The First Year: Exploring and Taking Intellectual Risks

During their first year on the Hill, students broaden their horizons and learn to balance their lives as they explore different disciplines and experience multiple facets of college life.


Key Dates for First-Year Students

Thurs., Aug. 27: Fall semester begins

Fri., Sept. 4: Last day to add a course

Wed., Oct. 21: Last day to drop a course

Early Nov.: Meet to discuss registration for spring classes 2016

Tues., Jan. 19: Spring semester begins

Wed., Jan. 27: Last day to add a course

Early March: Apply for summer research grant or internship funding

Fri., March 11: Last day to drop a course

Early April: Meet to discuss registration for fall 2016

Sun., May 1: Financial aid deadline

Mon., May 9: Classes end

May 11-15: Final Exams


Get to know your advisor

Your academic advisor can be an invaluable resource for information to help you make informed and responsible choices as you navigate your way through Hamilton's system. With time and experience you may develop other relationships that can offer different perspectives, but for your first years at Hamilton your relationship with your academic advisor will serve as your central resource for your academic planning. Hamilton expects you to take initiative to seek out advice and responsibility for your educational plans.

Here are some responsibilities you have when meeting with your advisor:

  • To make responsible, informed decisions about the course of your intellectual development
  • To craft an educational plan that reflects your particular interests and abilities and the College’s purposes and goals
  • To balance the freedom of an open curriculum and the breadth of a liberal arts education
  • To reevaluate your plan and be open to its natural evolution over time as your experiences and interests both broaden and come into focus

Understand Hamilton’s purposes and goals

The College has developed a set of purposes and goals which will help guide you through your liberal arts education. You will work with your advisors to craft an educational plan that fulfills the College’s purposes and goals via a broad-based liberal arts education and also meets your individual interests and goals.

You may find it helpful to use this academic planning worksheet when you work with your advisor to understand how your educational plan addressed the College's purposes and goals.

Review guidelines for getting started in a particular discipline

Knowing where to begin your studies within a field can be overwhelming, especially when you are new to an institution. We have developed a quick guide that provides advice on the entry-level courses within a field of study. If you have multiple interests, that's great! You may also find it helpful to meet with a preprofessional advisor for assistance with long-term planning.

Craft an educational plan

Resist the temptation to focus your studies in just a few areas during your first year. Challenge yourself to take advantage of the opportunities to learn new things and understand different perspectives. Take some intellectual risks by taking a course outside of your "comfort zone."

Explore off-campus study

More than half of Hamilton students explore different cultures and take on new intellectual challenges by studying for a semester or a year away from campus. Hamilton sponsors or is affiliated with study abroad programs in China, France, Spain and India.

Students may also select from more than 100 programs throughout the world. Hamilton's programs in the AdirondacksNew York City, Washington, D.C., and at the New England Center for Children in Boston provide students with opportunities to combine rigorous academic preparation with practical experience.  

Talk with your academic advisor and with the off-campus study advisor to be sure that your plans to study away are integrated with your educational goals. You will also want to confirm that you have met the requirements necessary to study off campus and that you declare your leave of absence at the appropriate time.

Return to Top


Transitioning to College Level Work: Consider taking a course designed with first-year college students in mind.

Because one size does not fit all with respect to education, Hamilton offers a range of courses dedicated to first-year students to help them transition to college level work. While all these courses devote attention to the academic acculturation of new college students, they vary in their approach and the type of engagement. Hamilton offers four types of courses exclusively for first-year students.

Introductory Courses exclusive to first-year students

Introductory courses to a discipline are often restricted to first-year students. These classes vary in size, but because the courses enroll just first-year students, faculty members develop a curriculum that will ease students into the academic demands of college so they can recalibrate their expectations.

First-Year Course (FYC) Program

First-Year Courses (FYCs) are available across a range of disciplines and are specifically designed for the first-year student. These small classes are available only to first year students and are highly recommended, though not required. Each section blends a unique disciplinary focus with a detailed introduction to the expectations of the college classroom. First-Year Courses are designed to sharpen a range of skills including research, writing, oral communication, and quantitative and symbolic reasoning skills, and thus lay the groundwork for success both at Hamilton College and beyond.

FYCs with experiential learning

The Leadership Experience and Preparation (LEAP) First-Year Course incorporates a weekly out of class experiential learning component of approximately 2-3 hours for the students in addition to class meeting times. The experiential component will focus on developing leadership skills with Levitt Center student mentors.

FYCs with a residential component

There are also FYCs that extend academic life beyond the classroom by having students in these courses housed in the same residence hall. Students who participate in the Residential Engagement in Academic Life (REAL) program live and learn in the same courses and residence halls. In addition, the faculty member teaching their FYC will be their academic advisor. This residential program blurs the line of where learning traditionally takes place and provides a natural support system of peers outside of the classroom as they navigate their first year together.

Consult with the First Year Experience Librarian

Hamilton's First Year Experience Librarian, Alexandra Rihm, is available to provide research assistance to first year students, and support their understanding of information resources, skills, and concepts.  If you need assistance with research papers and projects, contact Alex directly at arihm@hamilton.edu.

Study New Areas

You will have the opportunity to explore exciting new intellectual possibilities, many of them interdisciplinary in nature. Interdisciplinary courses draw on the knowledge and techniques of two or more academic fields to explore a particular topic. We highlight and briefly explain them in the links below to make sure you don’t miss these areas that are probably new to you.

For those of you with a particularly strong creative streak, there is also an option of creating your own interdisciplinary concentration with the guidance of appropriate faculty.

Foreign Language Study

The following guidelines have been established by language departments for all language study, and they are particularly useful for students contemplating studying abroad.

  • If a student has had a language in high school which he or she plans to continue studying at Hamilton, it is better to take a course in the language in the first semester of the first year. Students deferring language instruction would be better served if they reduced to a minimum the "hiatus" in their language studies.
  • While many students find even a brief exposure to language study beneficial, students wishing to attain proficiency in a language should be encouraged to take the language at least through the end of the basic four or six semester sequence.
  • Students who think that they might concentrate in one or more languages should start their study as early as possible at Hamilton. 
  • It is best not to start two new languages simultaneously.
  • Students derive maximum benefit from at least two consecutive semesters of language instruction at the college level. They should, therefore, be discouraged from dropping a language after only one semester.
  • Although students' long-term plans are never entirely clear at the outset of their undergraduate years, they should be advised that there is invariably a language requirement in graduate school. If a student has any intention of pursuing graduate work after Hamilton, he or she would be well advised to do some language training while at Hamilton so as not to have to begin it afresh four years after high school.

Performance Opportunities

There are a number of faculty-organized musical and theatre opportunities to develop your musical and dramatic performance skills. For student-run performance groups, like a cappella, explore Student Life.

Pursue Research and Career-Related Experiences

Although you are just beginning your time at Hamilton, it is not too soon to begin thinking about the connections between your education and your life after college. The Career Center works closely with students as early as their first year to help identify opportunities for career exploration and development. By engaging early, you will have time to explore your passions and consider how your liberal arts education will ready you for a satisfying and productive life after Hamilton.

Each summer, Hamilton provides 140 stipends for students to conduct research and more than 70 stipends for students to pursue unpaid internships.

  • Engage with the Career Center to begin your search for career-related experiences and learn how to market yourself
  • Visit HamNet to complete your career interest profile and to view upcoming programs and on-campus and off-campus jobs and internships

Learn Through Experience

Hamilton’s academic departments and centers sponsor a growing number of community-based programs that provide opportunities for students to put into practice what they’ve learned in class.

Engage in the Community and Become a Leader

Each year, Hamilton’s campus hosts approximately 1,000 concerts, lectures, sporting contests, comedians, blood drives, poetry readings, workshops, debates, worship services, films, gallery openings, coffeehouses, volunteer activities, etc. There are more than 200 community service, cultural, musical, athletic, political, social, recreational and religious groups on campus. These include 29 varsity teams, 12 club sports and a multitude of intramural and recreational offerings.

Hamilton offers many formal and informal opportunities for students to learn to take initiative; make informed, responsible and ethical decisions; and successfully organize and collaborate with others on shared projects and goals.

Return to Top

Preparing for Future Years

Review requirements for concentrations

In February of your sophomore year you will declare your concentration. How can you best equip yourself for this decision? Because students' interests evolve over time with their academic experiences it is important to look broadly at the curriculum. Reflect on what your interests and goals are and how they may have shifted with the coursework you have taken in your first year. Continue to explore new areas in your sophomore year; students are often drawn to a topic they stumble upon in their second year. It's often useful to have a sense of what concentration requirements are for a range of disciplines. Explore the various areas of study available at Hamilton.

Return to Top