Do First-Year Seminars Improve College Grades and Retention? A Quantitative Review of their overall Effectiveness and an Examination of Moderators of Effectiveness


We review the effectiveness of first-year seminars based on the widely used criteria of first-year grades and the 1-year retention rate. Meta-analytic results indicate that first-year seminars have a small average effect on both first-year grades (k = 89, N = 52,406, σ = 0.02) and the 1-year retention rate (k = 195, N = 169,666, σ = 0.11). We discuss the implications of these small effects and show that they are meaningful and have important consequences. Results also indicate that the effectiveness of first-year seminars for both criteria is substantially moderated by first-year seminar characteristics (e.g., type of seminar), institutional characteristics (e.g., 2-year or 4-year institution), and study characteristics (e.g., study design). We use these results to make recommendations about the design of first-year seminars that can maximize the positive effect on both the grades and retention of participants.


Psychological Science

Keywords and Phrases

Academic Performance; Effectiveness; First-Year Seminar; GPA; Meta-Analysis; Orientation Program; Retention

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

0034-6543; 1935-1046

Document Type

Article - Journal

Document Version


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© 2016 American Educational Research Association (AERA), All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 Mar 2016