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What to Expect from a College English Class

by Jan Archer

College English classes vary in subject and focus, but each requires a strong attention to detail, communication and analytical thinking. Whether you're taking freshman composition or a high level literary theory course, you will need to be open to class discussion, active listening and cultural awareness. English is a discipline that contains a wide array of viewpoints, and that helps the field continue to progress. Whether you major in English or simply need to take a few required courses, you'll want to enter them with an open mind and an understanding that the field is a gray area with plenty of room for interpretation.

Freshman Courses

Introductory English classes taken during freshman year will require argumentative essays. These are different from high school papers or book reports, because they require a thesis and supporting arguments that reference other texts. Even if the course is based on English literature, poetry or literary theory, students will be expected to form arguments and write essays that have positions and theses. At the University of Illinois, students must pass introductory English courses to move into other university English classes. Many colleges and universities follow this model, with a Composition 101 and 102 or similar course titles that must be passed with a minimum grade during the first two semesters of freshman year.

Requirement for Words

Most college English courses, especially during freshman year, require a minimum word count that students must write or a standard number of essays that must be completed. For example, at the University of Illinois, students must write at least 5,000 words in each freshman composition course. At other schools, four to five full-length papers must be completed for a student to receive credit. Each school has its own rules, but students should expect to always be either writing or revising a paper during the academic term.

Peer Review

Peer review is initiated in most college writing classrooms, and it involves students working in small groups or pairs to assess and offer feedback on papers and essays. Peer review pushes students into the role of editor, and therefore enhances each student's abilities to objectively assess and review her own work. According to Hamilton College, professors who facilitate peer review in and out of the classroom help students learn to write with a real audience in mind. Knowing that a group of peers will read her essay sometimes motivates a student to write for a real audience and use persuasive arguments that the group will understand.

Theory and Complex Thinking

College English courses past the introductory freshman writing classes will likely cover literature from many regions and time periods. These courses will apply theories and complex modes of thinking to literature and ask students to think analytically about a text and then argue for a position. Students will have to learn about different modes of literary theory, such as literary criticism, gender theories, and racial and regional modes of discourse. While every class will differ, English students are required to understand a viewpoint and apply it to a text, therefore discovering new limitations and complexities of that viewpoint. It's not a straightforward subject, and much of the study of English is open to interpretation and argument. Therefore, students should come into these classes with an open mind and an eagerness to hear multiple points of view. As Wellesley College points out, some courses will study a writer or period in depth, while others will survey an entire era of literature. But every college level English class will require critical thinking and communication skills.

About the Author

Jan Archer holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science and a master's degree in creative writing. Roth has written trade books for Books-a-Million and has published articles on green living, wellness and education topics. She taught business writing, literature, creative writing and English composition at the college level for five years.

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