A Guide to Barnard’s First-Year Writing & Seminar, As Told By Upperclassmen

First-Year Writing:

Rachel: I took Legacy of the Mediterranean with Professor Breyer in the spring because I wanted to take first-year writing with modern texts. Normally first-semester first-year writing classes have more ancient texts, which I am not very interested in. An added bonus was I had read Frankenstein and Passing in high school, so I used my already annotated books for the course. First-year writing is just something everyone has to do, but from all the classes I could have taken to fulfill the requirement, I recommend this class. The readings overall were fine, and the grading was fair. 

Ariana: For FYW, I took Legacy of the Mediterranean with Benjamin Breyer my second semester. One of the worst experiences of my life was reading Paradise Lost for this class; if you can manage to avoid reading it, please save yourself. The other readings were okay, but I didn’t vibe with the super structured style of writing, especially after having free reign over my style in FYS. The workload varied from being too much to too little, but a lot of the time you could get away without doing the reading. I personally didn’t mesh with Professor Breyer, but I know a lot of people who enjoyed him as a person. Overall, not too bad of a class, but not something I’d ever wish to repeat again. 

Arianna: I took First-Year Writing: The Americas my first semester, but I didn’t love it. I personally didn’t enjoy the texts that we read for the class, which were mostly about how the Americas came to be. The class was very writing intensive with a short writing assignment due almost every day, as well as three papers spread throughout the semester. Since this was the first time I was writing college papers, I was new to certain aspects of it and felt that the class did not give me the tools I needed to get the hang of writing them. I found myself becoming frustrated with my progress because I was confused and wasn’t given the necessary resources. The last essay was a research paper, which made things more difficult because my foundation for writing college essays wasn’t yet stabilized; I felt as if I had built an unstable shelf and kept trying to stack things on top of it to no avail. 

Lizzie: For FYW, I took Women and Culture with Professor Condillac. I really like Greek myth, so I enjoyed the majority of the readings. Traditionally, the first semester does cover older texts, so if you’re not a big fan of Ovid, the class might be painful. I didn’t love Passing, the book we read at the end of the semester, but the course was flexible enough that I did not need to write about it which was great. I did a lot of long research papers in high school, so I personally did not struggle with that aspect of the class, but many of my friends did as they did not have that experience. The class was graded almost entirely on the papers and Professor Condillac is really detail-oriented on the papers, so it’s hard to truly do well in her class if you are not doing the proper format from the get-go. I did not love her style of teaching, as I really enjoy professors who let the students guide the direction of the class and form their own ideas of the text. There were times that I felt that if I broke from the professor’s opinion for my paper that I would fail. Overall, I feel as though my skills were cemented, but I would not take the class again if I had the choice.  


First-Year Seminar:

Rachel: I took Reacting to the Past during my first semester of college. I had seen a lot of upperclassmen recommending it on the 2021 page at the time, so I thought I should just take it. I think this class is well suited for people who did debate in high school or love to perform. As someone who considers public speaking to not be her strong suit, I found the class to be not the most enjoyable. My public speaking skills did improve from the 6 speeches I had to give, but I wish I would have taken a class where I could have worked more on my writing abilities. Also, people were really competitive in my class, and it created an unnecessary tense environment at times. I was always nervous to give my speeches or participate in the discussions, so this class in the end just caused me more stress than taught me anything. 

Ariana: I took Ethnicity and Social Transformation with Professor Ellsberg my first semester at Barnard. We had to write two analytical essays, one more open-ended essay, and a brief overview of what we learned over the semester that we compiled into a portfolio. I personally enjoyed this class because Professor Ellsberg was super laid back and had very minimal guidelines to what/how we had to write. As long as you followed her Five Great Laws of writing, you were pretty set to do well in the class. We read five books and a bunch of smaller pieces of writing, but the workload was very spread out and manageable. The readings were interesting and not too difficult, but my one problem with them was that the characters lacked in diversity when it came to their ethnicity, which was surprising and disappointing because of what I expected coming into the class. Additionally, I know that some of my classmates had issues with Professor Ellsberg and struggled to mesh with her personality and style of teaching. I personally didn’t have problems with her, but that’s because I’ve encountered teachers like her in the past, so I was able to navigate the class with ease. Overall, Ethnicity and Social Transformation is the FYS you want to take if you are already comfortable with analytical writing and are looking for a light workload. 

Arianna: I took Feminism and the Politics of Anger with Professor Benjamin and I absolutely loved it. I truly enjoyed every single text we read and loved the in-class discussions we had. In addition, I felt that the class gave me the proper tools to write college essays. I didn’t feel lost at all, and Professor Benjamin’s office hours were so flexible that I was always able to go to her for help. I would definitely recommend the class; it’s one of the most interesting and engaging classes I’ve taken at Barnard thus far. 

Lizzie: I took Arts of Adaptation with Professor Cohen and I could not have been happier. The course takes works of literature and examines the different adaptations across a plethora of culture and media. We read books, examines poems, watched movies, listened to songs and music videos. We even watched a ballet performance. Especially as someone who is studying film and literature in college, this class gave me the opportunity to truly see the connection between these two fields and watch Leonardo DiCaprio in Romeo and Juliet at the same time...so it was kind of a really big win. We had three papers which required you to compare three adaptations. Professor Cohen is really big on the students finding their own connections within the course, so I did not use many of the adaptations we spoke about in class. Overall, I felt that being able to make my own interpretations made me into a much stronger thinker and writer. All in all, I would 100% recommend this class to anyone who wishes to do a lot of thinking and get a lot out of a seminar.