Freshmen get lucky with their new seminars

Shopping period is officially over and students are, for the first time this year, facing the reality of work. For many freshmen, that means a lot more reading than they’d anticipated. Especially for those enrolled in one of the 16 new freshman seminars Yale is offering this year. Capped at 18 students apiece, these seminars, which range from “German Arts, Culture and Letters” to “Frontiers of Biomedical Engineering,” allow students to interact with senior faculty years earlier than they might otherwise.

Freshman seminars, which are one of the first major academic review recommendations to be implemented, are long overdue. The seminars have the potential to introduce freshmen to the excitement of self-directed scholarship. We just hope the fervor over these seminars doesn’t detract from the other valuable academic offerings from which students can choose.

Even with this year’s limited number of freshman seminars, most freshmen should could find something appealing. That the seminars range in subject matter and distribution group is one of their greatest assets. No longer are freshmen who want to take seminars restricted to Directed Studies. And these seminars, unlike many introductory language sections, D.S. sections, or introductory English sections are taught by senior faculty. Freshman seminars will help students build relationships with faculty that could last their entire Yale careers.

The program is already wildly successful. One-third of the freshman class, about 420 students, applied for the seminars, a number much larger than what the University could accommodate. And that Yale was able to double its initial expectation of offering only eight seminars bodes well for the program’s future. We are happy to see faculty excited to lead small freshman classes and we hope Yale continues to expand its offerings.

But, in expanding the program, the University should think creatively about more group IV options. Yale has done a good job of including a number of group IV offerings this year — including seminars about cognitive science, physics and disease — but these seminars seem particularly suited for students who come into Yale without an interest in pursuing majors in the sciences. It would be great if the University could develop some higher-level freshmen seminars for students who have, for example, taken and passed AP Biology. Yale’s future Group IV majors should be able to take freshman seminars that push them in their areas of interest, just as future Group II or Group III majors can do.

We do have one cautionary note about what otherwise seems like an ideal program, though. It’s great for freshmen to be exposed to seminars, but these seminars will be just a single class in what should be a busy academic schedule. Students who consider these seminars the pinnacle of their freshman years — or the only class that will make their first years at Yale worth it — are short-changing themselves. One of the amazing things about Yale is the opportunity to take lectures with great professors who have great wisdom — or at least knowledge — to impart. Lectures are a vital part of students’ first few years here, and we hope that the new freshman seminars don’t teach the Class of 2008 that seminars are the only classes worth taking.

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