Becoming a WA FAQ

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/Education 1C during their first semester as a WA. This course provides the theoretical framework for the work WAs perform in the Program.  Think of it as a course with a lab or practicum in that students learn about writing pedagogy and theory in the course and then apply it to their work as WAs both in courses and in the writing center.  During the course students are required to conduct observations of current writing conferences and look at their work and that of the Program from an inquiry-based perspective.  The course focuses on the social processes of writing and WAing by asking students to identify and deconstruct the WA conference as a socially-constructed space.  While in English/Education 1C, WAITs are asked to carry a half load of course WAing and complete a few shifts in the Writing Center.

The course is given on a CR/NC basis and is worth one credit in the humanities if taken as English 1C or one credit in the social sciences if taken as Education 1C.  It counts toward the Education major if taken as Education 1C and the student has also taken Education 14.

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/Education 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 or as a Speaking Associate working with students on their oral assignments. 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 commitment, 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 and providing the names of two professors who we may contact for more information about your academic citizenship. All applicants will participate in a 15-20 minute interview. Those chosen to be WAs will enroll in English/Education 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. We also are looking for students who want to reflect on and learn from their practice as a WA.

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 serve as a reference?

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, which is useful information when assigning WAs 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 these cover letters and strongly encourage applicants to visit Career Services instead for help on their cover letters.

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. The audience for these comments is the writer not the selection committee.  We want to see how you will engage with the writer through your written comments.  

During the interview you will have part of a mock conference with one of the interviewers. Afterward you’ll be able to explain your approach to both the written comments and the conference.

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. Learning to be a WA provides its challenges as we ask you to think about writing and the WA conference as a social space.  This type of inquiry-based learning requires time and space to process the content of the course and your first experiences as a WA.

What is the WA interview like?

You will interview with Jill Gladstein, the program director, together with a current WA. Alba Newmann Holmes, the assistant director will also be on many of the interviews. 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.