The transition from high school to college is a notoriously big leap. First-year college students have so much to navigate, from finding their way around the dorms and dining halls to managing their (much harder) coursework to discovering their place in their new community. Without support, making this shift can seem incredibly daunting. Luckily, many schools have designed programs for first-year students that not only help facilitate their critical transition into college, but are profound learning experiences in and of themselves (and are also tons of fun!). These programs often address both the academic and the residential or social aspects of first-year life. Below, we explore a few standout first-year programs around the country that smooth the transition into college and set new students up for success.
University of Wisconsin First-Year Interest Groups (FIGs)–Incoming Badgers at the University of Wisconsin in Madison have the option of joining a First Year Interest Group, or a FIG, which is an “academic learning community” centered around a seminar course. Each seminar course is capped at 20 students, and students can choose from over 60 different course offerings (in topics ranging from Global Biodiversity to Game Design to LGBTQ+ History). Each FIG seminar is linked to two other first-year courses on topics that are thematically related to the main seminar, and the same cohort of 20 students take all three classes together. The FIGS experience also includes learning opportunities outside of the classroom, such as field trips, study sessions and themed dinners.
Colorado College First-Year Program (FYP)–Colorado College is known for its distinctive block plan, where students take one class at a time in three-week “blocks” over the course of the year. First-year students at the college get a feel for how this system works through participating in the First-Year Program, where they take two back-to-back foundational seminars in Critical Inquiry and First-Year Writing. While these two courses comprise each student’s first semester, the FYP continues for the entire first year, with students joining a mentorship program and a cohort of fellow students who they work alongside to become acclimated to college life.
Tulane University First-Year Program (TIDES)–Tulane is big on connecting students to the city of New Orleans, and first-year students jump right into this connection via the Tulane Interdisciplinary Experience Seminar (TIDES). The program is built around a single seminar course, many of which are focused on New Orleans culture and history. Incoming Tulanians can choose from 125 different seminars–offerings include Foodways in Asian American New Orleans, Creative Writing in New Orleans, New Orleans Environmental Conservation, and New Orleans as a Dungeons and Dragons Campaign! In addition to the TIDES program, Tulane also has an office dedicated to the first-year experience, where students can find peer mentorship and support as they discover their new home.
Bates College First Year Experience–The program orienting first-year students to Bates College has received national recognition for its thorough and holistic approach to acclimating students to college life. Bates hosts a three-day International Circle Orientation for international students; it also hosts the Kessler Scholars Program, a special program for first-generation college students, as well as a dedicated orientation for STEM students. The FYE program features one-on-one faculty advising for recommended entry courses, info on key student services like IT and residential life, and student employment opportunities.
First-Year Pathways at UC Berkeley– Letters & Science, the biggest college within UC Berkeley, has a new first-year program designed to give students a jump-start on their education. Students participate in a thematically-linked cluster of three classes, with one “hub” course–a smaller seminar capped at 25 students–and two “wing” courses, which are larger lecture courses. Importantly, the two “wing” courses are accompanied by discussion sections with the same 25 students that attend the “hub” course. Cluster topics are diverse and exciting: students can choose between offerings like “Art, History and the Moral Imagination,” “Neuroscience, Philosophy and Society,” or the field-based cluster “California from the Field,” to name just a few.
Regardless of which college you’re attending, chances are there are at least some resources dedicated to first-year students. Check with your advisor or Student Services at your college to find opportunities for mentorship, academic support or community engagement tailored to students starting college, and don’t hesitate to take advantage of those offerings!