For the past two decades or more, colleges have designed and developed “first year seminars” or “first year programs” to better support freshmen as they make the transition to college. The focus of these offerings is largely academic and varies widely from one campus to the next. Let’s take a look:
First Year Seminar: this is a seminar style course--generally intimate and limited to 10-20 students. These seminars are most common at small liberal arts colleges that offer an intimate learning experience. The purpose of the freshman seminar is to explore an academic topic and prepare students for the demands of college learning by developing their skills in critical and analytical thinking, research, writing, discussion and presentation. The professor of a freshman course also acts as an individual advisor to the student. Together the professor and student check in regularly, plan out the student’s completion of core requirements and course work for the next year. Examples: Pitzer College, Bates College, Oberlin College.
First Year Experience or First Year Program: these programs vary considerably. A first year program at a small liberal arts college may consist of a first year seminar coupled with support from a peer advisor. At universities it is common that the first year program consists of multi-tiered advising. For example, at Northwestern, students have an advisor through their first year seminar, plus a general academic advisor and a peer mentor. At Stanford, students have a an academic advisor in their residential dorm and a pre-major advisor. Other programs, such as FIRE at the University of Maryland provide advising that guides freshmen to develop research experience and professional skills.
“At such a large university, many professors have hundreds of students and cannot remember everyone’s names, let alone have time to meet with all of them. I was able to connect with my FIRE mentor and unlike my other professors he knew my name, made an effort to connect with his students and had an open door policy in his office.”
Freshman seminars and first year programs offer students an academic anchor and a tie to a faculty person or undergraduate advisor who can provide guidance. Peer mentors can be personally supportive, offering comfort to students and pointing them to resources and experiences on campus that ease the strain of the first year.
Sophomores and Juniors
Felicia Fahey PhD
Felicia is a comprehensive educational consultant. She works with college bound students of all ages close to home, across the country and around the globe.