All first-year students enroll in a tutorial, a one-semester, four-credit course - one of three or four courses taken during the fall semester and the only required course at Grinnell College outside of the requirements to complete a major. Each year, faculty members - including senior professors - from all academic departments offer tutorials in more than 35 topics. Every tutorial emphasizes writing, critical thinking and analysis, and oral presentation and discussion skills. Tutorial is also the only class with an entertainment budget, which is meant to encourage faculty and students to get to know each other outside of the classroom.
The tutorial professors also serve as the advisers to their tutorial students until they declare a major field of study. They offer guidance with personal knowledge of their students' academic interests, aptitudes, and needs. This close student-adviser relationship has been the basis of Grinnell's academic advising system for more than 40 years.
The tutorial is usually limited to 12 students, making it smaller than the average class, though similar in intensity to the rest of the curriculum. In fact, the average class size is 17, and more than 90% of classes have fewer than 30 students. Many students also choose to conduct independent research for credit or take an independent study.