Becoming a WA FAQ

Here are the answers to some commonly asked questions about the application process. Feel free to email us if you have any other questions or concerns.

This FAQ is divided into two parts: Questions About Being a WA and Questions About Applying to be a WA.

Questions About Being a WA

What is a WA?

A WA is a "Writing Associate"—a peer tutor who works with his/her fellow Swarthmore students on developing their writing process and revising their written work. WAs can be majors in any discipline and may or may not have taken many courses in the humanities.

What does a WA do?

WAs work with students to help them at all stages of the writing process. There are two main components to a WA's responsibilities: working in the Writing Center and working as a Course WA. In both capacities, the WA reads a student's paper and then conferences with the student for 20-30 minutes to explain his/her comments on and impressions of the paper. Course WAs work with one specific academic course over an entire semester and conference with ten to twelve students in the course at least twice. In the Writing Center, WAs meet with students who have written papers for any course or subject. WAs in the Writing Center also meet with students who are just starting their papers and want to work with someone on coming up with ideas.

How do WAs learn to be WAs?

All WAs take English 1C [PDF] during their first semester as a WA. In this gateway course, WAs-in-training (WAITs) learn to work with students writing in any major academic discipline. The course is given on a CR/NC basis and is worth one credit in English Literature or Education. While in English 1C, WAITs are asked to carry a half load of course WAing and complete a few shifts in the Writing Center. In addition, WAITs may be asked to work with a particular student over the course of the semester in order to develop skills related to working with a writer over a period of time. The course also has readings and paper assignments designed to help WAITs think about the connection between educational theory and their positions as WAs.

My friend didn't come to Swarthmore the best writer, but he has worked hard and now writes strong papers. Should I nominate him?

Absolutely! An important attribute of a good WA is insight into the effort of developing as a writer. Someone like your friend has probably learned quite a bit about writing as an on-going learning process; we don't expect WAs to be perfect writers. Further, there's more than writing to being a good WA—effective communication and interpersonal skills are essential.

What do you gain from being a WA?

All sorts of things! Perhaps most importantly, most WAs believe that learning about writing has made them better writers themselves. As a student in English 1C you will learn about writing pedagogy, tutoring styles, and writing across many academic disciplines. As a WA in the Writing Center you will have the ability to read papers on many disparate topics written for all of those courses you just couldn't manage to fit into your schedule. As a Course WA you will be able to work intensively with a particular professor and course. Many WAs also decide to work as WA Mentors, meeting with the same student over an extended period of time and helping them develop as writers. The WA program also offers workshops, invites speakers, provides community service opportunities, and has sponsored specialized training for WAs in topics such as grant-writing and brochure-design. In all of your capacities—as a WA-in-training, a Course WA, and a Writing Center WA—you will be able to meet and interact with a wide group of Swarthmore College students. The WA position is fully compensated as well.

What challenges do you face as a WA?

While being a WA has a lot to offer, it isn't always easy. WAing can be time-intensive, and being a WA is a job, with responsibilities that can't be neglected when scheduling gets tight. WAs often are asked to function as a liaison between professors and students—a situation that gives WAs the opportunity to gain a unique perspective as they work with both professors and students on a given assignment. Further, as a WA-in-training, you will be asked to seriously study writing and learning processes and offer introspective analyses on these topics. Ultimately, WAs find that meeting these challenges is part of what makes being a WA such a rewarding experience.

Questions About Applying to Be a WA

How does someone become a Writing Associate?

WAs are nominated in February by professors, other WAs, or fellow students. Nominees are then notified and invited to apply for the position at the beginning of March. The application process involves writing a cover letter, mock WAing a sample paper, submitting a paper of your own, and getting two recommendations (one from a faculty member and one from a student). Applicants will then be invited for interviews. Those chosen to be WAs will enroll in English 1C the following Fall for a full semester of training.

What qualities do you look for in a WA?

The WA program looks for talented writers with an interest in tutoring and peer mentoring. Strong interpersonal skills, well-developed writing skills, and an appreciation for the writing and revising process are a must.

Can I still apply if I'm going abroad spring semester next year?

Yes. There is no problem with your going abroad after your semester of WA training.

Can I still apply if I'm going to be abroad in the Fall?

Unfortunately, no. At present, training is only available in the Fall semester. If you are a first-year student and would like to apply the following year, we invite you to do so. We can keep your nomination on file and reactivate it at that time.

Can the person who nominated me also write a recommendation?

Absolutely. In fact, we include the nominators' names in our letter to you for precisely this reason. Please note that in a few cases (such as those of large classes, like biology) the nominator might not know your work well but has instead communicated another department member's recommendation to us. In these cases, the named person should be able to tell you who in the department nominated you.

Should I include the courses I'm currently taking on my list of courses?

Yes, please do. We ask for the list of courses to get a better sense for what disciplines you would be comfortable WAing in, and it is helpful when assigning you to a course.

Can I submit a paper that's over five pages long? I don't have any that are under seven.

If you have none that are five pages, please submit the next shortest paper you have. We encourage shorter papers due to the large volume of papers we have to read during the review process.

For the sample paper, should it be an original draft or something we've revised? Do you want the professor's comments on it?

A final paper submitted for a course will be fine. If possible, submit a clean copy without your professor's comments.

What should be included in my cover letter?

A cover letter should include your reasons for wanting the job you are applying for, what you hope to gain from the experience, and an explanation of why you are qualified for the position. For formatting tips and additional details on writing a cover letter, see these tips provided by Career Services (cover letters are covered on pg 9 of the guide).

Am I allowed to have a peer review my cover letter?

We do not allow WAs to work with students on cover letters and strongly encourage applicants to visit Career Services instead for help on their cover letters.

I don't really have any peers who know my writing. Can I have someone who knows me well in other ways write a reference letter?

Ideally your peer reference will come from someone who can tell us about both your personal qualities and your writing-related skills. However, since your application package will already have several items that tell us about you as a writer, the peer reference can simply be a nice chance for us to learn more about you as a person from someone who knows you well. We welcome letters from your friends and classmates, although we suggest that you not ask your significant other to write about you. Please note, we would prefer that you do not ask a current WA to write your peer letter of reference. Current WAs have the opportunity to weigh in during the selection process in other ways so it is not to your advantage to have a current WA write your peer reference letter.

Does a Swarthmore student have to provide my peer reference?

No. Please include names of two faculty references who can attest to your writing abilities, class participation, and/or approach to your academics.

How will my references be gathered?

One we receive your application, we will send a recommendation form to your peer and faculty references asking them to answer a few questions about you. This process is done entirely online; we no longer need paper references.

For the mock WA paper, should we hand in a marked copy of the paper, or just write a paragraph or two on separate paper outlining what changes should be made?

You are encouraged to mark up the paper (in the text, the margins, etc.) just as if you were a WA and would be conferencing with the student after reading the paper.

What's meant by "substantial constructive revisions"?

You will have to judge for yourself what this means in terms of this particular paper. That is, if you think the writer is having problems with structuring paragraphs, then by all means tackle the structural issues. If, on the other hand, the problems seem to be more on a sentence level, then you might focus more on grammar and other micro issues. WAing is about assessment as much as anything else.

Will I be held to my preference for class time?

Yes. We make every effort to keep the two classes balanced in number. If you are offered the position, you will be assigned a class time. You will not need to register for the course; we will send class lists to the registrar. If for some reason you are unable to make the assigned class time, you will need to switch class times with someone.

Should I take English 1C as a fourth or fifth class?

We recommend that you take it as a fourth class. Even though the class is a CR/NC course, there are a lot of outside responsibilities associated with it, such as working as a Course WA and in the Writing Center, observing other WAs' conferences, and meeting regularly with a small group of other WAs in training.

What is the WA interview like?

You will interview with Jill Gladstein, the program director, together with a current WA. The first part of the interview focuses on why you want to be a WA and what experiences you have had to prepare you for the fellowship. Then, the current WA will pretend to be the author of the mock paper and you will discuss the paper with him or her as if you are conducting a WA conference. Lastly, you will have the opportunity to ask any questions you have about the program.

How should I prepare for the interview?

The essential preparation is to look over your application before you arrive for your interview. It would be prudent to make a copy of your comments on the mock WA paper so you can remember what you wrote. Remember that the interview is an opportunity to demonstrate your seriousness about this fellowship by dressing neatly, so avoid gym clothes, t-shirts, etc. Please plan to arrive early to your interview.

We'd also like to encourage students to practice interviewing prior to your actual WA interview. Career Services will set aside an afternoon for mock interviews for WA applicants. Please refer back before the break for the exact date. If you're interested in scheduling a 30-minute mock interview with a career counselor, you can call the office at 610-328-8352 or drop by Parrish 135 anytime (including the afternoon).