Frequently Asked Questions

General FAQs

The responses to these FAQs provide information about College Writing. If you have further questions, contact us.

Who enrolls in College Writing?

In the schools of Architecture, Art, Arts & Sciences, and Business, all first-year students must complete College Writing to satisfy the University’s Writing Requirement. Additionally, some transfer students may be required to enroll in the course. (Engineering has its own policy for how students satisfy the Writing Requirement.)

Is College Writing a literature course?

No – in fact, students are sometimes surprised to find that work in class focuses less on discussion of the readings’ content and more on the particular strategies the writers of those texts have employed. Our goal in examining written texts in this way is to increase students’ awareness of the wide variety of choices open to them as writers, and to empower them to make new and more informed choices in their own writing. In College Writing, we work with texts from a variety of disciplines, and we consider the ways in which a text’s situation in a particular discipline informs its construction.

When is College Writing offered? How big are the classes? 

College Writing sections are held on MWF, beginning at every hour of the day (except 11 a.m.) from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. and TR, at 8:30 a.m., 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. The sections are kept at a very low enrollment (12 students) in an effort to maintain small writing communities. 

Preparatory Courses for College Writing

In certain instances, students may be required to complete preparatory coursework prior to taking College Writing and may be placed into either 1511 or 1001. Students placed in one of the preparatory courses must successfully complete that course (by earning a C- or better) and the course that follows (if applicable) in order, in successive semesters before they may take College Writing. Only satisfactory performance in the course (earning a C- or better) will fulfill the first year writing requirement.

I’ve heard that College Writing sections are “standardized.” What does that mean?

All College Writing sections (with the exception of those sections linked to first-year programs) share standard curricular elements, including course objectives, grade weights, and policies; major assignments; major concepts; and deadlines for the final research project. Additionally, every section will be assigned a class reference librarian. (These shared elements provide the backbone of the course, and using them, individual instructors design their own syllabi, making decisions about such things as which of the shared readings to assign (and when), how much homework to assign, and when major assignments are due.)

What kinds of things will we do in College Writing? What kinds of essays will we write?

In College Writing, the writing you do in class is as important as the writing you do outside of class. Class time is often spent on exercises designed to help you practice new writing strategies, experiment with alternative writing strategies, and prepare to write longer assignments. You will write formal, argumentative essays, but you will also spend time on shorter, less-formal and more-process-oriented writing. Additionally, you will work on a research project, through which you'll learn the academic conventions of scholarship at the university.

I know that I must earn a C- or better in this class to satisfy the University Writing Requirement. What happens if I don’t?

By and large, students pass College Writing with at least a C-. However, in cases where they don’t, students are usually required to re-take the course the following semester.

I’ve heard that this course is the only course on campus not taught by faculty. Is that true? Is it taught exclusively by graduate students?

No. There are lots of classes on campus that are not taught by faculty, and the College Writing Program employs a range of instructors. While there are graduate students (from English and from other departments) who teach College Writing, we also have part- and full-time lecturers, senior lecturers, post-doctoral fellows, and occasionally, members of the English Department faculty teaching the course. All instructors are trained to teach writing, and all are well-supported and -supervised. Given the challenges of staffing so many classes and finding seats for so many students each year, it simply isn’t possible to allow students to enroll by instructor.

I am a first-year student who has already done a lot of writing; I even did well on standardized tests (e.g., SAT, AP, IB). Why do I have to take this course?

Despite its number at the 100-level, College Writing is not a remedial course, nor is it an introduction to writing. In fact, it is designed for students just like you: well-prepared, competent writers who are ready to be challenged to write differently and think more analytically for this new writing situation.

Transfer Student Portfolio

This process applies to all students except those transferring into Engineering; Engineering students should contact the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at 314-935-5463.

First-Year Writing Requirement

All students at Washington University must satisfy a first-year writing requirement; most do so by taking College Writing. If you have not taken an equivalent course at your previous college or university, you must take College Writing during your first year of study. If you have taken an equivalent course, you may be eligible to submit a Writing Portfolio, which will help us to determine whether or not you are required to take another writing course. Note: Those who transfer in as first-year students are not eligible for portfolio submission.

Portfolio Eligibility

To find out whether you are eligible to submit a portfolio, complete the Portfolio Eligibility Form

If you are not eligible to submit a portfolio, plan to take College Writing in your first year of study.

If you are eligible to submit a portfolio, you will be redirected to a webpage that allows you to submit a writing portfolio for our review.  On this page you will provide information about your previous course and writing samples from it (see below for details).  If you cannot submit your portfolio online, please contact our office.


If you are deemed eligible, the deadline to submit a writing portfolio is August 1.  Students who miss this deadline will be required to take College Writing in their first year of study.


Portfolio Contents

Portfolios should include 3-5 analytical, argumentative essays (minimum of 4 pages each) from previous college coursework, including one researched essay, and a brief description of the original assignment / goals for each essay submitted. Essays should be ones written for college (preferably writing) courses. They should have analytical or argumentative thesis statements; use evidence to support claims; integrate and cite researched sources responsibly; and engage critically with sources. (The following items should not be submitted: responses to essay examinations, personal or creative writing, book reviews, journalism articles, response papers, or writing done during high school.) Where possible, essays should not be marked or graded; grades received in previous courses have no bearing on the portfolio review process.

If you do not have a complete portfolio, you should contact the College Writing Program as soon as possible, by phone at (314) 935-4899 or by email at In most cases, students who do not have complete portfolios are required to take College Writing. International students transferring from outside the U.S. will be required to take a Placement Exam in lieu of submitting a portfolio. International students transferring within the U.S. may also be required to take a Placement Exam, in addition to the portfolio review process.

AP/IB Test Scores

Policy for Architecture, Art, Arts & Sciences, and Business

Test scores cannot exempt students from taking College Writing (L59 111-119). Students entering the university with an AP score of 5 or an IB score of 7, and who earn a B or better in College Writing, satisfy the writing requirement as well as receive 3 elective back-credits, which count toward graduation. Students who have a 5 on the AP test or a 7 on the IB test, and who receive a B- or below in College Writing, satisfy the writing requirement but do not receive additional elective credits. Students are encouraged to verify that their AP or IB score has been communicated to the university and that it appears on their record. Contact the Office of Student Records with any questions.

Policy for Engineering Students

Students in Engineering should consult School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Writing Requirement.

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