Academic Programs — First-Year Seminars

Description of the program
First-year Seminars: Q&A

Deadline for Proposals

Proposals for Fall 2023 semester First-Year Seminars will be accepted through January 31, 2023. Please review the FYS policies and the related advice for instructors before submitting a proposal.

  • A seminar must be proposed and approved each semester that the course is offered.
  • Approval of a proposal does not carry over to subsequent semesters.
  • This rule applies since funding is limited and because the program seeks to present balanced and varied offerings of interest to entering students.


The FYS Program is a joint project of the Office of the Provost, CLAS, other UI Colleges, and the Honors Program, with funding provided by the Office of the Provost. The guidelines below apply to all proposals regardless of the instructor's collegiate affiliation. Please review this web page for additional information on the program, including tips for instructors.

First-Year Seminars introduce entering first-year students to the intellectual life of the University of Iowa, giving students an opportunity to participate in a small class with a faculty member. 

Research has shown that learning to engage with faculty is a key experience for a student’s success.

CLAS also encourages those proposing a FYS to consider a research-focused option that helps students to learn and experience UI research and the creative process and production.

The seminars are designed to help students make the transition to college-level learning through a mastery of the content of the seminar and by active participation in the student's own learning.

FYS Content

  • Students in a FYS are expected to participate actively in their own learning; to encourage this, instructors rely on classroom discussion, team projects, research activities, and other interactive assignments that are student-centered. Quizzes and exams are not used.
  • Course titles, descriptions, assignments, and classroom experiences should be vibrant and relevant for entering first-year students.
  • First-Year Seminars help students to make the transition to university-level expectations through the discussion of related topics and through assignments that help students learn to read, write, and to participate in class.
  • Seminars also help students to connect socially and intellectually to others in the class.
  • First-Year Seminars focus on the joy of learning and on helping students to experience the excitement that accompanies scholarly research, intellectual and creative work, and the exploration of new knowledge.

Policies and Procedures

  • Seminars are always offered for one hour of credit.
  • The enrollment caps are set usually at 16-20 students. Classes with fewer than 16 students are generally cancelled.
  • Each seminar meets at least once a week and must begin during the first week of classes.
  • All seminars must meet for a total of 750 minutes over the course of the semester.
  • Some seminars are offered on an off-cycle schedule, meeting for a longer class period or twice a week but ending by mid-semester. Off-cycle courses must meet for a total of 750 minutes, regardless of their end date. For more information on scheduling, visit this page.
  • Instructors should note when key required courses in math and the sciences are scheduled and should try not to schedule the FYS during these times. Other important gateway courses should also be considered. Checking the MyUI schedule and noting which FYS classes filled and their days and times might be of help.
  • Classes with low enrollments are generally canceled by the Office of the Provost.
  • Instructors agree not to use quizzes or exams as part of the evaluation of student work. Final exams are never given.
  • Seminars are graded with letter grades, but often, because of the special nature of the FYS experience, instructors find that an adherence to a college's recommended grade distribution is not feasible.
  • All rules for adding, dropping, and withdrawing apply, with the exception that the second-grade-only option may not be used on a FYS.
  • Transfer students with more than 24 semester hours of credit when they enter UI are not eligible to enroll in a First-Year Seminar; transfer students with fewer than 24 s.h. may enroll in a FYS.
  • Generally, students should not enroll in more than one FYS because of limited seating in the courses. Remind students to be thoughtful of others.
  • Credit hours from First-Year Seminars count toward graduation as elective hours but are never applied to General Education Program requirements.
  • FYS credits may not be used to satisfy major, minor, or certificate requirements.

First-Year Seminars: Q & A

Who may offer a First-Year Seminar?
In CLAS, any faculty member, including emeritus faculty, are eligible to teach a FYS. Additionally any instructors with full or part-time appointments (as a lecturer or a visiting professor, e.g..) may propose and teach First-Year Seminars. Executive staff often teach these seminars but teaching assistants or other staff are not eligible.

Please note that compensation method depends on appointment status, with those with a research appointment paid in related research funding; others are paid additional compensation.

What should be included in the proposal?
The proposal must include the proposed course number indicating the administrative home of the course. All courses must be approved by the departmental chair, head, or DEO, before the proposal is submitted. This approval must be indicated on the form. Note: Courses offered under different programs, such as Honors, use that program's course acronym and number. Please discuss this matter with the offering unit.

All courses are titled First-Year Seminar but include a descriptive subtitle. Subtitles should be chosen carefully and must indicate the content of the course and must be lively and relevant, helping to draw students into the course.

The course description must suggest the interactive nature of the course and the importance of student participation. 

A syllabus is also required.

The proposal should show how the students will engage in the intellectual life of the University community, better understand the expectations for college-level work, and make social and intellectual connections while engaging with a faculty member.

What course number should be used?
The unit offering your course should have a acronym and number for First-Year Seminars. Most FYS are number 1000 or 1001. Please talk to your departmental administrator.

Departments should create a FYS course if one does not yet exist in a particular department or program. Please submit the appropriate add form through the MAUI Course Approval system.

If departments offer more than one seminar, section numbers should be added to distinguish the offerings; each section will have the same title of First-Year Seminar but will then have separate subtitles.

Are there Honors offerings of First-Year Seminars?
Those who would like to offer a First-year Seminar limited to Honors students should contact the Honors Program for more information.

How are courses scheduled?
Once a course is approved for the FYS Program, instructors should work with the administrative home of the course to schedule a room, following the same procedures as for any other offering in a department or program. The course number and acronym indicates the primary, administrative home of the course.

How much work should be assigned in a First-Year Seminar?
The experience of many instructors has been that first-year students do not know how to read or to study intensely or efficiently. Keeping this in mind, instructors should gauge course work on the "two hours of study for one hour of credit" model. In a 1 s.h. First-Year Seminar, the outside assignments should be based on how much a student can prepare if the student devotes two hours to the task. This may be as little as 15 pages of reading material per week or may be substantially more depending on the materials and the particular ability of the students.

Instructors must introduce students to the appropriate methods of reading, writing, and studying the materials of the course.

Is a syllabus required?
Yes, a syllabus is required. Follow the syllabus guidelines for your college; those without undergraduate syllabus guidelines are welcome to use those provided by CLAS.

How are students evaluated?
Letter grades (A - F with +/-) are used and instructors should follow the College's usual grading policies. Instructors agree not to evaluate student performance by examinations or quizzes, but to rely instead on classroom participation, papers, projects, and other more participatory assignments. Because of the nature of the course, most instructors find it is not feasible to follow the recommended grade distribution of the College. The College encourages all instructors to use their best professional judgment when assigning grades.

Who approves course grades?
Instructors should follow the usual practices of their departments and submit course grades as they would for any other course, but no later than the registrar's deadline for undergraduate course grades.

Is there an attendance policy?
There is not an attendance policy for the First-Year Seminars. All instructors are expected to describe any attendance expectations of the course on the syllabus and to discuss them on the first day of the class. Since the course is highly participatory and dependent on attendance, it is recommended to include these in the grading scale.

Should instructors hold office hours?
Yes, students should be informed of the instructor's normal office hours on the syllabus and in class and should be encouraged to visit the instructor during office hours. Some instructors make this an assignment, understanding that the ability to meet with a faculty member is key to a student's success at UI.

Are course evaluations required?
Yes, course evaluations are required. Instructors use the evaluation or assessment forms provided . Those forms are available online; please watch for them and make sure your students complete them in class, following CLAS best practices for online evaluation forms. (Note: the CLAS Core questions are added to the FYS evaluation forms for you.)