Friday, June 23, 2017

A Student Perspective on First-Year Writing and First-Year Seminar

There are 3 required courses Barnard first-years must take, two of which are First-Year Writing (FYW) and First-Year Seminar (FYS). You can read all about these two programs on their respective websites, but here's my personal take on the classes as a student.

Let’s break these two courses down.

First-Year Writing is a writing intensive course with four options offered: Writing Workshop (limited to students specifically invited/required to take this class by the department), Legacy of the Mediterranean, Women and Culture, and The Americas. These courses are designed to strengthen your writing and teach you new skills. So in these courses, you’ll do a LOT of reading and a lot of writing.  Depending on the professor, you may have to turn in a few drafts of a paper before the final version is due, writing a short essay every week, or lead a discussion about a reading. By the time you finish this course, your writing will be stronger, clearer, and more concise.


First-Year Seminars are courses designed to help ease students into academic life at Barnard. These classes tend to be more discussion-based and have fewer writing assignments. First Year Seminars fall into two categories: Reacting to the Past and Special Topics. Reacting to the Past (RTTP) is a course designed by Barnard’s very own history professor Mark Carnes. In RTTP you’ll reenact historical events using pertinent texts. In RTTP, you may pose as an ancient Greek philosopher arguing about government, participate in the trial of Anne Hutchinson, or give a speech on labor laws as an activist in early 20th century America. Special topic courses are designed by individual professors and often taken an interdisciplinary approach to ideas like justice, ethics, and liberation. FYS courses are designed to help you think critically and articulate your ideas verbally, skills you’ll definitely need for the rest of your life.

What can be a little confusing is that some FYS and FYW classes have the same name and cover similar topics. For example, there's both a Legacy of the Mediterranean writing course and seminar. These are two separate courses, sometimes taught by the same professor, and when taken together give a "full sweep" of a topic.

So which do you want to take first?


It doesn’t matter which one you take first. Many students who are less confident in their writing find it useful to take FYW first so they can strengthen their writing skills right away. Additionally, the reading list for FYW changes from one semester to the next. For example, In Legacy of the Mediterranean, the fall semester texts focus more on ancient Greece and the spring semester texts are more modern. Some students may find a FYS they love that’s only offered the first semester or want to practice speaking up in class, so they choose to take FYS first.

In both FYW and FYS, you’ll be developing reading, writing, and speaking skills. FYW and FYS just focus on developing different ones. I recommended researching the courses, looking at the reading list, and choosing a course that sounds exciting and interesting to you. Of course, it’s always a good idea to make a ranked list of FYW and FYS courses just in case the one you want fills up during registration. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of the courses because you’ll learn a lot from them all!