Preparing for College

Will my writing be a problem in college?

Question: I'm not a very good writer. Will my writing difficulties be a problem for me in college?

Some of the scariest headlines in the newspaper these days aren't about war, terrorism, or killer viruses. Maybe that's why we don't notice them. Take this one, for instance: "Students failing to master skills in grammar, writing."

By themselves those words don't seem to ring any alarm bells. When you combine them with the bulk of our nation's incoming college freshman every year, though, there is ample cause for concern. The article that follows beneath this headline from two years ago cites anecdotes about struggling college freshman. Their struggle is not with calculus, physics, chemistry, or computer science. It's with written English.

Compounding this situation is the identity of the particular student body highlighted in the article. The struggling students are not from an obscure institution of higher learning located in some where-is-that town. These students are freshman at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

MIT is one of the best schools of its kind in the world and only admits three of ten applicants each year. So why do freshman at the 'Tute, as it's affectionately known, have so much trouble with the written English language? Only 17 percent of that year's freshman class scored well enough on placement exams to exempt the freshman writing study course requirement. That means 83 percent of the freshmen couldn't meet the school's minimum standard for written communications skills. Now when you're dealing with a class whose majority SAT score is between 1290 and 1470, that's scary.

Why should this concern any of you who are still in high school? Well, the truth is that college work centers on writing. You write papers for English, history, anthropology, physics, music, and--yes--even computer science and sometimes math. Consider for a moment where civilization would be if all the great minds from days gone by had shrugged off their study of

English grammar and writing skills. Our libraries would be filled with boring, difficult-to-understand, and perhaps useless books. This is not to imply that each of us will be a researcher, professor, or novelist. It only means that it's vitally important to learn how to get your point across clearly in writing.

Take your English classes seriously. Look at learning writing skills as an investment in your college future.