[FYW] Scheduling a writing-filled semester

When I first discovered Wesmaps before my freshman year, I spent three hours clicking through the site in a frantic haze before I had to drag myself away. I was overwhelmed: not only were there an extraordinary number of courses to pick from, but also I couldn’t seem to narrow down my focus. I was interested in everything. English? Great! Astronomy? There’s a telescope, that’s so cool! Sociology? They didn’t offer that in high school. Sign me up!

I wish I could offer some advice on how to take a deep breath, look inside yourself, and remain level-headed as you what subject areas you wish to take the semester to explore. Unfortunately, in four years I never managed to pick up that skill. What I can offer is some advice on how to navigate through Wesmaps once you have a goal in mind, specifically if you are hoping to design a schedule that will encourage you to improve your writing.

Before you get started, take some time to brainstorm your writing goals for the semester. Do you want to try your hand at a research paper? Would you rather ease into college writing with courses that only assign a few papers so that you have enough time to really work on them? Are you hoping to fine-tune your writing technique by improving your syntax, grammar, etc.? Make sure you have a few goals in mind before you dive into Wesmaps.


Where to Look: The Writing Certificate

This may seem like a no-brainer, but if you’re interested in writing the Writing Certificate section of WesMaps is a great place to start searching for courses! Writing Certificate courses cover a broad range of genres, including (but certainly not limited to) creative nonfiction, poetry, and playwriting. These courses are all about writing as a discipline: not only you will read pieces by extraordinary authors and study different writing techniques, but also you will be required to produce work of your own! Writing is a guaranteed focus of these courses, which makes this section of WesMaps a great first place to look.

Remember, though: writing certificate courses are very popular and fill up fast. If you’re interested in taking one, I would suggest placing it at the top of your course rankings! Also, you might want to consider emailing the Professor beforehand to alert him or her to your interest. With classes as popular as these, it’s important to demonstrate your enthusiasm.


Essential Capabilities: Writing

Are “Writing” courses the only option for students interested in improving their writing? Of course not! Plenty of courses across the discipline feature writing as a critical component of the curriculum. A great way to seek out these options is to look for courses that list writing as one of the course’s “Essential Capabilities.” The University’s description of writing as an essential capability is as follows:

Writing. The ability to write coherently and effectively. This skill implies the ability to reflect on the writing process and to choose a style, tone, and method of argumentation appropriate to the the intended audience. (You can find a more detailed description here.)

Courses that list writing as an essential capability will concentrate, in some form or another, on improving your writing skills throughout semester.

You can search for these courses through the “Search” function in WesMaps (the link is in the red bar at the top of the page). Using the drop-boxes, select “Fall 2011” under Semester and “Writing” under Essential Capabilities.

While this can be a great resources, take note that this search will provide you with an incomplete list. Some courses that include a writing component don’t list writing as an essential capability (and some don’t list any essential capabilities at all).


First Year Initiative Courses (FYI)

A word of advice: FYIs are so much fun. Take them while you still can! These courses are specifically designed to expose freshmen to new subjects and the rigors of college academics. Courses are capped at 19 students (freshmen only!) to ensure that each student receives quality personal attention from the Professor. Recognizing that many first year students have trouble adjusting to college-level writing, many Professors have designed their FYIs in part to help you improve your writing. However, this isn’t always the case, so read each FYI course description carefully to make sure that there is a strong writing component.

FYIs often have the lowest course numbers, though not all courses with low numbers (in the 100s) are FYIs! If you want to find FYIs, there is a checkbox you can click on the “Search” page.


Individual Course Pages

Intrigued by a specific class but nervous about what kind of writing it requires? Check its course page! Look at the “Examinations and Assignments” section to find out what types of papers you will be required to write for any given course.

For example the above course, “Introduction to the Study of Religion,” does not list writing as an essential capability. However, by looking at the examinations and assignments, we can see it requires students to write at leas two critical papers during the semester. When you find specific courses you are interested in, take a look at each course’s assignments to make sure they align with your semester’s writing goals.


A Few More Tips

  • If you’re confused about what kinds of assignments a particular course requires or are unsure about whether that course will meet your needs, don’t hesitate to email the Professor. Professors welcome that type of email! Make sure you know what you are signing up for.
  • Ask your advisor for some advice. When you meet individually, explain your semester’s writing goals to your advisor and ask whether they think your proposed schedule will help you achieve those goals. They might have some great insights.
  • Consider the spring as well as the fall. Trying to decide between two great courses? See whether there are similar options offered in the spring. Make courses that only have a fall option your priority.

Good luck!

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