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What is the difference between First-Year Writing and First-Year Seminar?

First-Year Writing (FYW) and First-Year Seminar (FYS) are both small, discussion-based seminars designed to strengthen the academic reading, writing, and critical thinking skills you will use in all of your classes, in all disciplines. Both courses guide you to ask meaningful, complex questions about the texts you’re reading; reflect on and explore your responses to those questions in different kinds of writing assignments; and engage in generative, challenging conversations with your instructor and peers. You will do a lot of reading, writing, and talking in both courses.

First-Year Writing focuses intensively on the fundamentals of academic writing skills, and the texts you will engage are almost exclusively literary. Despite the focus on literature, you will be able to apply the reading, writing, and research skills you learn in FYW to any discipline. FYW prepares you to enter into existing scholarly conversations, culminating in your own research essay at the end of the semester. FYW classes are organized into three rubrics (Legacy of the Mediterranean, The Americas, and Women and Culture), but individual classes within each rubric have their own focused themes (reflected in their subtitles), and readings vary across sections. Writing exercises, however, are largely standardized across all FYW classes, to ensure that every student gets time and space to practice the fundamental elements of critical reading, academic writing, and research that you will need at Barnard.

First-Year Seminar focuses on an interdisciplinary topic or question — it’s taught by instructors from many different disciplines, and usually the topic has something to do with that particular instructor’s research interests or field of study. This means that you’ll have a lot of variety with the kinds of texts you read (e.g. short stories, scientific studies, films, art) and in the assignments you are given.

A few First-Year Seminar sections every semester are "Reacting to the Past" courses, which feature strategy games set in historical situations. These seminars involve role-playing, public speaking, and persuasive writing.


Should I take First-Year Writing or First-Year Seminar first?

A couple of weeks before the first summer registration period, you will receive an email (in your Barnard inbox) directing you to take either First-Year Writing or First-Year Seminar.

If you feel that you would benefit from more support with your academic writing skills when you begin at Barnard, you can request to be placed in First-Year Writing by emailing first-year@barnard.edu.


Can I choose the specific section of First-Year Writing or First-Year Seminar that I want to take?

Within your assigned category (First-Year Writing or First-Year Seminar), yes! Just make sure the class you want has space in it (there are no waitlists for First-Year Experience courses) and that it doesn’t conflict with any other courses you already know you want to take (e.g. Intro to Biology).


Where can I find out more about the specific course in which I’m enrolling?

You can find course descriptions for each section on this website. Use the left-hand menu to click to First-Year Writing or First-Year Seminar.


What if I’m assigned to take First-Year Writing in the Fall, but I really want to take First-Year Seminar first?

Because we have a set number of spaces in FYW and FYS each semester, no switches are allowed (unless you have a truly extreme situation, in which case you should contact the First-Year Dean or, when you get to campus, your academic advisor). Rest assured that the course offerings in the Spring will be just as exciting as they are in the Fall!


What’s the difference between First-Year Writing (ENGL BC1210, 1211, and 1212) and First-Year Writing Workshop (ENGL BC1204)?

FYW Workshop and FYW share the same goals, are equally rigorous, and both fulfill your First-Year Writing requirement. FYW Workshop is designed for students who think they would benefit from extra support in critical reading and academic writing. To provide this support, FYW Workshop meets three times per week instead of twice per week; the extra class meeting each week is usually devoted to writing workshops. FYW Workshop class sizes are slightly smaller, and the course is worth four credits rather than three. Unlike FYW, FYW Workshop is only offered in the Fall semester each year.


How do I know if First-Year Writing Workshop is right for me?

FYW Workshop is specifically designed for students who feel they would benefit from more intensive support with their academic reading and writing skills in their first semester at Barnard. If you’ve been offered a spot in FYW Workshop, it’s because we think it’s where you will thrive best in your first semester. You can also read about the experiences of former FYW Workshop students to get a better sense of what to expect.

If you’re still not sure whether it’s right for you, send an email to Professor Lie-Spahn, the Director of First-Year Writing Workshop (clie@barnard.edu). Include any questions you have, as well as a sentence or two about how you feel about your writing skills in general — this will help her help you make an informed decision. Please be aware that if you decide not to accept your spot in FYW Workshop, your spot will be given to another student.


How do I get a spot in First-Year Writing Workshop?

Every summer, we review all incoming students’ application materials and make a list of everyone who we think would benefit from the course the most. As space becomes available, we offer spots to students from the top of the list and work our way down.

If you already know that you are interested in taking FYW Workshop, send an email to Professor Lie-Spahn (clie@barnard.edu), the Director of First-Year Writing Workshop, and we’ll take this into consideration when reviewing your materials.

Please know that, because there are a very limited number of spaces in FYW Workshop, unfortunately we can’t honor every request.


What if I really want a spot in First-Year Writing Workshop, but I don’t get offered one?

Don’t worry! Your best bet is to request to take FYW in the Fall. Don’t be afraid to talk to your instructor about your challenges with academic writing early on, even before you’ve had an assignment — that’s what your instructor is there for.

There are also lots of (free) writing resources for you, like the Writing Center, which is one of the most popular peer-to-peer resources on campus.


If I’m offered a spot in First-Year Writing Workshop, do I have to accept it?

Nope; you do you. However, keep in mind that if you decide not to accept your spot in FYW Workshop, we will offer your spot to another student. So once you decline the offer, there’s no going back.


Can I change my section of First-Year Writing or First-Year Seminar?

Registering for your First-Experience course is similar to other courses in that you can change your section up until the first day of the semester. Once classes begin, you will not be allowed to change your section, so you will want to schedule your class carefully. The reason for the no-change policy is that it is absolutely critical for the seminars to have stable enrollments from the first day in order to create a cohesive class dynamic. This is a very firm policy and exceptions are almost never made.


Can I Pass/D/Fail my First-Year Experience courses?

No. First-Year Writing and First-Year Seminar are foundational parts of your academic experience, giving you academic skills Barnard considers necessary for future success at the college. For this reason, as with courses students take to fulfill a major or minor requirement, understanding how you’ve mastered these skills requires a more specific and nuanced assessment than a simple P/D/F.


I have a question that’s not listed here. What should I do?

You can reach out to the First-Year Dean’s Office, your advisor (once you’ve been assigned one), or the Directors of First-Year Experience (especially if you think your question should be on this list!).