First-Year Writing Seminars

For first-year students, the Knight Institute offers First-Year Writing Seminars (FWS) in one of the country's largest and most diverse programs in writing in the disciplines: each semester, over 100 different courses are taught in more than 30 departments and programs located in the humanities, social sciences, expressive arts, and sciences. Through introductory work in each seminar's particular field of study, students learn to write in a range of genres and in ways that emphasize clarity, coherence, intellectual force, and stylistic control. Our Spotlight Series highlights some of the exciting projects students are doing in FWSs, as does our student publication Discoveries.

FWS Guidelines

  1. Seminars should require at least five—and at most eight—formal essays on new topics, totaling about 25 pages of polished prose.
  2. No fewer than three of the 5 – 8 required essays should go through a process of development under the instructor’s guidance (e.g. revision, peer review, responses to readings, conferences).
  3. All seminars spend ample classroom time (about half) on work directly related to writing.
  4. Reading assignments in the course subject are kept well under 75 pages per week to permit regular, concentrated work on writing.
  5. All students meet in at least two individual conferences with the instructor.

College Specific Writing Requirements

In general, Cornell students are required to take two semesters of First-Year Writing Seminars. Architecture students take one seminar. Agriculture and Life Sciences students may take two first-year writing seminars or choose from among a variety of other courses to complete their requirement. Hotel students take one First-Year Writing Seminar. Most students fulfill the writing requirement in the first year. First-Year Writing Seminars fulfill College writing requirements only. First-Year Writing Seminars, as well as courses that substitute for them, cannot count towards any other College or major requirements.

Current FWS Enrollment

 Fa24 First-Year Writing Seminar Offerings (printable) (Coming in July)

Fa24 First-Year Writing Seminar Offerings (Searchable) (Coming in July)

For fall2024, First-Year Writing Seminar placements will be conducted through the University enrollment system on a first-come, first-served basis. 

Incoming first-year students will pre-enroll for a First-Year Writing Seminar beginning at 12:00 pm on July 22 and ending at 4:00 pm on July 25.  Any further changes must await the Add-Drop period for first-Year Writing Seminars, which begins for sophomores and freshmen on August 23, 2024 at 9:00 am. Please visit the website of the Office of the University Registrar, or consult with your college’s Advising/Student Services office, for official information and dates regarding the enrollment process.

Many seminars are likely to fill to capacity very quickly after incoming first-year pre-enrollment opens on July 22.  Students may enroll only in a seminar with open spots in it. No student can be registered for more than one FWS at a time.  Please do not contact FWS instructors, who have no control over the enrollment process; there are no waiting lists, and you will not be allowed to “sit in” on any seminar if you are not on the roster.  No registrar can enroll you in a FWS. All FWS enrollment takes place electronically only, via Student Center.

Juniors, seniors, and transfer students:

A preferable alternative for you is ENGL 2880, Expository Writing, which can substitute for FWS credit.

First-year students and sophomores:

Enrollments for First-Year Writing Seminars are strictly capped; no over-enrollments are permitted. Seminars could fill to capacity very quickly after the pre-enrollment window opens for freshmen on July 22.  

Therefore, the Knight Institute recommends that you plan accordingly, taking your entire schedule into account.   

The Knight Institute will not oversee the FWS enrollment process, so we urge you to consult with your college’s Advising/Student Services Office or the University Registrar for guidance on registration.

Fa24 First-Year Writing Seminar Offerings (printable) (Coming in July)

Fa24 First-Year Writing Seminar Offerings (Searchable) (Coming in July)

Here is our advice about FWS enrollment:

  1. Incoming First-year students: If your FWS selection is a high priority for you, be ready to seek it immediately when your enrollment window opens at 12:00 pm on July 22, following the process set by the Office of the University Registrar.
  1. We further recommend that you prepare a prioritized list of several FWSs that fit in open time slots in your schedule, in case your top preference(s) have filled already.  You will not want to waste time returning to the course roster to ponder alternatives, since these too may be filling up meanwhile.
  1. You may not create any time-conflict or overlap between your FWS and any other classes on your schedule.  You may not create an “overload” beyond the credit limit set by your college.  You may not enroll in more than one First-Year Writing Seminar. Once the incoming first-year enrollment period ends on July 25, at 4:00 pm, you cannot drop or change until 9:00 am on August 23 at the earliest.
  1. Once a First-Year Writing Seminar is filled to capacity, it is unalterably closed until at least the opening of the Add-Drop process; even then, it would become “open” only if one or more enrolled students were to drop it.  Please do not contact your college registrar, who has no power to lift the enrollment cap.   Please do not contact the instructor, who has no control over enrollments.  There are no waiting lists for First-Year Writing Seminars, no “shopping,” and no forms to sign or stamp. Add-Drop for FWSs takes place electronically only, via Student Center.  See item #6 below.
  2. Add-Drop for first-year students and sophomores begins at 9:00 am on August 23: this will be the first opportunity for first-year students to change their FWS enrollment and for sophomore students to enroll. This process is subject to the constraints explained above: students can only add a seminar that has open spots in it (i.e., an enrollment below the designated cap).   Please be aware that at this point capacity and choice will be limited. 
  3. Add-Drop process for First-Year Writing Seminars: To see the list of seminars that retain open spots after pre-enrollment, follow the below instructions.
    1. Log in to Student Center.
    2. Click “Search for Classes,”
    3. Click “Additional Search Criteria.” 
    4.  In the “Session” field, choose “FWS Session.”

      This will show you the list of open seminars.  Once the Add-Drop window opens on August 23, you may make changes from here.  Remember that the list of open seminars can change as students drop and add, so you should check frequently.  Please be aware that at this point capacity and choice will be limited.  See #4 above.

FWS Writing Consultation

Because Cornell’s writing seminars may expect a greater range of writing abilities than many students have exposure to in high school, the Knight Institute offers a FWS Writing Consultation to give students an opportunity to discover how well current writing skills fit into what Cornell expects.

Learn more about writing the FWS Writing Consultation on the Writing Workshop page.

AP & Transfer Credit

All students who score 5 on the Princeton Advanced Placement Examination in English receive 3 credits. Such credits are awarded automatically; no application to the John S. Knight Institute or the Department of Literatures in English is necessary. How these credits may be applied to first-year writing or other distribution requirements depends on the student’s college and score. All students who score 5, except Architecture majors, may apply their 3 credits toward the writing requirements of their college. Students should always consult their college registrars to be certain that they understand their writing requirements.

To have a course taken at another institution considered for possible acceptance as equivalent to a First-Year Writing Seminar, students must provide evidence that the course was offered on a college campus as part of its normal curriculum and that the work done was comparable to that in a First-Year Writing Seminar (see the guidelines above: it is not sufficient to write, say, one 30-page term paper). Courses not taken in the academic year must be at least six weeks long. Students must earn a B+ or better in the course. To request writing credit for courses taken elsewhere, students must submit, to Amanda Munson (, an "Application for Transfer Evaluation" and a detailed syllabus from the class you are requesting credit. Because course descriptions can be misleading and courses may change, the Institute cannot certify a course as equivalent before the student completes it.

FWS Substitutions

In unusual situations, students beyond their first year may petition the Knight Institute to have courses taken at Cornell other than First-Year Writing Seminars fulfill the various freshman writing requirements in effect at the University. The Institute advises students about these courses on request. To request writing credit for such courses, students must submit to Amanda Munson (, the "Petition for Course Substitution." Petitions must be filed before such courses are actually taken. Requests for course substitution credit will NOT be approved after a course has been taken. Additionally, courses offered in the three-week sessions (January/June) may not be used for Course Substitution.

Medical, Dental, Grad School Letters

The Knight Institute will provide you with a letter (you make copies) stating that a First-Year Writing Seminar taken at Cornell is the equivalent of a semester of English composition. Usually, this is all a graduate school needs in addition to your transcript; a syllabus from the course is usually not necessary.

Click here to submit the form requesting a letter to this effect.