University of Wisconsin–Madison

First-Year Seminars

First-year seminars are small, discussion-based courses designed to support new students in their transition to academic and student life at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The Center for the First-Year Experience (CFYE) recommends all new students participate in at least one first-year seminar during their first year at UW-Madison. To meet the needs and interests of our large, diverse, first-year class, UW-Madison provides a number of different types of first-year seminars, which are outlined below.

CFYE administers the 1-credit Wisconsin Experience Seminar (COUN PSY 125) for first-semester freshmen and transfer students, and ELPA 350: Peer Leadership and Mentorship with Transitioning Students for students interested in becoming peer leaders for new students on campus.

The Wisconsin Experience Seminar

The Wisconsin Experience Seminar (COUN PSY 125) is a one-credit (75 min/week, 15-week), extended orientation first-year seminar open to all new students (freshmen and transfers) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It is taught by a faculty or staff member and an Undergraduate Teaching Fellow in an active, discussion-driven, and community-oriented learning environment. Class size is capped at 20 students. Transfer and freshmen sections are offered in the fall and spring each year.

In fall 2017, 26 sections are available. In addition to general sections for freshmen and transfer students, sections for engineering majors, international students, students living in University Housing, and pre-nursing students are available. Two sections will also be part of Transfer FIGs.

Information for prospective instructors can be found here.

Information for prospective Undergraduate Teaching Fellows can be found here.

  • Course Description, Learning Outcomes, and Syllabus

    This small, interactive course is designed to help students transition successfully to academic and student life at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Students will explore campus resources and opportunities; their skills, identity, interests, and goals; and the history and purpose of UW-Madison to help them make the most of their Wisconsin experience.

    As a result of this course, students will be able to… 

    • Discuss the history, culture, and purpose of UW-Madison and how those shared reference points may influence their Wisconsin experience
    • Engage with campus resources and opportunities to develop the habits of a successful college student and have a fulfilling Wisconsin experience
    • Develop positive relationships with faculty, staff, and students
    • Assess their skills, interests, and values in order to make the most of their Wisconsin experience and further their personal and career goals
    • Analyze the multiple dimensions of social identity and how those dimensions impact their and others’ experience at UW-Madison
    • Plan how they will engage with and contribute to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and other communities during their undergraduate career

    Course learning outcomes are achieved through meaningful assignments, readings, in-class discussions and activities, and interactions with campus resources and opportunities. For more information, checkout a sample syllabus.

  • Information for Prospective Students

    The Wisconsin Experience Seminar is a 1-credit course to help new students transition to UW-Madison.

    What you’ll get from the class?

    • A good start on your academic and career goals
    • Information about campus resources and opportunities
    • Tips on how to get involved and make the most of your Wisconsin Experience
    • An extended orientation to academic and student life at UW-Madison
    • Friends and mentors

    What makes this class unique? 

    • Only for new students (freshman or transfer)
    • Small (20 students or less)
    • Interactive and discussion-oriented with meaningful assignments
    • Co-taught by an experienced undergraduate student
    • It’s a fun way to ease into life at UW-Madison!

    Quotes from former students:

    “CP 125 made the transition from a small high school to a big university much less intimidating. I made a lot of new friends in my class and learned so many useful tips and tricks to help me navigate my way through freshman year.” – Natalie Chevalier, freshman pre-kinesiology major

    ” CP 125 helped make UW-Madison feel like home and it was so much fun!” – Joelle Stewart, undecided freshmen

    “The course introduced me to encouraging faculty and supportive peers and helped me begin to make my college experience exactly what I want it to be.” – Makenzie Severud, sophomore neurobiology and Spanish major

    “CP 125 gave me a place where I felt comfortable asking questions about general campus life. It really helped me become accustomed to college and made me aware of all the opportunities I have available to me here. It also created a very welcoming environment and I’m still friends with many of my classmates.” – Leslie Franczek, sophomore biomedical engineering major

  • How to Enroll

    Find the Wisconsin Experience Seminar on My Course Guide by searching for COUN PSY 125.

    Please contact Tess Smith, Coordinator of Academic Engagement, at 608-265-3079 or at tessa.smith@wisc.edu with questions or registration issues.

  • Assessment and Evaluation Results

    In fall 2016, the Wisconsin Experience Seminar enrolled more students, earned higher ratings, and more positively impacted students’ GPAs than in fall 2015. Checkout the executive summary.

Peer Leadership and Mentorship with Transitioning Students

Peer Leadership and Mentorship with Transitioning Students (ELPA 350) is a one-credit course for students who are, or aspire to be, peer leaders at UW-Madison.

Students will closely examine the role peers play in leading new students through their transition to college. Students will think, write, and talk about their own transition to UW-Madison, learn the theoretical basis for understanding student transition, and develop their leadership and mentoring capacities. Students will complete reflective writings and experiential assignments, and participate in a weekly intensive discussion section.  The course culminates with a final paper and project outlining what students have learned and how they will apply this knowledge to their next steps.

For more information contact Tessa Smith.

Course Objectives:

This small, interactive course is designed to help students grow as leaders, to reflect on what constitutes leadership, and to develop specific leadership skills.

As a result of this course, students will be able to… 

  • Assess their leadership style and how that impacts their ability to work with others.
  • Demonstrate interpersonal communication, group facilitation, and helping skills.
  • Create inclusive learning environments that engage all students and support authentic dialogue across difference.
  • Discuss the principles, purpose, and ethical standards of peer leadership.
  • Describe how they plan to continue their learning about peer leadership and mentorship, and make an impact as a peer leader at UW-Madison.

First-Year Seminar Options

All new students (freshmen and transfers) are encouraged to enroll in at least one first-year seminar during their first year at UW-Madison to help them acclimate to academic and student life, connect with faculty and peers, and learn about the resources and opportunities available to them to make the most of their Wisconsin Experience.

Students who enroll in first-year seminars consistently earn higher first-year GPAs, persist and graduate at higher rates, and utilize University resources at a higher rate than students who do not enroll.

UW provides a number of different first-year seminar options for new students, including:

First-Year Interest Groups – Clusters of (usually) three UW courses linked together to explore a common theme with a small cohort.

Residential Learning Community Seminars – Courses for students living in residential learning communities to further explore their learning community theme.

School/College/Major/Program Seminars – Courses designed to orient students to their School or College, major, or program.

List of courses for fall 2017

Students should speak with their academic adviser to determine which course(s) might be most helpful and relevant for them.

  • School/College/Major/Program Seminars

    First-year seminars are currently offered for:

    • Biochemistry majors (BIOCHEM 100)
    • Biology majors (INTEGSCI 100)
    • College of Agricultural and Life Sciences students (INTER-AG 155)
    • College of Engineering students (INTEREGR 110)
    • Genetics majors (GENETICS 155)
    • Microbiology majors (MICROBIO 375)
    • PEOPLE students (COUN PSY 115)
    • Posse Scholars (COUN PSY 115)
    • School of Business students (GEN BUS 365)
    • Undergraduate Research Scholars (INTER-AG/LS 250)
    • Varsity athletes (COUN PSY 115)
    • Wildlife Ecology majors (F&W ECOL 101)
  • Recommended Spring Seminars

    In the spring semester, a number of seminars for freshmen and transfer students are available for students to explore topics of interest to them.

    If you are interested in…

    • becoming a peer leader and helping new students transition to college, checkout Peer Leadership and Mentorship with Transitioning Students (ELPA 350).
    • Engaging in conversations about race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability and other aspects of identity, checkout Students Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (COUN PSY 325).
    • Exploring human happiness and well-being, checkout Belonging, Purpose and the Ecology of Human Happiness: EcoYou (INTER-HE 201).
    • FIGs (First-Year Interest Groups), checkout spring FIGs.
    • improving your study skills and grades, checkout the Academic Enhancement Seminars.
    • knowledge and skills for making career and life decisions, checkout L&S Career Development: Taking Initiative (INTER-LS 210).
    • science and public service, checkout Exploring Service in Science (INTEGSCI 140).
    • Using technology for academic success, checkout Tech – A Tool for Academic Success (COUN PSY 115)
  • More Information about First-Year Seminars

    The University of Wisconsin-Madison offers a number of first-year seminars to help new students transition successfully to academic and student life at a large, public, research university. These courses are small (20 students or less) so students can get to know their instructor and classmates and engage in meaningful discussions. First-year seminars are considered a high impact educational practice because they have been proven to help students succeed by orientating them to the academic expectations of the University and connecting them to the resources, opportunities, and people that can help them make the most of their college experience and achieve their personal and career goals. Students who participate in first-year seminars have consistently been found to be more academically successful (higher GPAs), more likely to return to college each year, and more likely to graduate than students who do not participate in first-year seminars (Hunter & Linder, 2005; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005).img_6289-crop-web

    The University of Wisconsin-Madison offers nearly 30 different first-year seminars to meet the needs and interests of our diverse student population. The Center for the First-Year Experience recommends new students (freshman and transfers) engage in at least one of these seminars. Based on their choice, some students may be interested in taking more than one.

    There are four primary types of first-year seminars at UW-Madison (and some are hybrids):

    • College/Department Seminars are for students interested in particular majors or colleges. These courses help students better understand the discipline and the program’s expectations
    • First-Year Interest Groups (FIGs) are clusters of (usually) three courses that are linked together to explore a common theme. Students attend all three classes together as a cohort.
    • Residential Learning Community Seminars are for students living in a residential learning community. The courses vary on topic depending on the community.
    • University Transition Seminars help students acclimate to academic and student life at the University by connecting them to peers, resources, opportunities, and strategies for success.

    Some students are required to participate in a first-year seminar. Including:

    • College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) students. Courses that meet that requirement are listed below.
    • Direct admits to the College of Engineering. Those students are required to take Inter-Engineering 110: Introduction to Engineering.
    • Direct admits to the Wisconsin School of Business. Those students are required to enroll in General Business 365: Principles in Leadership, Ethics, Authenticity, and Development (LEAD).
    • PEOPLE, Posse, and UW Athletics students. Those students are required to enroll in a program-specific section of Counseling Psychology 115.
  • How to Turn Your Freshman Course Into a High-Impact Educational Experience

    UW–Madison courses that meet most of the following criteria can be designated as high-impact for new students:

    • Courses designed specifically for first-year undergraduate students to support their transition to UW–Madison;
    • Courses that enroll fewer than 25 students or portions of the course meets in groups of fewer than 25 students;
    • Students are put in circumstances that require them to interact with faculty and peers about substantive matters;
    • Students will experience diversity through contact with people who are different from themselves;
    • Students obtain frequent feedback on their performance in a course that will be graded;
    • Students have opportunities to integrate, synthesize and apply knowledge while exploring big questions and big ideas;
    • Students experience an integration of in- and out-of-classroom learning;
    • The learning objectives for the course are aligned with the UW–Madison’s Essential Learning Outcomes.
  • College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) Freshman Seminar Requirement

    In 2011, the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences began requiring that all students take a freshman seminar. CFYE is pleased to partner with CALS to review course proposals and make determinations about courses that will count for the requirement.

    Students, please contact your advisor if you have questions about the CALS Freshman Seminar Requirement.

    To submit a course for consideration, please complete an online survey with the following information:

    • Updated course syllabus
    • Statement of how the course meets the criteria below
    • Contact information for the course coordinator

    For questions, contact Kevin Clarke, Assistant Director of Academic Engagement, Center for the First-Year Experience.

    Courses meeting the CALS freshman seminar requirement, meet most of the following criteria:

    • The course is designed specifically for first-year undergraduate students, to support their academic and personal transition to UW-Madison. For example, the course may acquaint students with academic, campus and community resources to assist in their transition through presentations, discussion, projects, or papers. Because students took this course their transition to UW-Madison is more rapid and well supported.
    • Course enrolls fewer than 25 students or a significant portion of the course meets in groups of fewer than 25 students. A larger lecture course will be considered if students interact regularly in sustained and substantive small groups with a faculty member or well prepared graduate student or peer. This interaction must go beyond review of material and question and answer and be an on-going relationship.
    • Students receive frequent feedback from the instructor(s) on their academic performance and receive a grade in the course.
    • Students are put in circumstances that essentially demand they interact with faculty and peers about substantive matters. As a result of taking this course students have gotten to know their instructor(s) and peers through meaningful course-related dialogue.
    • Students will experience diversity through meaningful dialogue with people who are different from themselves and/or engage with diversity through course content which addresses inclusivity, diversity and identity.
    • Students experience an integration of experiential and classroom learning.  For example, students might be asked to attend a student organization meeting, meet with a faculty or staff member, or participate in research or service.
    • Students have opportunities to integrate, synthesize and apply knowledge while exploring big questions and big ideas.
    • The learning objectives for the course are aligned with the UW-Madison Essential Learning Outcomes (http://www.provost.wisc.edu/content/WI_Exp_ELOs.pdf).

    List of approved courses:

    • Afro-American Studies 271: Multiculturalism & Social Justice
    • Biochemistry 100: Biochemistry Freshman Seminar
    • Biological Systems: Engineering 170
    • Counseling Psychology 115: PEOPLE First Year Seminar
    • Counseling Psychology 115: UW Athletics Life Skills Academy
    • Counseling Psychology 125: A Wisconsin Experience Seminar
    • Dairy Science 272: First-Year Seminar in Dairy Science
    • Environmental Studies 402: GreenHouse Learning Community Roots Seminar
    • First-Year Interest Groups (All)
    • Forest and Wildlife Ecology 101: Orientation to Wildlife Ecology
    • Genetics 155: Freshman Seminar in Genetics
    • Integrated Liberal Studies 138: Chadbourne Residential College (CRC) First-Year Seminar: Foundations of a Liberal Arts Education
    • Integrated Science 100: Exploring Biology
    • Integrated Science 375: BioHouse Seminar
    • Integrated Science 375: Exploring Service
    • Integrated Science 375: Secrets of Science
    • Inter-Ag 155: Issues in Agriculture, Environment, and Life Sciences
    • Inter-Ag 165: Introduction to International Issues in Agricultural & Life Sciences
    • Inter-Ag 175: Women in Science & Engineering (WISE) Seminar
    • Inter-He 201: Belonging, Purpose and the Ecology of Human Happiness: EcoYou