Incoming college students find it both exciting and challenging to become part of an academic community where critical reading, writing, and thinking are the foundation of intellectual inquiry. The Emily Balch Seminars introduce first-year students to this stimulating environment at Bryn Mawr.
All students are required to take a Balch Seminar in the fall semester of their first year. These seminars help students read texts more closely, engage ideas more critically, and write interpretive essays more cogently.
While books and essays are core texts in the Balch Seminars, all source materials that invite critical interpretation and promote discussion and reflection may be included—films, performances, material objects, research surveys and experiments, or studies of social practices and behavior.
The Balch Seminars are not lectures. Rather, teachers facilitate the seminars as active discussions among students. The seminars are small in size—typically 14 to 15 students per class—to encourage thoughtful participation by students.
The seminars are organized around fundamental questions in contemporary or classical thought that students will inevitably address in their lives, regardless of the majors they elect at Bryn Mawr or the profession or career they pursue after graduating. Seminar topics vary from year to year, and may focus within a particular discipline or encompass multidisciplinary fields of inquiry.
The Balch Seminars involve critical reading of texts, focused classroom discussion of those texts, and idea-driven writing about the issues they raise. Students can expect to write formal and informal assignments weekly during the semester. The feedback students receive from their teachers and peers in class will help them to learn to write clear interpretive essays.
Students also meet one-on-one with their teachers every other week outside of class to discuss their written work and their progress in becoming a critical thinker. Most seminars offer the opportunity to revise written work based on these student-teacher conferences.
Since writing assignments are frequent and keyed directly to reading assignments, students are encouraged to think of their papers as a conversation with the other readers in class and as a dialogue with the texts they are reading together.
In the Balch Seminars, students form a tightly knit, collaborative learning community that will serve as a model for much of their intellectual life at Bryn Mawr, both in and out of the classroom. As a result, students will enrich their educational experience in whatever fields of knowledge they pursue at Bryn Mawr, and be better prepared for a more reflective and critical life in a complex and changing world beyond college.
The more students put into the Balch Seminars—how carefully and thoughtfully they approach their reading, and how actively they engage in discussion with peers—the more they will benefit from this unique experience.