In high school, English classes often involve worksheets, vocabulary lists, grammar and generally less accountability to course policies. New college students in their first literature or composition class may be surprised by the differences from what they are used to. While college English courses encompass a number of topics and themes, all of them involve a greater workload of essays, more class involvement through discussions, and rigorous training in the arts of revision and critical reading.
While you may have had to write short papers in high school, you can expect to produce longer, more detailed essays in college. Depending on the course subject, many instructors assign anywhere from four to six papers a semester, varying in length according to the assignment. You will also be asked to revise your work more frequently, often doing multiple drafts of different papers, as well as sharing your work in class in peer-review groups. Papers may also be worth a higher percentage of your grade than in high school -- sometimes as much as 80 percent.
In high school, much of the writing students do is personal and informal. College essays require you to focus less on your opinions and more on presenting factual, well-argued information. Assignments may even restrict you from using the pronoun "I" in your writing. You will be expected to include evidence from credible sources and use direct quotes, paraphrasing and summaries of sources. Instructors will also emphasize how to cite sources according to style guides such as the Modern Language Association and American Psychological Association handbooks.
In high school, teachers may assign reading without much more than a worksheet for homework. College instructors will assign reading with the expectation that you will arrive at the next class having read the material carefully. Because college English courses place a greater emphasis on discussion, you will need to consider what questions and comments you have as you read and be prepared to share them if asked. Many instructors also hold students accountable for reading by using pop quizzes or other evaluations.
In high school, class attendance is expected but often does not have a direct impact on student grades. Most college English classes, however, allow students only a certain number of absences. Your allotted absences are like "sick days"; once you run out of them, you will be docked the same way you would be if you didn't show up for work. Participation is often factored into grading as well. Therefore, failure to regularly attend class and contribute can seriously damage your final grade or result in your being withdrawn from the class without receiving credit.