Need Help with an Essay? Visit a WA!

It’s a Tuesday evening, and I’m hurrying up the steps to McCabe Library. (I wish I could say that I’m hurtling up the steps, but let’s be real. That staircase cascade kills me every time. Why didn’t anyone tell me Swarthmore was such a hilly campus?)

I enter McCabe only slightly winded, or so I tell myself. After checking my watch, I heave a little sigh of relief — I’m on time to my appointment! Looking around the library, I spot my Writing Associate (WA) nestled into a fat armchair. He’s a senior here at Swat, and today he’ll be helping me edit an essay for my English class. I wave a hello and join him, sitting at an adjacent and equally squishy armchair.

After a few moments of chitchat, my WA and I start to pore over my essay draft together. The class I’ve written it for is called Grendel’s Workshop (ENGL 009R); basically, we examine ancient tales and contemporary riffs on those tales, then write analytical essays and our own creative re-imaginings. Grendel’s Workshop, like many other writing-intensive courses at Swarthmore, partners with WAs to support enrolled students as they work on papers for the class.

Today, my WA and I are discussing the first paper of the semester; we’ve already held a mini-workshop in class with my professor and fellow students, but now it’s time for a one-on-one meeting to focus on finer details. The essay prompt: write five to seven pages about modern-day Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood retellings, on any topic of your choosing.

My draft: a hot mess.

See, back in high school, I’d only ever been assigned one-hour AP-style essays. And so this draft, the one I’m currently discussing with my WA, isn’t just the first essay I’ve ever written at college — it’s also the first real paper I’ve ever written, period. That lack of experience is painfully clear in my draft.

Run-on sentences. Splintered logic. And, most unforgivably, a huge gaping void where my thesis should be.

Yet my WA is incredibly supportive and encouraging through our entire conference together: he shows me how to splice and tauten a few sentences, listens to me ramble about my extremely convoluted central argument, and helps me hammer out the logic until slowly a clear thesis starts to coalesce.

By the end of our session, I’m by no means done with my essay, but I now have a much better idea of what I’m doing. As an alumna of a STEM magnet high school, I’d been a bit worried before coming to college about my ability to handle humanities subjects at Swarthmore-level rigor. But now I see that at Swarthmore, academic support isn’t merely existent; it’s actually surprisingly easy to access.

After I turn in my final — and dramatically transformed — draft, my professor writes to me, “It’s something of a small miracle how far you’ve come in this one exercise! Keep it up!”

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