With a wide variety of topics to choose from, these courses offer a low-stakes way to engage in your passion or explore something new. Students have the opportunity to consider sex and gender manifestations in the brain, debate the impacts of mass incarceration in the US, or learn the engineering principals that will drive the smart cities of the future. Whatever the subject, these classes will encourage you to think big thoughts, participate in robust discussions or debates, approach an instructor or advisor outside of class, and investigate a subject of interest. 

First-Year Seminars are also designed to support your transition to college. Capped at nineteen students, each course provides a close, supportive environment, where participants can learn from each other and develop personal relationships with their peers and their instructor. First Year Seminars are often taught by graduate students; closer themselves to the college experience, graduate instructors have practical advice for their students and bring empathy to their courses. They are also keen to teach in their own field of research and share topics that have motivated them. 


Core Practices 

First Year Seminars have a twin focus, with time spent on both the topic of the seminar and the skills incoming students need to succeed. While the balance between those two areas can vary from seminar to seminar, all sections seek to address three core student practices. 

1. Pay attention to the hidden curriculum of college:  

When students come to college, they know they need to go to their classes. But many will need to learn how to learn at the college level. The unstated, or hidden, part of the college curriculum includes learning to take notes or read for class, developing a system to keep track of assignments, and knowing how to email a professor or advisor. FYS instructors help develop these skills in many ways, teaching strategies to approach college level reading assignments and examinations and connecting students to academic supports such as the Learning Resource Center or The UMass Writing Center

2. Make connections: 

College brings a fresh start and a brand-new environment. Research shows that students who connect with their new community and foster a sense of belonging have the best chance at success. The first year seminar is an ideal environment to begin those connections, a place for collaboration and discussion with a small-group of likeminded peers. Additionally, instructors work to encourage connections outside the classroom, through office visits, the promotion of campus events and groups, or connecting with programs in the larger Amherst community. 

3. Maintain a balance and attend to self-care: 

Starting at college means learning to manage your time and your life in a brand new way, and that process can have pitfalls. For some students, this means an over-focus on school work. For others, it might be too much social time and not enough studying. FYS instructors will talk to students about ways to maintain a balance, through time management and prioritization. Instructors will also provide connections to places on campus to go for support, including the Rec Center for physical health, the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health for emotional support, or the many resource centers on campus. 

What seminar is right for me? 

With over 250 sections offered every Fall, there is a seminar to suit your needs. Many departments offer seminars that allow for a deep dive into your new major, while schools and colleges run seminars that more broadly overview their area of study. If you are enrolled in a Residential Academic Program (RAP), a seminar with students from your dorm may already be part of your schedule. 

You can also check out some of the seminars listed in other colleges to see if you’d like to explore something new. 


Here are some examples of popular seminars that have been offered by our colleges in recent years: 

College of Humanities and Fine Arts: From Black Power to BLM 

This first-year seminar examines the racial conditions and activism that account for the rise of #BlackLivesMatter since the 1960s, and explores some of the major people, goals, struggles, and victories from the Black Power era to today's Black Lives Matter generation. In the process, this course will evaluate the role of art, music, fashion, and media as tools that African Americans have used to assert their agency in the struggle for racial justice and racial pride. 

College of Engineering: Electricity, Environment & Equity 

Electricity is essential for life in today's world. By discussing how it is intertwined with the environment and society we can prepare consumers and engineers to actively transform our grid. This course introduces freshman students to the operational structure of the power system as well as its side effects, culminating in a discussion about justice in the electric grid. It is designed to expand the discussion about "clean energy" and shed light on the multidisciplinary challenges of developing sustainable and equitable power systems. 

College of Natural Sciences: Green Prescriptions 

Ever wondered why laughter is hailed as the ultimate medicine? Curious whether a hot or cold shower holds greater benefits? Contemplating the ideal sleeping position for enhanced mental, cardiovascular, or digestive health? Brace yourself for a fascinating revelation: Each option holds unique advantages tailored to your well-being! In this transformative course, we delve into the profound influence of our environment on health, guided by scientific insights. Get ready to unlock the secrets to a life brimming with vitality! 

College of Social and Behavioral Sciences: Everyday Law 

In this course, we will explore ways we observe, understand, and use the law everyday. Students will be introduced to approach the study of the law in action (a product of social, cultural, economic, political, and economic forces) rather than by the books (a logical system of rules). We will engage with critical and reflexive approaches to the study of law while, at the same time, participating in a dynamic environment that introduces students to campus resources, events, and much more for a smooth transition to your first year at UMass. 

Manning College of Information & Computer Sciences: ChatGPT: Models and Ethics 

This seminar will explore broadly-available AI through the lens of ChatGPT. We will take a look at how it does what it does, how it can be fun and useful, how it can be ethically concerning, and how it could change our lives. 

Want to find out more? Just click here for some FAQ’s.