Not all colleges and universities offer a course called First-Year or Freshman Seminar. But more and more colleges are offering some kind of course specifically designed to help students make the adjustment to college life and college academics. Your college student may be registered for such a course and you may be wondering what it entails.
First Year Seminar courses are designed to enhance the success of first year students as they make the transition to college and college level work. They are usually available only to new first year students, but occasionally they are also open to transfer students. In recent years, as the result of many research studies, more and more colleges are focusing on the entire experience of first-year students. There is a growing effort to help these students adjust and succeed. The focus on the first-year experience provides a double benefit. Students succeed, and therefore the attrition rate decreases. Students stay at their college and colleges increase their retention rates. It is a good outcome for everyone.
First Year Seminar courses are very institution specific – taking differing forms at each school. Characteristically, they consist of a small number of first year students and they encourage active student involvement – both in the course and in college life. They provide a good opportunity for new students to meet and get to know other students on a more personal level. Seminar courses may be heavily based on orientation or may be more academic. Content may be the same for everyone, may revolve around a special interest or topic, or may be discipline specific or discipline linked. Classes are usually small, discussion based, provide students a sense of community, and are transitional – focusing on the individual needs of new students. They often involve upper level students as co-teachers or teaching assistants. This allows first-year students to hear about issues from a student perspective and connects them to at least one upper class student.
The content of First Year Seminars may vary greatly – at least on the surface. However, whatever the topic or approach of the course, the underlying curriculum is often similar. First Year Seminars touch on the transition to college, necessary academic skills, personal development, critical thinking, interacting with faculty and staff members, building a sense of community. They often cover study skills, time management, career planning, relationships, ethical decision making, self-concept, campus resources, diversity, academic advising, wellness, values, and the overall importance of higher education. Obviously, a tall order and a busy semester.
Studies are continually being conducted on First Year Experience programs and First Year Seminar courses. There is growing recognition that helping students during this transition year is important for everyone. Some studies suggest that students who participate in First Year Seminar programs experience more satisfaction with their college experience and have more frequent and more meaningful interactions with faculty members. They are more involved in co-curricular activities and feel better about themselves as learners. They often get better grades.
If your college student is enrolled in a First Year Seminar, be assured that the experience will probably be very beneficial to his college career. Because of the nature of some First Year Seminars, some students may not feel that they are “learning” anything. Many of the experiences and outcomes of this course may be more intangible. Ask your student to tell you about what she is doing in her class. Help her see the benefits and know that she is making an important start on her college success.