Writing For The College Crowd

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There are about 18.2 million students enrolled in college in the United States (according to the National Center for Education Statistics), and most of them know how to read (we hope). That means there are millions of college students who could enjoy reading your writing.

But how do you relate to an age group that you left behind years, if not decades, ago? How do you reach this young, vibrant, diverse group of readers?

As the editor of a print publication for college students in Southern California, I was tasked with figuring out what topics would be of interest to university students. Luckily, my article writers and interns were college students themselves, so, although they may not know it, they taught me some very valuable lessons about writing for their crowd.

With hundreds of websites and print publications catering to the college crowd, it’s valuable to learn how to write for this group. Even publications that aren’t explicitly for college students often have a readership age group of 18 to 25 or 30, which is a majority of college students.

Here are a few easy tips for reaching the college reader:

Keep It Light
College students are reading (or should be reading) textbooks all day long. Keep this in mind when you’re writing. Your writing has to be more interesting then a textbook if you want any chance of grabbing their attention. Often, this gives you the freedom to have more fun with your words—get witty with it.

…But Don’t Dumb It Down
I like to believe that students like UCLA’s Alexandra Wallace (the YouTube sensation who recently went on a racist rant about “Asians in the library”) are the exception, not the rule. Most college students are smart. Most college students are inquisitive and interested in learning new things. So, don’t dumb down your writing just because it’s for a younger audience. You can have fun with your writing, but still write as if you’re on an equal level with the reader.

Watch Out For Clichés
Most writers think up the same topics when it comes to relating to college students. The Freshman 15, Late-night Studying, Traveling Abroad, and Decorating Your Dorm Room, are just a few of the topics that are often over-covered. That’s because they are experiences that almost every college student went through, whether he’s from the Class of 1968 or Class of 2008. It’s great to have a relatable topic, but try to give it a new angle. How can a topic be revisited in 2011?

Get Ahead of the Trends
This demographic is one step ahead when it comes to trends. They know what Twitter is. They can design their own websites. They were laughing about “Double Rainbow” before the rest of the country had seen the video. So, if you can find newly trending topics to write about, that’s a great way to get your piece to connect to this crowd. But how, you ask? Talk to actual college students. Pick their brains to find out what everyone’s talking about or worrying over. Are the budget cuts freaking them out? What’s their favorite YouTube video? Is there something better than YouTube that we don’t even know about? Finding out what university students are talking about, whether in the world of entertainment, politics, health, environment or anything else will help make your piece much more relatable.

Add Bonus Elements
While it’s mostly about the writing, you should keep in mind that extras could possibly go along with your piece. If it’s for the web, are there videos that could really enhance your piece? If it’s for print, is there a fun sidebar that would complement it? The younger generation has been bombarded with fast-paced media since before they knew what the word “media” meant, so they often have an affinity for multiple things going on at once. If you’re pitching a piece for this demographic, it will be to your advantage to mention any other elements you could see complementing it.

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