Advice to Students Seeking First-Year Writing Seminar Enrollment in Fall 2020

By: JSKI Staff, 
Mon, 08/03/2020

Dear new Cornellians,

We are eager to welcome you into the First-Year Writing Seminar program, whether in person or online!

We recognize that as individuals you may have varying priorities.  Even though virtually all Cornellians engage with First-Year Writing Seminars, not all do so in exactly the same way.  You might consider different approaches to your Fall 2020 enrollment depending on your interests, your program, or your college.  Keep in mind that each college sets its own writing requirements and policies for AP waivers.

What follows is not direct advice about your Fall 2020 enrollment.  Only your college’s advising office can reliably give that.  Still, we want to help you make the best choices for yourself by providing some realistic contextual information.

You will see from the University Registrar’s communications that your enrollment process will occur in two quickly successive stages:

  1. ROUND ONE: 6 credits maximum (for first-year students, August 27, 10am – 8 pm EST);
  2. ROUND TWO: your remaining credits (for first-year students, August 31, 8am – open.

Most regular introductory-level courses are 4 credits, plus possibly a lab or discussion section of one or two credits.  All First-Year Writing Seminars are, by definition, 3 credits. 

Therefore, in Round One, you will not be able to enroll both in a FWS and in some other required, prerequisite, or simply desired 4 credit course.  In other words, in Round One, it is EITHER:

  • a 4-credit course that is required or desired, with perhaps a lab/discussion section—plus perhaps a 1-credit PE class or, if you are in the College of Arts and Sciences, your 1-credit Advising Seminar,


  • a 3-credit First-Year Writing Seminar, plus whatever other enrollments (such as another 3 credit course, or PE) that might add up to 6 and are compatible with your overall schedule.

And then, you will seek the remaining credits up to your maximum in Round Two, which will itself flow directly into open enrollment and Add-Drop, on the first day of classes.

These choices do not inevitably interfere with one another: students might very well find their desires met through both “rounds.”  We are not urging that your FWS is more important than other courses, such as distribution, major, or language requirements in your college.  We only point out that you should be aware of the potentially competing priorities.  The best and most updated source of information about the enrollment process is not the Knight Institute but rather the Office of the University Registrar, and all students should consult about their enrollment choices with their college advisors.

Regarding their FWS requirement, some students are more constrained, some less, according to their incoming status, their program, or their college.  Those who face no specific FWS requirement whatsoever (such as students in CALS), or a limited one (such as students in Architecture or Hotel Administration), might take this relative freedom into account as they plan their two-stage enrollment for Fall 2020, whereas those who are most restricted might think differently.  Any such decision should be taken in consultation with appropriate advisors.

Here is a picture of plausible situations for incoming first-year students, from most to least constrained:

  1. Students in the College of Human Ecology must fulfill their FWS requirement in the first two semesters or face academic probation.  Those entering CHE without a 5 on an AP English exam or a 7 on an IB exam (or transferrable FWS credits from elsewhere) must take two FWSs this academic year.  They must decide whether to seek a FWS in Round One and postpone other required or desired courses to Round Two, or vice versa.
  2. Students in Engineering and in Industrial and Labor Relations experience the most structured curricula.  Even if they prioritize their major prerequisites in Round One, they should consider very carefully before delaying the FWS requirement altogether in Fall 2020.
  3. Any incoming student who has not scored a 5 on an AP English exam or a 7 on the IB exam (and who thus cannot waive one FWS) should consider very carefully before deciding to postpone starting on the FWS requirement in Fall 2020.  Remember that each college sets its own writing requirements and AP-waiver criteria.   
  4. Students in the School of Hotel Administration and in the Architecture major in the College of Art, Architecture and Planning face only one FWS requirement (each of these programs has its own internal writing requirement; other programs in AAP set the typical 2-FWS requirement).  These students might consider prioritizing other requirements ahead of their FWS in Fall 2020.  Still, they should plan carefully with their advising office to avoid later difficulties.
  5. Students who have scored a 5 on an AP English exam or a 7 on the IB exam are usually eligible to waive one FWS requirement—remember that each college sets its own criteria here.  If so, you might consider taking advantage of this head start and prioritizing other classes.  Even though you should not wait too long, you would have three more semesters to fulfill the other half of your FWS requirement.
  6. Students in the College of Arts and Sciences: despite your 2-FWS mandate, you generally have fewer required sequences and greater flexibility than most Cornell students (premeds are exceptions), so you could consider building your schedule around other courses in Fall 2020, especially in Round One.  It is particularly important not to delay your language requirement.  
  7. Students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (or governed by CALS graduation requirements): you do not face any specific FWS requirement at all, but rather 9 credits in written/oral expression, chosen from a list of courses approved by your college’s Registrar.  (Some of these courses do not fulfill the FWS requirement for other colleges.)  Many incoming CALS students do enroll in FWSs for three of these nine credits, but there is no mandate to do so.  You might thereby privilege other choices in either Round One, or Round Two, or both.  Still, nine credits usually involve at least three separate courses, so you should plan carefully.  Again, we urge you to consult with your college’s advising staff.

We wish you all the best for the upcoming academic year.  Welcome to Cornell, wherever you happen to be! 

Sincerely yours,

The faculty and staff of the John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines

Important Update: Modified FWS Enrollment Procedures for Fall 2020