expand his vocabulary, to better understand the differences between good writing and poor writing.  

There was so much new information on how to be a better writer. Gilford had many notes, recorded seminars, even a daily journal he was keeping on his writing progress. He decided a guidebook was needed – a reminder that he could use each time a new writing project was started, no matter how big or small. Using this would continually improve his writing. After jotting down what he felt was most important, he shared it with his English professor, who made a few suggestions. Finally, Gilford’s Guide to Being a College-Level Writer made its debut as a trusted companion on his desk:

  • Remember the #1 rule of writing: you write for the reader, i.e., always know the audience.
  • Master writing a thesis statement so the reader is never lost going into an essay.
  • Use an outline to structure and balance ideas, supporting points, and – when applicable – research.
  • Stay away from short, choppy sentences, except for emphasis; learn how to structure compound and complex sentences.
  • Be aware of punctuation, with a special nod to the colon and semi-colon, as correct use of these adds sophistication and refinement to the writing.
  • Good grammar is the backbone of excellent writing.  Be sure to do a thorough check of this before submitting any writing project.
  • Proofread, then proofread again; read the writing aloud and use PG tutors (found in the PG Writing Center) for a second pair of laser-focused writing eyes. 
  • Never trust Spellcheck and Grammar Check as first sources; use as it offers options to help with correct spelling.
  • Look up the meaning of any word not understood; jot it down for future use.
  • Do not toss in vocabulary or sentences or any content for the sake of filling an essay or reaching a word count; be sure the writing is lean, to the point, and never strays from the thesis.
  • Always edit and revise when a draft is finished: this will result in a stronger written product. 
  • When in doubt, when the answer is not apparent, when stumped – always reach out for input from his English professor, from a PG writing tutor, from his advisor.

The weeks went by for Gilford, and they rolled into months. Soon, he was at the end of his remedial writing course; he was not only pleased with his grades but strongly felt he had made at least a first nice leap from high school writer to college writer. He remembered that writing placement test and decided to rewrite those sentences his advisor read to him:

My name is Gilford Tolona, and I was born in Sageburry, Arkansas; I have two brothers and one sister, as well as a dog and tropical fish.  Both my parents work: my dad is a real estate salesman, and my mom is a surgical nurse in our local hospital. High school was quite busy: I played football and basketball, was a member of the drama club, and sold tickets for the senior prom. Although the math teachers praised my efforts, I received only passing grades in English. My goal is to major in Business Administration and eventually work in a bank, with a focus on financial management. 

Gilford realized this rewrite would not win a Pulitzer Prize for literature, but he was thrilled with the improvement he was able to make over his first effort. He was definitely on his way to becoming a solid, it’s-so-easy-to-tell writer of college caliber, and Gilford smiled at a song title he remembered from The Beatles: “The Long and Winding Road” – indeed, it was and is a long and winding road to becoming a better writer, but, wow: what a worthwhile journey it is!

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