Trial by Freshman Studies

Dear Fiona,

Ok, so we’ve been doing Freshman Studies for about a week and a half, and I don’t feel like I’m doing well. The professor hasn’t said anything, but I can just tell. I’m about to turn in my first paper, and I’m really worried that it won’t be up to snuff. What can I do to succeed in Freshman Studies and make the most of this Lawrence tradition?

-Failing Freshman


Dear Failing Freshman,

Well firstly, you’re not failing. You are going to do fine. To begin with, make sure you’re doing the reading. After that, the best thing you can do if you’re worried about doing well is to talk to your professor. If you’re super shy and you don’t want to go to their office hours—you should probably try to get over that—the next best thing you can do is to start talking in class. Freshman Studies is a discussion-based class, so discuss stuff! If you’re nervous speaking in front of people, write down some questions while you’re reading to use in class. If not, just say out loud those weird thoughts that pop into your head during class. Whatever you gotta do, start talking in class!

Now on to the papers. This is a little trickier. I guess the first thing is that the key to a good Freshman Studies paper is a good topic. Your professor will usually give you some topics to choose from, but they will probably be really vague. It is actually helpful that they’re vague, because then it’s easier to tailor them to what you are interested in. It’s important to choose a topic that is actually interesting to you, not one that seems easy or simple. These professors have to read so many papers that you should do what you can to stand out.

Even if it’s not a fully developed idea, go see your professor during office hours and talk it through. A paper based on an interesting idea that you are passionate about and are going to have a fun time writing is going to be a lot better than a paper on a super boring topic you don’t care about at all. Not only is it going to be a better paper, it’s going to be a lot easier to write.

These are the three basic components to Freshman Studies, and they are essential things to focus on in order to succeed.

First of all, do the reading. It’s tempting not to—I know. But life will be so much easier if you do! You will have an easier time participating in class discussions, and supporting your arguments in papers will involve a lot less hassle if you are already familiar with the work you are talking about. Also, the works assigned to be read in Freshman Studies are genuinely interesting.

Secondly, participate in class discussions. If you have social anxiety this can be hard to start, and if that’s the case you should talk to your professor so that they understand that that’s why you might not be speaking up in class. If you don’t have social anxiety but you just don’t know what to say, just try speaking your mind. There are more organized ways you can go about it (I mentioned some earlier), but just start by saying what’s on your mind during discussion. Chances are that you have a perspective that others haven’t thought of.

Finally, write interesting papers. That’s easier said than done, but it can be done. The key to that is being invested in what you’re writing. Pick a good topic, run with it, write your little heart out, and you will have a good paper to turn in to your professor.

Good Luck!