What is a first-year experience?

A first-year experience is a program designed to help freshman transition to college. These are increasingly common at larger institutions since they provide a built-in peer group for entering freshman. Colleges of any size may have a first year program that is built around some common experience. Students who participate in first year experience programs may be less likely to dropout and have better GPAs than those who don’t.

First year experiences can consist of a variety of elements including the following:

  • Limited credit course where students are introduced to various campus resources and taught how to use them.
  • Small seminars on special topics lasting one or two semesters with emphasis on developing research skills.
  • Common core classes that members of a first year group take together.
  • Extended summer orientation sessions that develop peer groups.
  • A common reading experience.
  • Special opportunities to conduct laboratory research.
  • Programs to develop leadership.
  • Academic, social, and service activities and events.
  • Specific freshman learning communities that allow freshman to share residence and common classes.

Check the U.S. News First-Year Experiences for a list of schools with reputations for stellar first-year programs. You can find out more information and effectiveness of first year programs at the University of South Carolina National Resource Center for First-Year Experience and Students in Transition.

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