Cultivating Strong Writing Skills for Success in College

Although a lot of fanfare has surrounded STEM subjects in recent years, a school’s writing program is one of its most crucial assets. Developing outstanding writing skills early on will serve your child for the rest of her life. And being an excellent writer is the key to success in college, whether a student intends to major in biology, literature or anything in between.

Unfortunately, many students are woefully unprepared for the rigors of college writing. According to a survey by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 40 percent of students in the class of 2016 who took the ACT writing test were not able to pass a college-level English composition class. Many students won’t get to try their hand at serious writing until college. However, good writing habits should be firmly in place before your child ever steps on a college campus. This requires years of steadily mastering the building blocks of the English language.

A school’s writing program should pique students’ imagination and creativity, while also training them to think clearly and present their arguments in a logical manner. This begins in elementary and middle school, with a foundation of grammar, syntax, vocabulary and elements of style. Mastering writing fundamentals will not only boost students’ grades in college, but also gives them the freedom to engage with material on a deeper level. When the time comes to wrangle with sophisticated topics, a prepared student will be able to dive headfirst into the subject matter and not have to spend much time struggling with basic writing pitfalls.

Regular writing assignments also form a crucial part of any writing curriculum. These should range from literary analyses to creative writing and descriptive essays. This routine writing is necessary to hone skills, giving students the ability to present original thoughts in a clear, clean prose. And it also prepares the student for the intense college academic schedule, which will include many written assignments over the course of each semester.

At Oakcrest School in Vienna, VA, the culmination of students’ writing experiences is the senior thesis project, a chance to flex their “writing muscles” before heading off to college. The thesis is the capstone of each Oakcrest student’s high school career, and gives her the opportunity to research, write and present on a chosen topic. Students have written on everything from narcissism in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels to bioethics, the influence of the Industrial Revolution on the drug industry, Broadway musicals and beyond. The skills they apply to the thesis are taken from years of practice in the fundamental writing arts.

“After spending so much time with a subject, the students learn to ask the right questions, and they learn to think more deeply, seeing that the answers are more complex than they initially thought. It is important for them to enter into the conversation with scholars and see that they sometimes disagree or even contradict one another,” says Oakcrest English department head, Lisa Kenna. By the time they write their thesis, students not only understand sentence structure and how to organize ideas, but they’re able to make connections across disciplines and tie themes and concepts together into a cohesive whole.

It’s this ability to engage with and write about complex questions in a persuasive manner that will catapult your student to success in college. Whatever he or she decides to study, the need for clear, intelligent written communication remains. In a world where strong written communication is more rare than ever, a student with writing expertise will go far.

Oakcrest School is an independent school for girls in grades 6-12, guided by the teachings of the Catholic Church. For over 40 years, the school has provided an exceptional liberal arts education to girls of all faiths while fulfilling its mission to grow, challenge and inspire its students to thrive in college and throughout their lives. Learn more at


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here