Program Overview

The First-Year Seminar Program (FYS) is a two-term course of study required of all first-year Transylvania students. Building on the skills gained in August term, first-year seminar courses continue to introduce students to the kinds of rigorous intellectual work necessary at the college level. The courses also seek to provide a framework for the successful pursuit of a liberal arts education and to inculcate attitudes, skills, and forms of awareness that characterize today’s liberally educated citizens.

The First-Year Seminar Program focuses on:

  • Developing clear and effective writing on substantial topical and enduring issues
  • Fostering critical and balanced reading of complex and challenging texts
  • Encouraging rigorous, critical, open minded, and sustained discussion of issues flowing from students' reading and writing
  • Honing the research skills necessary to produce well-informed and original scholarship

Fall term

In the fall term, students enroll in a multidisciplinary seminar that draws from the instructor’s areas of interest and expertise. Students read a broad range of shorter essays and at least one longer, book-length text of the instructor’s choosing. They may also view films and documentaries, attend campus lectures and gallery shows, and participate in selected community events.

These experiences form the basis for seminar discussion and provide the materials from which students write three pieces of formal academic prose: an analytical summary, a text-based argument/response, and an argumentative essay based on class themes.

Winter term

In the winter term, students choose from a variety of special topic sections, all of which offer a focused and in-depth investigation of an area of contemporary importance. These research-based topical seminars include extensive instruction in research methods appropriate at the college level. A series of related assignments—a topic analysis, an annotated bibliography, a strategic plan, and a class presentation—culminate with the production of a piece of original scholarship: a substantive, well-informed argumentative essay of approximately 15 pages. Outstanding projects from the second term are chosen for inclusion in the annual First-Year Seminar Conference.

Recent First-Year Research Seminar courses include:

  • The Human Virus—Are We Invading and Destroying Our Host Planet?
  • Skepticism and the Supernatural
  • The Science of Storytelling
  • Cultural Critique via Vonnegut
  • Do-gooders and Good-doers


The first-year seminar courses remain part of an interdisciplinary program. Professors from all disciplines teach the course, and senior faculty members participate each semester. The small class size allows for close student-professor interaction. Students and instructors also work closely with the campus Writing Center as students make the transition from high school to college level writing.

English professor Martha Billips directs the First-Year Seminar Program.