Developing College-Level Writing Skills in High School

Developing college level writing skills during high school will better prepare teens for academic writing. What can you do to help?

Everyone under the sun will tell you how important it is for students to develop solid, college-level writing skills. Writing is a key job skill, after all.

More and more universities are incorporating writing across the curriculum, meaning your college-bound students—no matter their major—will invariably encounter courses in which they’re asked to write research papers and essays throughout the semester.

The Price of Unpreparedness

Even though we tout the importance of writing in high school, parents and educators often pay it lip service. Writing standards in high school are so far below college standards that many freshmen are shocked to discover how little they’ve learned and practiced to prepare them.

I was homeschooled throughout my elementary years, after which I attended public high school. My high school writing assignments, even in advanced English courses, were graded on a completion basis. Aside from correcting a few of the more egregious spelling and grammar errors, teachers paid scant attention to anything beyond very basic writing no-no’s.

When I started college, confident enough in my writing ability to consider majoring in English, I was absolutely stunned when I received Bs and Cs on my papers, all dripping in red ink. Although I eventually endured the rigorous process of unlearning all the bad writing habits that went unnoticed in high school, I’m convinced I could have learned how to write well years before.

What Can You Do?

I was lucky enough to have taken courses with a few professors who really cared, who took the time to teach me what good writing meant. For students who are still in high school, I suggest developing college-level writing skills as soon as possible.

Teach Proofreading Skills

Writing isn’t like math, where you either understand it or you don’t. Writing is an ever-evolving process; it never reaches a stage of “perfection.” Also, learning to revise rigorously, reading over every sentence to ensure stylistic clarity and logical soundness, is just as important as checking for grammar and spelling errors.

Unfortunately, schools generally don’t stress developing strong writing on an institutional level simply because it’s expensive. It takes time to teach one of the most difficult skills anyone can learn. And many teachers are simply not up to the task of working with every single one of their students to improve their writing. It’s logistically impossible. This is where homeschooling comes in.

Encourage Well-Rounded Reading

If you want your kids to learn to write well, they should read as much as they can. Encourage them to read books that interest them, as well as books that force them to expand their vocabulary and ways of thinking. Have them practice writing beyond school assignments and read books to help improve writing [aff link].

Most importantly, before parents or students dismiss the importance of writing skills, thinking that writing well is only within the purview of English majors, consider this: One of the key skills employers cite as deficient among recent graduates is written communication.

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This guest post is contributed by Alisa Gilbert. She welcomes your comments. 


  • Posted February 14, 2011


    I appreciate the above-mentioned fact about logistics. Parents can teach powerful writing development, one-to-one, with their children on a more frequent and consistent basis than a public or private school educator who is given the responsibility of developing up to 150 teen-aged writers during a school day!

    I had the good fortune of enrollment in an excellent Honors English program throughout high school. Our senior research paper was a thirty-page persuasive project on a contemporary issue of our choice. I wrote and researched and revised all spring before graduation. When I journeyed away to college that fall, my composition class focused exclusively on persuasive writing.

    Boy, was I thankful for my high school preparation! Parents of teen-agers, take note! 🙂

  • Posted February 14, 2011


    I appreciate that you made this post even more personal by sharing your own experience, Janet!

  • Posted February 16, 2011


    this was really helpful and now i know i need to work on my writing skills.

  • Posted February 16, 2011


    Thank you for stopping by, Erica!

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