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Writing Repository: The First-Year Essay

A guide to faculty and student writing resources.

Writing the First-Year Essay Handout

Writing the First-Year Essay


GATHER: Collect the basics about your coursework, co-curricular work (anything outside of your courses that relates to your studies), and FWT information (if you have done it already) to begin. 

List your areas of study so far: 

List your favorite ideas, things, and/or figures in your studies so far (authors, artists, creators, scientists, historical figures, activists, inventors, movements, organizations, etc.). This list is a good way to gather examples for your 2-6 links in the essay: 

OBSERVE: Fill in these sentences. 

INQUIRY & RESEARCH: I’m curious about or I want to learn more about… 

CREATE AND COMMUNICATE: I want to create/make/examine/test/explore… 

ENGAGE: I have engaged with these people/sources/things/groups… 

CONSIDER: Fill in these sentences. 

I wish to develop my skills in… 

I see parallels and connections between… 

I thought that I understood…, but I discovered that I… 





  • You can begin the essay in a number of ways—with an anecdote, a memory, a fact, an observation, a quote, an idea, or a question. 
  • Your audience is your Faculty Advisor and the Provost and Dean’s office, so the tone can be academic and personal. 
  • You can organize your reflection in several ways: by answering each of the prompts in the Dean’s letter; by discussing your work thematically; by Capacity (engage, inquire, communicate, research, create), or by writing about courses, co-curricular work, and your FWT experience separately. 
  • Do you have a main interest, question, or idea? For example: “My work at Bennington so far has focused on biology, but I’m also drawn to contemporary photography and its representations of the body.” A focus may emerge from a question, a problem, or an enthusiasm, but it’s not necessary at this point! 


  • The body paragraphs are a great place for you to add the 2-6 links to your work. You could link to essays, projects, artworks, videos, collaborations, homework, notes, etc. 
  • Try to address each of the questions in the Dean’s letter. Most importantly, include specifics for each answer: quotes from texts you read; ideas, images, or facts; anecdotes from class discussion; details and evidence from your projects, research, or creations. Communicate to the reader a vivid picture of what your first term and FWT experiences have been like for you. 
  • You can address any of these things: what you have discovered, created, and accomplished so far; the inquiries you have made and the challenges you have encountered; which skills you want to develop; what you wish to learn more about or research; what risks you have taken; what you want to make, test, examine; what you want to engage with more deeply; and, how your Field Work Term and co-curricular work connect to your studies. 


  • • What else do you want to add to reflect upon your experiences thus far? What are you proud of? What personal or academic goals do you have? 
  • • Which classes do you want to pursue in the coming years at Bennington? Are there faculty you want to work with next year? 
  • • How can you end on a powerful note? As in your introduction, you might include an anecdote, a memory, a fact, an observation, a quote, an idea, or a question. 



  • The essay should be 3-5 pages long; it should be double-spaced and include a header with your name, advisor, and a title. It should include 2-6 links to samples of your work. 
  • Make time to write a first draft. Often you will discover your best idea at the end of the first draft. Take that idea or argument, and put it in the first paragraph of your next draft. Then, take time to edit and proofread. 
  • You may visit a Peer Writing Tutor or the professional ELL and Writing Tutor to work on your reflection essay:
  • Share your essay with a friend. One of the best ways to edit your writing is to read it out loud; you will often hear your mistakes and be able to generate ideas to fix them. 
  • Edit generalities like “Since the dawn of time, people have liked to tell stories.” Always use specifics! 
  • If necessary, have you properly cited your quotations and evidence according to the expectations of your disciplines (MLA, APA, or Chicago styles)? 
  • Check your punctuation. Have you accurately used commas, semicolons, quotation marks, colons, dashes, brackets, etc.?