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Department of English Language and Literature


Have a question about first year English? You probably aren't the only one who wants to know! Here are some of our most frequently asked questions.

Frequently Asked Questions

English 101 and 102 fulfill the general education writing requirement, which every undergraduate student at USC must complete in order to graduate. So, yes:  if you haven’t placed out of these courses, you are right where you need to be--in ENGL101 or 102.

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, visit the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

No. We encourage revision, but not recycling. You need to give English 101 and 102 assignments your full attention and effort in order to learn.

There's nothing wrong with getting assistance - we, in fact, encourage peer revision and fully support the work done in the Writing Center. You, however, are responsible for understanding the difference between permissible assistance and collusion or plagiarism, both of which are serious offenses in college and the workplace.

Writing, like any complex skill, improves with practice. For this reason, your instructor will ask 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 your course grade will be determined by the quality of your major essays. To reinforce careful development, revision, and editing processes, your instructor will typically ask you to prepare a topic proposal, draft and other materials before submitting the final version of each essay.  You’ll receive feedback on essay drafts from your instructor and one or more classmates, and you’ll be expected to    use these suggestions to revise and polish the final versions.

Most of our instructors use a portfolio grading model to evaluate students’ major essays in English 101 and 102.  This means that your final essay grades will be based on the revised, final versions.  In other words, you’ll have opportunities to improve each paper through two or more drafts before you submit it for a final grade.

The papers students write in English 101 and 102 do build on the skills you've 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 assignments, most will require different, and often significantly more complex, patterns of organization.

The learning objectives are the same for every section of each First-Year English course, but different professors teach English 101 and 102 differently.  In English 101, some instructors focus on American literature and poetry, others focus on current issues, and others teach longer, more difficult essays written by prominent philosophers and influential figures.  The textbook Beyond Words is more accessible to non-native speakers of English than other textbook options for English 101 because it is not based on American literature and the readings are shorter.  Call the First-Year English office for a list of course sections that use this textbook. 

English 102 focuses on engaging in independent research and constructing well-reasoned arguments.  Instructors of this course are typically comfortable with students choosing topics that are relevant to their backgrounds and interests.  You may wish to choose a research topic that is pertinent in your own country.  By choosing this kind of topic, you will be able to better understand the full impact of the issue you are researching from your culture's perspective.  This will help you to understand the motivations behind the claims articulated in the source materials you choose, which is a key component of the course.  Doing this kind of work with respect to American issues can be difficult without having lived your entire life in the USA.  Discuss this possibility with your instructor early in the course.  While your research should all be from sources written in English, you can look at these projects as opportunities to inform your class about your country and how current issues pertain to your cultural context. 

The Writing Center is also an excellent source for non-native English speakers.


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.

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 you’ll learn in class help to prepare you for more advanced coursework.

As you move through your college career, you'll be glad you've taken these courses.


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