What is the first-year college seminar?

Should your students get involved?

What is the first-year college seminar?

Many colleges have implemented what is generally called a freshman or first-year seminar course or program. While each school has its own name for it — Road to Success, Strategies for Academic Success, University 101, etc., there are two common goals: successful student academic integration and retention. How does this translate for incoming college freshman and parents? 


What is it?

Two years ago I was invited to teach a general studies course at Valparaiso University titled, “Strategies for Academic Success.” It is a one-credit, graded course — not exactly coined as a traditional “freshman” seminar — as it is available for any VU student needing or wanting to take it. As written in the course catalog, GS-100 is a seminar designed to offer skill development and student success strategies that will enhance and promote academic achievement. Course topics include effective use of study time and learning strategies, test preparation, test-taking techniques, time management, overcoming procrastination, goal setting, motivation, decision making, developing a strength-based mindset, and using academic support resources on campus. The course meets over a 14-week or 7-week period, depending on the section. 


Who is this course designed for?

Every college student can benefit from the first-year seminar. While first-generation students and low academic achieving students are commonly advised to take a course such as this in their first year of college, upperclassmen also benefit and thrive academically. It is a proactive approach to provide new college students with the proper orientation of successful academic skills and resources available on the campus early on in their college career. 


Why take this course? 

While many think that every student should have these skills prior to enrolling in college, you would be surprised at how many students have told me they did not know where the tutoring center was at their university or how to really study, because they did not have to study in high school. College can be a real eye-opener for any student regardless of whether he or she was a straight A or an average student. 


College is a major life transition.

The goal in higher education is not to simply enroll students, but to retain and graduate students, and this is achieved through better student learning through proper preparation. It is important to foster a student’s academic success and help students connect with the university. Two common reasons why students drop out or transfer: a sense of disconnect with the institution and academic challenges. 

These freshman seminar courses have been established to benefit the student in ways of campus community engagement, academic and social success in college, as well as future success after college. What is learned in the freshman seminar is applicable in a student’s other college courses. 

I enthusiastically jumped at the offer to teach this course because I could relate to it. I was a first-generation college student and I know I would have benefited from a course like this when I was an undergraduate student. I had no idea what resources were available to me or how to take proper notes for studying. Teaching GS-100 has allowed me to give back to the students at VU who need assistance transitioning and being academically successful. I am passionate about helping others not only enroll, but to graduate from college — it is an opportunity I am forever grateful for to have had myself. 


Nicole Graham Martinez is the Associate Director of Undergraduate Admission at Valparaiso University.

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