FYS Common Expectations




Aims of the Course

Your two First-Year Seminars will form the foundation of your general education at the University of Richmond, introducing you to college-level reading, writing, and critical thinking. While each seminar will also have specific course goals tied to the subject matter of the seminar, you can expect all First-Year Seminars to pursue the five following shared goals:

1. Expand and deepen students’ understanding of the world and of themselves

2. Enhance their ability to read and think critically

3. Enhance their ability to communicate effectively, in writing, speech, and other appropriate forms

4. Develop the fundamentals of information literacy and library research

5. Provide the opportunity for students to work closely with a faculty mentor

Of course, these are essential components of a liberal arts education and, as such, are goals or aspirations common to most of your courses.  But the First-Year Seminar concentrates on them in several specific ways.

First, seminar topics are chosen for their potential to raise new questions, to approach familiar topics in a new way or to open up entirely new areas of study to students. Readings and other course materials have been selected to spark discussion and debate, not simply to convey information (though they may do that as well).

Second, much of your time spent both in and out of your seminar will focus on developing critical reading and thinking skills through close reading, comparative analysis of texts and other materials, and intellectual discussion and debate.

Third, the seminars are writing- and speaking-intensive classes. You can expect to participate in discussion every day and, in some courses, to make oral presentations on course materials to the class. Seminars will also focus on the writing process, using some combination of the following techniques: freewriting, drafts, peer editing workshops, consultation with Writing Consultants, and staged development of writing projects, to inform and facilitate completion of your assigned writing projects.

Fourth, all seminars will include at least one class session focused on information literacy and library research skills, and will also include instruction in the appropriate research methods for the course material. While not every seminar will assign a formal research paper, all will incorporate research skills and at least one research-based assignment

Finally, all First-Year Seminars are capped at 16 students, offering every student the opportunity to work closely with the course professor.

All First-Year Seminars will be demanding and intense, but they should also be rewarding and enjoyable.  You’ll encounter a new subject area or deepen your understanding of a familiar topic, and develop foundations for your further study at the University,

Course Work

Your main job in your seminar will be to master the course materials by reading, viewing, listening, discussing and writing.  The minimum writing requirement for all First-Year Seminars is approximately 5000 words (about 20 standard typed pages); this may be divided into many short papers or fewer longer ones, and may include a variety of types of writing, including analytical prose, creative expression, scripts for oral or digital presentations, etc. You should expect work beyond this minimum.  The nature of this work will vary from seminar to seminar:  your instructor might require more extensive formal essay writing, journal-keeping, the leading of class discussions, participation in electronic discussion groups, blogging, digital story-telling, drawing, making music, or other activities. Some seminars may include in-class midterm and/or final examinations; others will focus exclusively on formal papers and presentations, as appropriate to the course material.

In taking your First-Year Seminar, you are embarking on an educational journey that is likely to be quite different from what you experienced in high school.  Not only will you encounter new kinds of texts and new kinds of writing and presentation, you will also encounter heavier demands on your mind and time since many of the materials and concepts will be more challenging and extensive than those you’ve worked with in the past, and you will be asked to get more out of them.  Below are some guides to what your professor will expect of you.

How much time should you spend on First-Year Seminar work?

  • Although the length of assignments will vary according to both the text and the seminar, you should expect on average to spend 2-3 hours reading or otherwise preparing for every hour you spend in class.
  • Most of the writing you do for your seminar will require some pre-writing time, perhaps research, and one or more drafts before it is ready to hand in.  The night before a paper is due will not be the best time to get started; plan accordingly. The same holds true for oral presentations, digital scholarship, and other kinds of out-of-class projects.  You might want to think of college as your full-time job: you may only be spending 15-16 hours a week in class, but your out-of-class work should add up to at least a 40-hour week.

By what standards will your writing be judged?

Essays and other written work in your First-Year Seminar should:

  • Articulate a clear focus and purpose
  • Exhibit awareness of and attention to audience
  • Demonstrate an understanding of appropriate organization to meet disciplinary and / or task conventions
  • Analyze evidence from sources, experience, and empirical research to provide proper support to ideas
  • Demonstrate a command of writing mechanics

Since these dimensions are interrelated in many ways (good organization, for example, is often a product of clarity of purpose), they cannot be used as a simple checklist for judging your writing.  But they should help you understand what you are aiming for:  to be judged excellent, an essay must score very high on all these dimensions.


Each instructor will determine the relative weight of discussion, written and/or oral assignments, and examinations (if applicable) in calculating the final grade.


Your instructor will set the specific attendance policy for your seminar, but it should be obvious that you cannot participate in class discussions, as required, without being present.


All students are expected to abide by the University Honor Statute.  Individual seminars may include group work and consultations with Writing or Speech Consultants and/or peer editors—such collaboration, of course, does not violate the University Honor Statute, which prohibits unauthorized assistance in the completion of a given assignment. All students are expected to understand and avoid plagiarism and all other forms of academic dishonesty.


If you experience difficulties in your seminar, do not hesitate to consult with your instructor. There are also other resources that can support you in your efforts to meet course requirements.

The Academic Skills Center (http://asc.richmond.edu or 289-8626) helps students assess their academic strengths and weaknesses; hone their academic skills through teaching effective test preparation, critical reading and thinking, information processing, concentration, and related techniques; work on specific subject areas (e.g., calculus, chemistry, accounting, etc.); and encourage campus and community involvement. The Academic Skills Center is located in the administrative wing of Boatwright Library.

The Career Development Center (http://cdc.richmond.edu/ or 289-8141) can assist you in exploring your interests and abilities, choosing a major, connecting with internships and learning experiences, investigating graduate and professional school options, and landing your first job.  We encourage you to schedule an appointment with a career advisor during your first year. The Career Development Center is on the third floor of the Tyler Haynes Commons.

Counseling and Psychological Services (289-8119) assists students in meeting academic, personal, or emotional challenges. Services include assessment, short-term counseling and psychotherapy, crisis intervention and related services. CAPS is in 201 Richmond Hall.

The Speech Center (http://speech.richmond.edu or 289-8814) assists with preparation and practice in public expression.  Recording, playback, coaching and critique sessions are offered by teams of student consultants trained to assist in developing ideas, arranging key points for more effective organization, improving style and delivery, and handling multimedia aids for individual and group presentations. The Speech Center is on the 4th floor of Weinstein Hall. Some seminars have designated Speech Consultants who will work with students on specific assignments.

The Writing Center (http://writing.richmond.edu or 289-8263) assists writers at all levels of experience, across all majors. Students can schedule appointments with trained writing consultants who offer friendly critiques of written work. The Writing Center is on the 4th floor of Weinstein Hall. Some seminars have designated Writing Consultants who will work with students on specific assignments.


If you have questions or problems that cannot be handled at the level of your section (e.g., scheduling problems), you should contact Professor Elisabeth Gruner, First-Year Seminar Coordinator.  Professor Gruner’s office is Ryland 303-C; you can reach her at 289-8298 or egruner@richmond.edu.