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College of Arts & Sciences
First-Year English


High School Teachers

High school English teachers play an essential role in preparing students for the reading and writing tasks they’ll encounter in college—especially in first-year English. Each year, we receive many emails and calls from teachers eager to ensure that their junior- and senior-level students are ready for English 101 and 102. Below is a list of answers to frequently asked questions.  We hope that this information will help you prepare your students for the kind of work they’ll be doing at USC; if you have other questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us. 


Q. Do my AP students need to take English 101 and 102 at USC?

A. It depends. While some students earn sufficient 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, contact the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

Q. What kinds of topics do English 101 and 102 cover?  

A. Both English 101 and English 102 are designed to prepare students for the academic and public writing they will do in college and beyond.  In English 101, students analyze literary, nonfiction, and multimedia texts from a variety of critical approaches, and they 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, to critically analyze arguments, 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.

 Q. What are First-Year English classes like?  Is the class dynamic similar that I've pursued in my high school classes? 

A. We limit our English 101 and 102 classes to fewer than 25 students, so that students get plenty of individual feedback on their writing and plenty of opportunities to interact with classmates. While most instructors give some lectures, First-Year English courses are designed to engage students in frequent class discussion, small-group exercises, and writing workshops. 

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 can 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 First-Year English instructors expect from their students?  Do I need to ensure my students have perfectly polished grammatical skills?

A. Instructors expect 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 papers carefully. As a part of this process, First-Year English realizes that our job is to help our students acquire the thinking, research, revision, and editing habit that it takes to get to this final product of sophisticated, articulate, and well-researched prose.  For this reason, our classes use a portfolio grading model. This means that our students 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, regardless of their previous writing skills.  Further, as instructors draw on a diverse group of textbooks, no expertise in any literary genre or canon is presumed for First-Year English courses.

Q.  Do I need to make sure my students are familiar with certain literary works?

A.  Since our instructors select readings from a diverse list of approved textbooks, students should expect to encounter a wide variety of materials—ranging from canonical literary works to nonfiction, pop culture, and multimedia pieces.  Although students who read broadly and write regularly are likely to do well in English 101 and 102, we do not expect them to have prior familiarity with any particular authors or works.

Q. What kinds of assignments do students do in First-Year English? Will students write five-paragraph themes?

A. The papers students write in English 101 and 102 dobuild on the skills developed in high school, of which the five-paragraph theme is a useful example.  Nevertheless,  First-Year English paper assignments  typically encompass a wider variety of genres, draw on a wider variety of reading and research, and focus more on critical argumentation than some of the papers students have written in the past.  While the ability to construct a five-paragraph theme may be useful in some of these assignments, the majority will require different, often more complex, patterns of organization. Here’s a sampling of some recent student projects written for English 101: a comparative analysis contrasting different literary retellings of Cinderella, a “close reading” analysis of a passage from a Harry Potter novel, and an essay applying ideas from an article on visual theory to a photograph by Dorothea Lange.  Recent papers written in English 102 include a collaborative wiki reviewing recent research on the ecological consequences of whaling, a rhetorical analysis of a political cartoon by Banksy, a research paper exploring arguments for and against lowering the legal drinking age, and a multimedia presentation evaluating local resources for the homeless.

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

A. Writing, like any complex skill, improves with practice.  For this reason, First-Year English instructors ask all students to write frequently, and a portion of the course grade is based on these daily assignments—quizzes, freewriting exercises, reading responses, topic proposals, group activities, and the like.  However, the majority of the course grade is determined by the quality of the four major essays written 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 also receive feedback from 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 rate English 101 and 102 as among their favorite first-year courses (they also say that it’s one of the most challenging).  The small class size 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.

Q. How can I find out more about English 101 and 102 at USC? 

A.  We encourage high school teachers in South Carolina to visit—come and sit in on one of our classes!  There’s no better way to acquaint yourself with the kind of work we ask of our students, and no better way to be informed about how best to empower and prepare your students for the writing they’ll do if they come to USC.


First-Year English administrators are also happy to schedule a visit to your school, to talk with teachers or with prospective USC students about our program.  To request a visit, please contact the First-Year English office at 777-2137 or email Chris Holcomb.