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College of Arts & Sciences
First-Year English


As a parent, you are naturally concerned about your student's learning and you’re eager to support their success at USC.  To help you understand  what we do in  First-Year English  and how our courses fit into students’ college education generally, we've provided the following answers to frequently asked questions. 

If we don't answer your question here, please feel free to contact us.

Q. My son/daughter is a strong writer and already wrote quite a few papers in high school. Does she or he need to take ENGL101/102?

A. Probably. While some students use their scores on the AP, IB, or CLEP exams to place out of one or both courses, and some students transfer course credit from another institution, the majority of first-year students take English 101 and/or 102 on our campus. Credit for English 101 and 102, with a grade of “C” or higher, is a graduation requirement for all USC students.  For information about advanced placement, see this page from the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

Q. What will my student learn about in English 101 and 102 at USC?

A. Both English 101 and English 102 are designed to prepare students for the academic and public writing they’ll do in college and beyond.  In English 101, students analyze literary, nonfiction, and multimedia texts from a variety of critical approaches, and write expository and analytical essays in response to these readings.  In English 102, students learn to construct sound and persuasive arguments, to write in a variety of academic genres, analyze texts critically, and to navigate the USC library and other research sources. Depending on the instructor, both courses may also include an introduction to digital media and multimodal composition--crafting persausive arguments in media beyond the traditional written essay.

Q. What are First-Year English classes like? Are they in lecture halls with 200 students? 

A. We limit our English 101 and 102 classes to 25 or fewer students, so that each student can get plenty of individual feedback on their writing and have frequent opportunities to interact with classmates. While most instructors give some lectures, class discussion, small-group exercises, and writing workshops are frequent and regular features of First-Year English classes.

Q. Who teaches English 101 and 102?

A. Our First-Year English classes are taught by faculty and graduate teaching assistants who have received special training in methods of teaching college-level writing. All instructors hold individual conferences with each student at least once during the semester, and they hold weekly office hours so that students may drop by to discuss concerns and questions.  Perhaps because they strive to be available to students, our instructors typically receive very positive student evaluations, and a number of them have won departmental or campus teaching awards.

Q. What do instructors expect? Will they fail students if they make a certain number of grammatical mistakes? Do they assume familiarity with certain literary works? What if my student needs extra help?

A. Our instructors expect their students to take an interest in ideas and texts under consideration and to read class assignments carefully and critically.  They also expect students to produce sophisticated, articulate prose, and to research their papers carefully. Nevertheless, we realize that part of our job is to help our students acquire the thinking, research, revision, and editing habits needed to get to that final product.  For this reason, our classes use a portfolio grading model. This means that students will take each paper through several drafts and receive periodic feedback before submission for a final grade. Students who take this process seriously often see remarkable improvement in their writing over the course of the semester. For students who need extra help, we operate a full-time Writing Center staffed by professional tutors, where students can drop in or make an appointment for one-on-one advice. The Center also offers occasional evening workshops designed especially for English 101 and 102 students.

Q. What kinds of assignments do students complete in First-Year English? Do students write five-paragraph essays like the ones they wrote in high school and on the SAT exam?

A. The papers students write in English 101 and 102 do build on the skills they developed in high school, but college papers typically encompass a wider variety of genres, draw on a wider variety of reading and research, and focus more on critical argumentation than papers students have written in the past. While the ability to construct a five-paragraph theme may be useful in some First-Year English assigments, most will require different, and often significantly more complex, patterns of organization.

Q. How is work graded in English 101 and 102?

A. Writing, like any complex skill, improves with practice. For this reason, instructors ask students to write frequently, and a portion of the course grade will be based on these daily assignments—quizzes, freewriting exercises, reading responses, topic proposals, group activities, and the like. However, the majority of the course grade will be determined by the quality of the four major essays students write in each course. To reinforce careful development, revision, and editing processes, students are required to prepare a topic proposal, draft and other materials before submitting the final version of each essay.  They’ll also receive feedback from their instructor and peers at an early stage and use these suggestions to inform their revisions. 

Q.  Do students enjoy English 101 and 102?

A. Absolutely.  Students frequently rank English 101 and 102 among their favorite first-year courses, though they also say that they’re some of the most challenging. Our small class sizes and emphasis on student-teacher interaction help to build a sense of classroom community, and the skills students learn in class help to prepare them for more advanced coursework.