Image from Stocksnap.

Image from Stocksnap.

At many colleges and universities, first-year students are required or given the option to take first-year-only courses, like writing courses and seminars. These courses are extremely beneficial, and every first-year college student should take advantage of these offerings.

A sizeable number of liberal arts colleges and larger research universities offer first year seminars, and while the experience may be different for students at each institution, the courses are universally advantageous.

For students at liberal arts colleges, where small, seminar-based classes are the norm, this becomes even more important. First Year Seminars allow students to become familiar with the lengthy discussions and reading-heavy coursework early on. Of course, taking any seminar during the first year could adequately prepare the students for the seminars they will inevitably take during their college career.

However, for new college students, taking higher-level seminars with upper-class students is intimidating, and most of the time restricted. During the first semester, when students are still getting adjusted to their peers and college life, they may not feel as confident to take such a challenging class. Thus, colleges and universities created first-year-only courses to introduce students to college seminars in a more supportive and creative way.

First-year-only courses work. Students are “more likely to engage in active and collaborative learning activities in first year courses”, because they know the course was designed to support and prepare them for academic success. They also do not have to compare themselves to upper-class people who are already adjusted to college life, a heavy workload, and rigorous seminars. Curious first-years feel more confident in the classes made specifically for them, so they can figure out how to “college” at their own pace.

Faculty members who offer first-year-only courses are doing so to engage with first years and help them adjust to college-level academics. They interact more with the students, and keep tabs on their progress. While this type of communication is not uncommon at small liberal arts colleges, faculty engagement is even more prominent in first-year classes.

For students at larger universities, the extra time spent with professors and hands-on experience with research and other on-campus resources is invaluable. Not only can students establish a good mentor and professional connection, they may also be able gain some research experience. It may also be harder for students at research universities to explore the academic fields and find a “passion,” but first year seminars encourage this type of exploration and creativity.

First-year-only courses are also relatively small, which allows the instructor to learn more about each student and guide them throughout the semester. Some professors even tailor their lesson plans based on what the students show an interest in, because first-year courses are so flexible. They can do this to benefit their students and push them through different assignments, which will ultimately help them with the rest of their college career.

Students who enroll in first-year-only courses are more self-assured and confident in their work. They are often times more supported and have a closer relationship with their professor(s), which translates into academic success and a love for learning. Familiarity with college-level writing and discussion-based courses makes students more confident in their academic abilities. Students who take first-year-only courses are more likely to continue onto their second year of college, and they’ve said it has significantly helped with the transition to college. These students also have more completed credit hours over the course of their college career, meaning they are less likely to drop out of challenging courses.

Wellesley College states it nicely: First Year Seminars allow students to “develop the critical and creative thinking skills essential to flourishing in college.” First year seminars are purposely more challenging than typical first year, intro-level courses. The extra faculty attention and stimulating topics of discussion are made to prepare students for rigorous classes years in the future. 10+ page research papers and long analyses may not be required in beginning classes, but students will have to know how to do them for higher-level courses later on in their college careers. First year seminars push students past their limits, requiring them to write lengthy papers, do research, and read an exorbitant amount.

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the author

Originally from the Philadelphia suburbs, Debra is a first-year college student in Wellesley, Massachusetts. In her free time, you can find her roaming the streets of Boston, attending concerts, bragging about women's colleges, blogging, drinking coffee, and procrastinating. She is a first-generation college student that aspires to go to law school one day and change the world (on a somewhat-small scale).

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