Personal Growth

How the Ability to Write in College Affects Graduation Rate

May 26, 2022

Most colleges and universities require students to take a series of writing courses to graduate; some also require writing-intensive courses within a student's major. Those who do not hone their ability to write in high school or their first year of college will not perform as well and some risk not graduating because of poor academic performance. Below, we take a closer look at why the majority of colleges and universities require writing courses and how doing poorly in these courses indirectly—and sometimes, directly—impacts a student's chances of graduating.

Why Colleges Require Writing Courses to Enhance Your Ability to Write

Even the best high school students sometimes struggle with writing when they reach college-level classes. In high school, writing is part of English classes and typically only involves literary analysis and learning how to construct a five-paragraph essay. College provides the environment for students to hone their writing skills and learn additional strategies to conquer written communications. But, why do all students need to take writing courses? Some students struggle with the idea that the need to take writing courses, especially if they are pursuing STEM majors. Mathematicians and computer engineers need to learn to write as much as English and literature majors. Here are some more specific reasons why colleges require writing courses for all students:

Writing Is the Foundation for All Learning

Writing serves as the foundation for communication in every discipline, making writing skills something students carry with them for life. From the earliest age, writing helps people develop motor skills. As children grow, writing becomes a vehicle for expressing thoughts, persuading others, and critiquing. High school students often do not learn how to apply their writing skills to other subject areas or write other types of papers and essays until they reach college. Colleges require students to take writing classes to continue building their foundation and to learn how to transition from high school writing to college writing that they can use in their chosen career path. Ultimately, writing involves a multitude of other skills that help students learn, including reading comprehension, analytical skills, and thought organization.

Strong Writers Avoid Plagiarism

The further you go in your education and your career, the more important it is that you avoid plagiarism. High school students learn not to copy words directly from other sources, but they are not always taught the more nuanced aspects of plagiarism. Success in academia and beyond hinges on thought leadership, ingenuity, and giving credit where credit is due. Plagiarism is more than copying words, but also using others' ideas without citing their work and giving them credit. College writing involves reading ample research to come up with original research ideas or analyzing what's already been done. Students learn to properly cite research and others' ideas in required courses, typically taken in their first year.

Improved Communication With the Ability to Write

Regardless of one's career path and whether they land in a supervisory role or as a team member, they need to be able to communicate with colleagues and management. Effective communication is not reserved for the humanities; scientists and engineers must write lab reports and have the ability to communicate their research and results in a succinct and cogent way.  Improved writing skills translate to improved communication skills. Some people are gifted writers and learn faster than others, but generally speaking, the only way to improve writing skills is to write and write some more. Colleges require writing courses to give students the writing practice they need to improve their communication skills, something they carry with them after graduation.

Promotes Creativity and Ingenuity

Writing activates the frontal cortex of the human brain, commonly known as the center of creativity for the mind. Writing courses in college give students repeated chances to activate their natural creativity and ingenuity, allowing them to come up with unique ideas. This also carries on after graduation when students can apply these ideas to solve real-world problems.

Poor Ability to Write Impacts Academic Performance

Colleges and universities have ample reasons to require writing courses, all of which benefit their graduates. Many colleges require a minimum of two writing courses as part of the general education requirements for graduation. This is typically some form of Composition I and Composition II. Here is an example from Montclair State University. Others also have a precursor to their required courses, often referred to as a Basic Writing course, for those who need some more instruction as they transition from high school. By the time a student finishes the required courses, they have been exposed to different types of college writing that they can carry with them through the rest of their studies. They have the skills to write research papers, lab reports, critical essays, and more.

Some universities, like the University of Minnesota, require students to take writing-intensive courses in addition to mandatory first-year writing courses. The U of M requires four writing-intensive courses, two of which must be upper-division courses. At least one of the upper-division writing-intensive courses must be in your major, allowing students to learn about writing as it applies to their field of study.

How This Effects Course Work

Those who do not put the effort into learning how to adapt to college writing and improve their skills will eventually run into trouble in their courses. Even for colleges that don't have specific writing-intensive requirements, students can expect higher-level classes to require various types of writing often with final paper requirements that range from 10 to 25 pages. Those with poor writing skills struggle to complete these assignments and when they do finish them, they struggle to get a passing grade. In the best-case scenario, students must take the course and delay graduation. Others never graduate because of too many poor grades or they lose funding. Most scholarships and Department of Education loans require students to carry at least a C average or better.

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