Is the Writing Center Worth It?

This column is the first in a new series titled, "Is It Worth It?". This series will explore the pros and cons of the habits, lifehacks, and college readiness tricks given to incoming college students so that you can make informed decisions and devote your time to what works for you.

By Ceanna Hayes Daniels — August 3, 2022


Is the Writing Center Worth It?

This column is the first in a new series titled, "Is It Worth It?". This series will explore the pros and cons of the habits, lifehacks, and college readiness tricks given to incoming college students so that you can make informed decisions and devote your time to what works for you.

For many students, particularly Liberal Arts colleges, your first English class will come with a rude awakening: college papers are often far more difficult and graded far more harshly than high school essays. Some former straight—A students receive their first B or C, and students used to beginning papers the night before the deadline abruptly realize that college essays require more time than they bargained for.

All of this is intentional; college is a time to challenge yourself, develop your skills, and mature into a more confident and competent person. That kind of growth requires leaving complacency and old habits behind—but knowing that doesn’t make the growing pains much easier.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to improve your writing during freshman year. One of the tips you’ll hear most often is to go to your college’s Writing Center. But is that worth your time?

What Is the Writing Center?

Based on the name, some incoming students might guess that the Writing Center is an area dedicated to essay—writing, like the study rooms offered by many libraries. Other students, who have been encouraged to take their papers to the Writing Center to improve their grades, might assume that it is an editing service. However, at most colleges, the Writing Center is staffed by tutors—sometimes faculty, sometimes upperclassmen—whom students make appointments with to receive specific feedback on an essay or general advice on writing.

Pros:

On an abstract level, the experience of working with a tutor can be particularly reassuring to novice writers and anxious students who might otherwise doubt their abilities. Similarly, students who speak English as a second language may feel more confident about submitting a paper after reviewing it with a tutor at the Writing Center.

On a more practical level, the resources available at the Writing Center can also solve a variety of common essay mistakes. For example, many Writing Centers provide informational handouts about confusing grammar rules or complex citation styles. These resources can help underclassmen recognize and eliminate errors such as run-on sentences, comma splices, and incorrect citations. Over time, such changes dramatically improve students' communication skills and boost their confidence as writers.

Similarly, working with a tutor gradually improves students’ soft skills. After spending a few sessions refining a paper’s argumentation, students will be far better prepared to analyze shortcomings in future essays. After discussing the importance of academic registration with a tutor, students might begin to correct slang phrases and contractions independently. After practicing quote integration in an English essay, students may be more confident in seeking textual evidence to support their history paper. Tutors’ assistance in honing these soft skills is one of the most valuable services of the Writing Center; because such skills must be practiced, not just read about on a handout, students develop them more quickly and confidently when working with tutors who provide immediate feedback, advice, and encouragement.

Cons:

However, the Writing Center won’t necessarily be helpful for everyone. Students with particularly imminent deadlines, for example, spending time at the Writing Center could cause harm by reducing the amount of time left to complete an essay. If your exam schedule is so hectic that you only have a few hours to spend on a paper, don’t try to schedule an appointment at the Writing Center—just sit down and start writing! Your time will be better spent actually finishing the assignment.

There is also always the risk of an unhelpful tutor. Sometimes this happens because a student fails to specify a goal for the appointment, leaving the tutor to guess what the student would derive the most benefit. This misalignment can deeply frustrate a student with a different vision for the session. Other times, a tutor is unhelpful because they are preoccupied with other work or so used to a standard script for appointments that they fail to accommodate students with different needs. After a negative or underwhelming experience with a particular tutor, students may choose to make appointments with other tutors in the future.

Lastly, some students’ problems with the Writing Center are "user issues" stemming from incorrect expectations rather than inherent flaws in the system. For example, students who arrive expecting the tutor to write their paper for them will inevitably be disappointed. Similarly, students who believe that just taking a paper to the Writing Center will guarantee an "A" may be in for a surprise when their professor begins to upload grades. To avoid this frustration and ensure a productive session, go to the Writing Center with one or two specific goals and communicate them clearly to your tutor at the start of your meeting.

In the Balance:

The Writing Center is a potentially fantastic resource but not necessarily a one—size—fits—all solution for every student essay.

The Writing Center delights in helping you steadily improve as a writer; it isn’t an essay writing service. Similarly, the tutors who work there aren’t just a replacement for spellcheck. They are coaches whose goal is to help students develop improved writing and editing strategies over time. As a result, just going to the Writing Center won’t fix a paper right away or make you a better writer instantly. However, tutors’ resources and mentorship can be irreplaceably valuable to the students who view the Writing Center as a training area, almost like a gym, where they’ll gain strength as writers over their time at university.

Ceanna Hayes Daniels

Ceanna Hayes Daniels

Ceanna Hayes Daniels is freelance writer and editor. In 2022, she graduated Hillsdale College summa cum laude with a degree in politics. In her free time, she continues to enjoy studying philosophy, political theory, and literature. She and her husband live in Michigan, where the two enjoy perusing bookstores together for new books and old records.
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