Writing Center

Best Practices of a Student-Focused University

Though heavy research and publishing demands might constrain faculty teaching efforts, many universities are becoming more effective at encouraging undergraduate learning by implementing ‘best practices.’

Research into best undergraduate educational practices by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU)  yielded a list of ten: 1st Year Seminars; Required Common Courses; Learning Communities; Writing Intensive Courses; Collaborative Projects; Undergraduate Research; Global Learning; Community-Based Learning; Internships; and, Capstone Projects. The full list, along with a quick synopsis of each practice, can be downloaded at the AACU website: http://www.aacu.org/leap/documents/hip_tables.pdf.   

When researching a college, a rule of thumb is the more ‘best practices’ offered, the more engaged its undergraduates are and the better prepared they will be upon graduation.    

Of the ten best practices, five, which might be considered the paramount ‘best practices,’ are frequently found at many schools, at least many of the schools I have researched over the last year, and warrant more detail:

First Year Seminars: While some first year seminars might cover orientation or study skills, most are geared towards small seminar classes consisting of fewer than 15 students, taught by a professor, featuring specific topics or readings that require close examination, discussion, analysis, and extensive writing assignments. The small size encourages participation, frequent encounters with the professor, and again, lots of writing that is carefully developed and critiqued. The 2009 National Survey on First-Year Seminars notes over 87% of universities currently offer 1st year seminars. Brown University, for example, has dozens of 1st year seminars for its freshmen. Many state universities, especially Honor’s Programs such as Barrett’s Honors College at Arizona State University, offer first year seminars as well.

Writing-intensive Courses:   The importance of learning to write well, and extensively, cannot be overemphasized. Richard Light, a professor from Harvard’s School of Education, draws a direct correlation between the amount of writing in a course and its level of student engagement.  Student writing doesn’t need to be restricted to just a course, but can and should be interdisciplinary. Most universities also have writing centers that supply aid to all undergraduates in need: Swarthmore College’s writing center will assist in anything from a 5-paragraph essay to an esoteric physics research paper.

Undergraduate Research:  If you’re planning to apply to medical school, or most graduate programs for that matter, conducting undergraduate research is essential. Learning how research is funded, conducted, and published is fast becoming the rite of passage in many undergraduate schools. Most of the departments in Boston University offer numerous opportunities for undergraduate research. Pomona College and Swarthmore require all undergraduates to conduct independent research with a faculty mentors before graduating.

Internships: Gaining internships with companies or institutions prior to graduation is also fast becoming the rigor at many schools. Over 86% of Clarkson College’s (NY) recent graduating class participated in internships. Some, such as Northeastern (MA) and Kalamazoo (MI), have full-fledged coop programs that integrate work experience into their curriculum. In departments such as communication at Northwestern and Boston College, working in the media is expected by majors before the end of junior year. The more internships/work experience students gain, the better.

Capstone courses and projects:  Mastery of a subject is best demonstrated through an honor’s thesis, comprehensive exams, and independent projects requiring application of core concepts of a discipline. Reed College requires most its undergraduates take a comprehensive exam in their junior year followed by a capstone research thesis that is presented and defended before a panel of professors from Reed and outside universities. In essence a bachelor’s from Reed signifies capabilities similar to those of PhDs.

The more rigorous the ‘best practices’ offered by universities you have under the microscope, the better prepared you will be to meet and surmount the challenges encountered beyond college

Best results arise from best practices: they’re worth looking for in any college under consideration.

The Importance of Revising College Essays


  •          Leave time for revisions
  •          Suggestions from the Writing Center at Harvard University
  •          Some writing requires major surgery

Writing a decent college essay is not an easy task. Sometimes you run with an idea and, in the end, it doesn’t work as expected. You’re going to have to revise. Don’t fret: writing a good essay takes time and, by its very nature, it demands revisions. This is all part of the process. Even Harvard recognizes and stresses the importance of revisions. Revising is as fundamental as writing the introductory paragraph.  

Laura Saltz of Harvard’s Writing Center has a handout that you can obtain online: http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~wricntr/documents/Revising.html, and it is indeed a useful tool as you go about revising your college essays. Here are some key pieces of advice it offers:

  1. After you finish an essay, put it aside for a few days. This will let the contents slowly simmer in your mind. When you return to it, it will be with a fresh perspective, which might allow you to make edits that will improve the conciseness and effectiveness of what you’re explaining.
  2. Get feedback from a wide a range of people (though not peers—they might be tempted to copy any particularly good ideas you come up with). At the Harvard Crimson, ‘editors criticize one another’s writing ruthlessly.’ (Making the Most of College, Richard Light, p. 61) The earlier you learn to use critiques of your writing, the better your writing will become, and the better your college essay will be.   
  3. Rethink your approach to the essay prompt. You might want to reorder your points, or add more effective ones. At the same time you might want to cut out anything that is irrelevant or redundant. Word limitations, implicit in the essay, usually require precision.
  4. The most crucial areas of your essay are the introduction and conclusion. Both carry enormous weight with your reader. The introduction, done well, will induce your reader to happily delve into your piece. The conclusion, well executed, will leave the reader with a respect for your writing prowess and your control of ideas.  
  5. Proofread carefully. Preferably, read aloud whatever it is you’ve written; your ear oftentimes will pick up flaws in logic and grammar otherwise missed.

In the Harvard handout there is an example of EB White’s 3rd and 6th draft of an article he wrote about the first moon walk. The differences between the versions are dramatic. Even his ideas and examples have completely changed over intervening drafts. This, by the way, was for a ‘one paragraph comment.’ So think, if someone of the capability and scope as EB White goes through 6 drafts on a one paragraph essay, what might you expect to have to do to get that 200 word essay on the University of Chicago application ready for admission’s review? Good writing evolves over time.

In Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, which has sold in excess of 10 million copies, and was written before word processing came into the mainstream, EB White offers this choice tidbit that few students I’ve worked with take to warmly, “…Do not be afraid to seize whatever you have written and cut it to ribbons…it is no sign of weakness or defeat that your manuscript ends up in need of major surgery. This is a common occurrence in all writing and among the best writers.” (The Elements of Style, William Strunk and E.B. White, p. 72)

The importance of revising your application essays cannot be overstated. Expressing yourself clearly, concisely, and eloquently while effectively responding to a prompt is an art—one well respected among many of the admissions officers who are reading your essays.  Making an impact, which will require looking at things a bit differently and taking risks, means the chances of missing the mark are ever present. Only the capable applicant, able to edit his or her own work, will succeed, and that will be through the revision process. Revise well. It’s a tool that will become ever more important should you be admitted.  

대학 에세이의 수정의 중요성

  •          수정할 시간을 남겨두라
  •          Harvard 대학의 Writing Center 조언
  •          어떤 글은 대대적 수술도 필요하다

멋진 대학 에세이를 쓴다는 것이 쉬운 일은 아니다.  때때로 아이디어는 좋았는데, 끝에 가서는 기대만큼 잘 안될 때도 있다.  그러므로 수정을 해야 한다.  그러나 너무 초조해 하지는 말자.  좋은 글은 시간을 들여야 하며, 원래 여러 번 수정해야만 하는 것이다.  이러한 과정이 반드시 필요하다.  Harvard에서도 수정을 중요성을 강조한다.

Harvard’s Writing Center의 Laura Saltz을 글을 온라인(http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~wricntr/documents/Revising.html)에서 구할 수 있는데, 대학 에세이를 수정하는 좋은 도구로 사용할 수 있다.  그 글에서 제공하는 몇 가지 중요한 사항을 살펴보고자 한다.

  1. 에세이를 끝낸 후, 며칠 접어두자.  그러면, 여러분의 마음에서 그 글의 내용이 스며든다.  다음, 다시 볼 때는 전혀 새로운 관점으로 볼 수 있다.  그래서 여러분이 설명하고자 하는 것을 더 효과적으로 간결히 해줄 수 있다.
  2. 다양한 부류의 사람 (친구는 제외: 여러분의 아이디어를 복사할지도 모른다)들에게 피드백을 받도록 하자.  Harvard Crimson에서 ‘편집장들은 다른 사람을 글을 무자비하게 비평한다고 한다.  여러분이 이러한 비판을 일찍 깨닫는다면, 그 만큼 더 나은 에세이가 나올 수 있다.
  3. 에세이 길잡이(프롬프터)를 다시 생각하자.  그러면, 포인터를 재배치할 수도 있고, 더 좋은 내용을 덧부칠 수도 있다.  또한 무관한 내용이나 불필요한 내용을 제할 수 있다.  단어 수 제한은 묵시적이지만 대체로 정확하게 맞추는 것이 좋다.
  4. 에세이에서 서론과 결론이 가장 중요하다.  읽는 사람이 가장 무게가 두는 부분이다.  서론이 좋으면, 읽는 사람을 빨아들여서 이끌어 간다.  결론이 좋으면, 읽는 사람은 여러분의 글쓰는 기량과 아이디어에 찬사를 보낸다.
  5. 교정을 철저히 하자.  큰소리로 쓴 글을 읽는 것도 좋다; 들으면서 귀가 논리와 문법의 잘못을 찾을 수 있다.

또한 Harvard handout에는   EB White가 첫 달 착륙에 대해 쓴 3번째와 6번째 수정본 글이 있다.  그 차이는 정말 극과 극이다.  심지어 아이디어와 실예도 바뀌어져 있다.  근데, 그것도 한 문단의 예이다.  글에 재능과 능력이 있는 EB White가 한 문단을 6번씩이나 수정했다면, 여러분이 University of Chicago에 입학하기 위해 입학심사실로 보내려는 200자의 글을 몇 번이나 수정해야 하겠는가?  멋진 글은 시간을 투자해서 나오는 것이다.

10million권이나 팔린 Strunk and White의 Elements of Style은 워드 프로세서가 나오기 전에 쓰여졌는데, EB White는 이 책에서 다음과 설명하는데, 필자가 가르친 학생들은 별로 좋아하지 않았다.  “…여러분이 쓴 글을 무시하고 리본을 자르듯이 잘라내는 것을 두려워 말라….여러분의 글이 대수술이 필요하다고 해서 병약하거나 실패가 아니다.  이 과정은 최고의 작가들에게도 흔히 나타나는 경우이다.” (The Elements of Style, William Strunk and E.B. White, p. 72).

여러분의 대입 에세이의 수정의 중요성은 절대 과장된 것이 아니다.  여러분을 정확히, 분명하게, 간결하게 표현하면서 프롬프터에 따라 쓰는 것은 예술이다—입학심사관들 중 한 사람이라도 그 글을 높이 평가할 것이다.  그러면, 그 영향이 어쩌면 기회를 잡게 될 것이다.  단지 유능한 응시생만이 자신의 글을 수정하고, 이 절차를 성공적으로 마칠 것이다.  잘 수정하길 바란다.  어떠면 여러분이 입학하는데 지대한 영향을 미칠 도구이다.