Making the switch from ‘freshman’ to ‘first-year’

February 24, 2022 · 1 min read · By ASU Online
Arizona State University recently began using the term ‘first-year’ in lieu of ‘freshman’ to accurately reflect students’ diversity. Learn more about why the change was made.

Across the country, universities are having conversations about the terms ‘freshman’ and ‘first-year’ and whether the former has become outdated. As an institution whose charter states we’re a university “measured not by whom it excludes but whom it includes,” Arizona State University recognizes the limitations of the word ‘freshman.’

To promote more inclusive practices, ASU now acknowledges new students as ‘first-year’ college students.

“Utilizing the term ‘first-year’ versus ‘freshman’ more accurately reflects the demographics of our student body and provides a more inclusive way of identifying students who are entering the University for the first time,” said Phil Regier, university dean for educational initiatives at ASU Online.


Why switch to ‘first-year’ if it means the same as ‘freshman’?

There are two key reasons for the change:


  • To include students of all ages and backgrounds

Originating in the 1600s, ‘freshman’ essentially means newcomer at a university. When people think of freshmen, they often think of 18-year-old recent high school graduates entering a university. With people of all ages, genders and backgrounds beginning their journey at ASU, the term ‘freshman’ no longer accurately represents this group of learners.

ASU is not the first university to make this switch. Yale and Columbia are just a couple of the other institutions who’ve made the change from ‘freshman’ to ‘first-year’ in an effort to be more inclusive of the student body as a whole. With so many nontraditional students entering ASU and other universities, ‘first-year’ more appropriately describes these incoming learners.


  • To include students of all genders

Although the word ‘freshman’ has been used to describe students of all genders in the past, the term itself is still gender specific. In order to move away from gendered terms, the switch from ‘freshman’ to ‘first-year’ is necessary. The term ‘first-year’ fosters a more inclusive and welcoming learning environment for everyone at ASU.


A university dedicated to inclusion and innovation

“In 2019, our admissions team retired the term freshman and in our processes and communications, referred to all students joining ASU at the start of their college experience as first-year students,” said Matt López, ASU's associate vice president and executive director of admission services. “We were proud to be an early adopter of this nationwide trend and saw the use of the phrase “first-year” as a way to signal to our diverse student population that they will be seen for who they are when they join us at ASU. In our ongoing goal of creating an inclusive university community for campus-based and online students, the words we use matter.”

With over 8,000 first-year students attending ASU Online as of fall 2021, it’s important to create a safe experience for every student. Making the transition from freshman to first-year will help foster a more inclusive learning environment for all and encourage students to get involved. For more information on ways to stay involved, check out ASU Online’s clubs and organizations.

Learn more about ASU’s charter, mission and goals.

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