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Pros and cons for the common first year

January 31, 2020

By Erik Allen

If you’re studying a social science at Ontario Tech University, you had a common first year in your program. Opinions are often divided on this. On one hand, some students say that the common first year isn’t interesting since they are in a bunch of courses that fall outside of their interest (i.e. their major). On the other hand, and where I pledge my allegiance to, the common first year sets a scholarly foundation to how the different programs in your faculty connect to one another, and what sets them apart. Here are some pros and cons of the common first year.


You get a wider lens of perspectives

In my first year, I took an introductory course for every program offered in the faculty, plus additional courses that related to the programs. Courses included were Introduction to Communication Studies, Introduction to Criminal Justice, as well as Introductory Sociology. All of these were outside of my original major of Legal Studies. However, I quickly learned how the courses provided perspectives and knowledge that related to societal issues that I would be studying. In fact, now in my third year, I can confidently say that while there are many differences, all the programs study similar issues in society, but the lenses and approaches change.

It’s easier to switch majors

Another reason I think the common first year is awesome is due to costs. It’s no secret that university is both expensive and time consuming. You’re looking at average costs of $7500 a year for four years at least. And that’s just tuition! It’s nothing to brush to the side. When I entered my first year, I was intending on majoring in Legal Studies. Upon taking psychology and political science courses, I came to the conclusion that I would rather be in these subject areas. Instead of having to restart my degree, nine out of my 10 first year courses counted towards my new majors which only put me behind by one course. Much better than having to completely restart at ground zero. Therefore, an embedded advantage that can be observed is that it allows students to explore the different majors in their faculty and decide which area truly interests them. How many people in your life have changed their university major? I would guess a lot. The question isn’t how to stop that; rather, it’s how do we best make that process easier? By allowing students to engage in a common first year, switching majors is a lot less of a
financial and time-consuming burden.

You get to meet people outside of your program

Socially speaking, the common first year introduced me to people from a variety of different backgrounds and interests. I met people from all the different programs which made for interesting conversations and understanding of what drove people to their programs and their future career paths. This was a welcome change coming from college where I mostly just knew people in my own program and didn’t venture outside of that by much.


It lengthens the time it takes to complete program requirements

Of course, there are valid reasons against the common foundational year. One is time and money. While I did mention that there is an advantage in the realm of finances and timeliness, there is also a disadvantage. Theoretically, the common first year could be reworked so that the four-year degree could become three years instead. While this isn’t a guarantee as perhaps not enough courses in year one would be dropped to make room for an entire year off your degree, it does make it possible. 

Common introductory courses take up the slots of advance courses/material

Another upside to getting rid of the common first year is that you could study more advanced courses in your program. With the credit room in your program expanded, this means there is much more room for courses to take up that space that study things that your professors might have said there isn’t enough time or room in the budget for. Alternatively, this could also mean the inclusion of full-year courses. What I mean by that is instead of Introduction to Political Science being in one semester, you would register in Introduction to Political Science I and Introduction to Political Science II. The advantage of this is getting a deeper foundational knowledge in the subject area, and if you were planning on studying political science, you’re at a much better starting point in your major when you start taking more advanced courses.

Final thoughts

Despite these advantages to cutting the common first year, I still don’t believe it’s a good idea. Students benefit from an interdisciplinary education, especially in the social sciences. Having an open mind and being aware of biases is crucial to success in these subject areas, along with your time in the “real world.” While I empathize with the potential of full year courses or more advanced study opportunities, losing out on studying how other disciplines look at the issues you are analyzing is not something one should walk into without some serious deliberation.