First Term Seminar

The First-Term Seminar (FTS) is a specially designed one-semester course for all first-year students other than those enrolling in Curriculum II. The First-Term Seminar introduces first-year students to a liberal arts education, which the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) defines as "a philosophy of education that empowers individuals with broad knowledge and transferable skills, and that cultivates social responsibility and a strong sense of ethics and values."

By providing this introduction to a liberal arts education, the First-Term Seminar plays a crucial role in Gustavus Adolphus College's mission "to help its students attain their full potential as persons, to develop in them a capacity and passion for lifelong learning, and to prepare them for fulfilling lives of leadership and service in society."

In a small, highly interactive class with a focus on "values," students will work with a full-time faculty member to develop the skills essential to academic and civic life: critical thinking, oral communication, and writing. The faculty member teaching the First-Term Seminar will also serve as the students' advisor, helping students plan their liberal arts education and introducing them to campus resources.

Courses approved to be First Term Seminars reflect the following philosophy and desired outcomes:

FTS—an Education Centered on "Values"

Put simply, values are what we use, either individually or more broadly as societies, to make decisions that matter. Our values are what we rely on to choose what we consider the proper course through life.

FTS promotes both an empathetic examination of the values of others and the development and articulation of one's own values as part of a liberal arts education that encourages responsible use of knowledge. Indeed, a focus on values permeates the FTS Program, shaping the Program's goals in writing, oral communication, critical thinking, and advising.


The FTS Writing component promotes writing as a creative and critical process in which writers engage with the ideas of others. In FTS, students write to express their own ideas and to inform and communicate with others. Good writers make both stylistic and content-based choices to accommodate different purposes, contexts, and audiences. These rhetorical choices help writers make their cases in the most effective ways possible.


"Invention" is most often associated with the "prewriting" stage, when writers generate ideas, explore topics, and plan strategies; invention activities get writers going.

Focusing on invention will help students learn to: analyze texts, issues, and questions of value; explore their ideas and those of others; practice credible and effective methods of expressing thoughts in writing.


"Arrangement" is most often associated with form or structure. Focusing on arrangement means helping students learn to consider both global and local issues. While working on arrangement, students will make decisions about what belongs in an introduction and a conclusion, about what sorts of arguments will be persuasive at particular points in a paper, and about structure within paragraphs.

Focusing on arrangement will help students learn to: analyze texts in terms of form and structure; create texts that will communicate successfully with readers due to appropriate organization and structure.


Loosely understood to mean that which makes a writer's work unique, "style" involves choices in sentence length and structure, word choice and "voice," and suitability for particular audiences. Since FTS is an interdisciplinary program, students will certainly read texts that are quite varied stylistically. They should be encouraged to vary their own style when they write as well.

Focusing on style will help students learn to: communicate with an audience more effectively; make deliberate choices regarding voice and word choice; understand writing conventions as context-specific; manipulate those conventions to suit various genres, situations, and audiences.

Oral Communication

The FTS Oral Communication component promotes reasoned discourse, creative expression and development of one's own voice in critical interaction with others through both oral presentation and discussion. Effective communicators consider purpose, audience and context when constructing their messages and understanding the messages of others.

Oral Presentation


"Invention" is most often associated with generating ideas, exploring topics, and planning strategies.

Focusing on invention will help students learn to: develop a topic in order to inform or persuade their audience; develop a main point (informative presentation) or central argument/thesis (persuasive presentation); construct the presentation with a particular audience in mind; and gather, evaluate, and integrate appropriate evidence to illustrate and support their main point or central argument/thesis.


"Arrangement" is most often associated with form or structure.

Focusing on arrangement will help students learn to: use an appropriate organizational pattern that supports their central argument or thesis.


"Style/Delivery" is associated with choices regarding language and voice.

Focusing on style/delivery will help students learn to: use language that is appropriate to the topic and audience, including vocabulary that is correct, precise, simple, and unaffected; use vocal pitch, rate, tone, volume, and gestures appropriate to the topic, the audience, and the location.


Invention/Developing Ideas

In this context, "invention" refers to deepening one's understanding of course material and discerning the many different ways to develop ideas through group discussion.

Focusing on invention/developing ideas will help students learn to: provide information; explain an opinion; advocate a particular position; play devil's advocate; synthesize from the ideas of others; summarize the day's discussion.

Arrangement/Advancing Discussion

In this context, "arrangement" refers to discerning how substantive group discussion functions.

Focusing on arrangement/advancing discussion will help students learn to: stay on topic; connect individual comments; actively listen to others in order to create a productive climate for learning.


In this context, "style" refers to developing a capacity to identify the role each of us can play in a substantive group discussion.

Focusing on style/self-monitoring will help students learn to: become responsible participants in classroom discussions through speaking, encouraging others to speak, and listening.

Critical Thinking

The FTS Critical Thinking component promotes a commitment to the application of reason to one's own ideas and those of others, a willingness to consider the perspectives of others, and an awareness of the limits of any given epistemology. These habits of mind, central to the liberal arts, help the individual find a meaningful place in a larger society and form one of the cornerstones of lifelong learning.


Focusing on reasoning will help students learn to: identify the purpose of a text; identify concepts that shape an argument; assess the evidence used to support an argument; present relevant evidence to support their own arguments.

Assumptions and Implications

Focusing on assumptions and implications will help students learn to: identify how contexts and unstated assumptions influence arguments; identify the implications and consequences of arguments.


Focusing on perspective will help students learn to: articulate their own perspective and the influences that shape it; identify and evaluate alternative perspectives.


Focusing on questioning will help students learn to: ask questions of all kinds; find and assess information that answers questions.


FTS professors serve as first-semester advisors and until advisees declare a major or are admitted into a certification program (Athletic Training, Education, Nursing). In this capacity, they work alongside students to plan their liberal arts education and refer them to campus resources to think about possibilities during their four years and beyond. At its best, the advising relationship fosters a climate of campus-wide mentoring.

Developmental Advising

Class Registration

Students will: review first semester course selections prior to the start of the school year; search for classes online and use WebAdvisor to register for January and spring classes; identify back-up course options in case first choices are closed; meet with their advisor for approval prior to registration sessions; and know campus policies, procedures, and deadlines.

General Education and Liberal Arts Perspectives

Students will: read and review degree audits/progress toward degrees; understand liberal arts philosophy and graduation requirements; identify and search for courses by area approvals; know resources for investigating interests and possibilities.

Student Strengths and Academic Difficulty

Students will learn to: advocate for themselves, take ownership for their learning, become responsible and accountable as independent learners, and ultimately become their own best advisors.

Introducing Students to the College

Students will: become familiar with campus resources and out-of-classroom learning opportunities.

Creating a Mentoring Community

Students will learn to: experience Gustavus as a community of learners, a place of open inquiry; take responsibility for connecting their in-class and out-of-class experiences in a holistic way; broaden the definition of who an advisor/mentor is to acknowledge the value of work supervisors, coaches, organization advisors, Student Affairs staff, and others.