College Essay Examples: Writing Essays in College


When faced with the task of writing your first ever university paper, there are some key differences between high school and university level essay writing that should be taken into account. Moreover, it may be useful to examine several college essay examples as a way of preparing for university level essay writing.

How College Essays Differ from High School

Typically, high school students are taught to follow a fairly rigid and formulaic form of essay writing known colloquially as the sandwich method. The sandwich method essentially states that your essay should consist of a one paragraph lead or intro, followed by three to four paragraphs of body text, each representing a distinct argument, and finally a conclusion that summarizes all of the points in the essay. While this template is not necessarily wrong, what new university students will typically discover, especially when entering an arts program with a heavy emphasis on writing, is that essays are much more free form and varied in nature.

The end goal with essay writing in university is to be able to successfully articulate your points in a lucid and convincing fashion. Given the wide array of topics that you might be covering, it becomes apparent that while one template may be appropriate for a class on comparative literature, you would be be better served following a different structure when writing a paper on Canadian history or contemporary media theory.

Moreover, there is a uniformity to the sandwich method taught in high school that can often be misleading. While the sandwich method would have you write three paragraphs of similar length to make up the argumentative section of the paper, in reality more flexibility is required when formulating a successful paper. One argument in your paper might involve a fairly complex idea that requires you to break it down into smaller pieces in order to communicate it effectively to the reader. Meanwhile, an equally valid argument might be more straight forward and would be more salient if written plainly in your paper with just a few lines.

Apart from conceptual differences between high school and university writing, another major difference that you have to adapt to is the use of fixed writing styles. The three major writing styles, MLA, APA,  and Chicago, all feature different conventions that you will often have to learn and rigorously apply based on your professors preference for a particular style. The best way to become accustomed to these styles is to consult official writing manuals that are available both online and in every campus bookstore.

How to Find Good College Essay Examples

Study Academic Journals

One of the best ways to get a gage on the type of writing that would be required of you in university is by doing the various readings that you are assigned in your first year courses. Although the wording in academic journals might initially appear intimidating, the point is not to imitate the vocabulary of the authors you are reading. In fact, doing so might make your papers appear pretentious, or give the impression that you do not understand what you are writing and are trying to impress the reader with flowery language. Instead the goal of carefully reading academic writing should be to gain a firm grasp on syntax and understand how academics formulate their arguments and express their ideas.

Visit Credible Sites

Most universities have extensive libraries of online and offline resources available to help student learn the craft of writing and to improve their essay skills. As a tuition paying student you should take advantage of the bulk of resources you have at your disposal from credible academic sources. Some universities even offer in-depth comprehensive guides to writing completely free of charge to the public through websites, such as the Harvard College Writing Center. Just be wary of dubious websites with questionable credentials, or sites that offer writing services for a fee. Most often these services are created to sucker students out of money and offer little in terms of actual educational value.

Consult with Older Students and High Performers

Another useful strategy would be to reach out to upper year students who are already seasoned university level essay writers and have clear understanding of what is too be expected from academic papers. That said it would be best to approach the students who are high achievers and are generally well regarded for their writing abilities, as they would more likely be more capable and willing to help out. There are many students in university that scrape by with sloppy writing, thus it is better to consult someone who cares about the craft as they will be more effective in giving you pointers.

Moving Past Examples of College Essays

Reaching out to Teaching Assistants and Professors

Yet perhaps the single best resources that you might have at your disposal in university are your professors and their teaching assistants. As these individuals have either completed, or are in the process of completing graduate school, they have proven their competency with high level academic writing.

In my experience during the first couple of months as a freshman at Western University, I initially noticed a considerable drop in my marks. While in high school I was accustomed to receiving eighties and nineties in many of my writing assignments, my first semester of university started off with a couple of sixties and one essay assignment that I barely passed. After spending a considerable amount of time going to the office hours of my teaching assistants and professors, not only did my marks subsequently rise, but the quality of writing that I produced dramatically improved after my first year of university. Often the best way to improve in the craft of writing is to  keep the lines of communication open between yourself and your instructors.

Should You Take Bird Courses in University?

Bird Courses

As you find yourself swamped during your university career with different obligations, ranging from your academic workload to your social and extracurricular activities, you may be tempted to seek out bird courses as a means of making your college life easier. Yet before you decide to pursue this strategy there are a few important points to consider.

What are Bird Courses?

The term “bird course” generally refers to courses that students choose to take in university because they are deemed easy to succeed in. While there may be multiple factors that determine whether a course is a bird course, the main criteria for bird courses are the subject matter being conceptually easy to grasp, the professor/instructor being an easy tester, and the promise of a high mark with minimal effort put in by the student.

Four Points to Consider When Choosing to Take Bird Courses in University

1. Does the Bird Course Suit Your Strengths as a Student?

Often times you will hear other students referring to a particular course that they took as being really easy or a bird course. Yet it is important to note what those particular students strengths are in relation to your own. A survey course on astronomy may be very basic for a science major, yet provide a fair degree of difficulty for students from other disciplines that are not familiar with the fundamentals of the study.

More over it is important to examine the testing method of the course to determine whether it is a “bird course” for someone with your academic skills. While some students are great at taking multiple choice exams, others are better at writing essay style evaluations.

An anecdotal example of why this point is important is my own experience in university with a so called “bird course” that my friends encouraged me to take about advertising and consumer culture. Conceptually this course was extremely easy and required little to no theoretical background. Yet the testing consisted of two multiple choice exams that made up the entire mark. Writing was by far my strong suit in undergrad, and I tended to avoid any course that did not test through written exams. Ultimately that “bird course” that I took ended up being by far the lowest mark that I ever received in university. And what was intended as a mark booster ended up being a 64% in a semester filled with low 80s and high 70s.

Although this may be somewhat of an extreme example, it should articulate the need to carefully asses your personal strengths to determine what types of courses you excel in. A final thought on this point is to also consider what courses you find engaging and intellectually stimulating. Personally I tended to perform better in courses where I was actually passionate about the subject matter. Thus my poor performance in the advertising class was also in part an affect of apathy towards the elementary subject matter.

2. Do You Value University as an Investment in Yourself?

This point is an important one for students who might end up making a habit of taking bird courses throughout university. Before you decide to follow this path it is very important to ask yourself why you are in school in the first place. When you strip away all of the societal pressures and imagined prestige that is associated with attaining a bachelor’s degree, you should keep in mind that university is intended to be a place of true higher learning. As such, you should view your four years in undergrad as a time to expand your horizons, grow intellectually, and foster a broader and more critical understanding of the world around you. If you adopt this mindset then you may realize that stacking your schedule with so called bird courses is simply a way of selling yourself short.

3. How do Bird Courses Reflect on Your Academic Record?

This point is meant as a warning to student who intend on frequently using bird courses as a means of artificially inflating their averages in hopes of being admitted to a demanding post-bachelor’s degree program. Admitting boards in graduate and professional schools tend to take a fairly holistic approach in selecting candidates and are generally smart enough to see right through this tactic. Thus an undergraduate student who achieved an A- or B+ average by working hard in all their core competencies, and taking challenging elective courses, is likely to edge out a student who achieved an A+ average by filling their transcript with courses such as “The Geography of Tourism” or “An Introduction to Popular Music”.

4. Can a Bird Course Provide You Needed Relief During a Tough Semester?

Despite the aforementioned points, there is something to be said about the need to turn to bird courses during semesters that are stacked with challenging classes. When four out five courses in your semester are difficult and time consuming, then it is perfectly reasonable to choose an elective that is relatively easy to get through as your fifth class. That being said, I still encourage you to consider what your particular strengths are, and to decide upon taking a course that you would enjoy and feel engaged with intellectually, rather that opting for a course that your friends describe as easy.

The Bottom Line of Bird Courses

Hopefully this article has swayed you to reconsider your approach regarding bird courses in University. The most important takeaway is to have a clear cut plan of what you want to achieve through your university education and elect your courses in accordance to that plan. By doing so, you will be able to make wiser choices and view the lure of bird courses in a different and more pragmatic light.