Freshman Seminars See 'Unprecedented Demand' This Year

Freshman seminars have seen “unprecedented demand” this academic year, according to Director of Freshman Seminars Ofrit Liviatan, with more freshmen applying to a wider range of course offerings than in past years.

The number of total seminar applications rose 43 percent, growing from 5,764 applications in the 2014-2015 academic year to 8,262 this year, according to data provided by Liviatan. In addition, 2,122 freshmen applied to seminars this academic year, up from 1,862 last year. Freshmen are allowed to apply to multiple seminars each semester.

“As a result of active recruitment, collaborative efforts on the part of the entire administration, and partnership with department chairs, we have managed to reconfigure the program in 2015-2016,” Liviatan said of the program’s growing popularity. “We have really made wonderful strides in our partnerships with departments and with the higher administration.”

That effort has involved a push for seminar offerings from a wider range of departments and from a larger selection of schools across Harvard. In a printed statement, Liviatan noted new permanent offerings from departments such as Statistics and Sociology, along with seminars taught by professors from nearly every professional school at Harvard.

“The freshman seminar program, its task is to bring to students all that Harvard can offer them,” Liviatan said. “I think this is the best experience we can offer a College student.”

Introduced in 1959, freshman seminars are small courses capped at 12 students that are offered only to first year students at the College. They are taught by professors and are graded exclusively on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory basis, meaning students do not receive a letter grade at the end of term. These unique aspects are part of their appeal, according to Leviatan, providing students with a chance to sample courses in a low-stress setting.

William A. Schmitt ’19, who took Freshman Seminar 25q: “Understanding Emotions” last fall, said his seminar allowed him to explore the field of psychology, a topic of interest for him, in a less stressful setting.

“I was interested in psychology… and I figured that that freshman seminar would be a nice way to get an introduction to the field without necessarily taking one of the bigger lecture classes,” Schmitt said. He added that after taking his seminar he is no longer sure of his original plans to concentrate in Computer Science.

Liviatan also pointed to the opportunity to interact in a smaller setting with a professor as a draw for freshmen, something that Evan M. Bonsall ’19 found compelling about his seminar, Freshman Seminar 44g: “Public Policy Approaches to Climate Change.”

“I was really interested by the professor who teaches the seminar, professor Richard Cooper,” Bonsall said. “I thought it would be very interesting to learn from somebody who had that kind of real-world experience.”

—Crimson staff writer Jonathan G. Adler can be reached at jonathan.adler@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanGAdler.

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