Questions Frequently Asked By Families

In early June, incoming first-year students receive the first of two emails from the College Office. In this email, they will be given a link to Compass, the primary guide for incoming students throughout the summer. Parents are welcome to view Compass as well, though students will use their PennKey to log in for specific activities.

A second email from the College Office in mid-June will provide contact information for peer and pre-major advisors and remind students to follow the Compass course for important actions and deadlines including:

  • Complete the Advising Questionnaire: Students will find a link to this questionnaire in Compass. The questionnaire helps pre-major advisors understand the students' interests and goals in preparation for their summer advising conversation.
  • Meet with the Pre-Major Advisor: After moving through Compass and completing the Advising Questionnaire, students must have an substantive conversation with their pre-major advisors in preparation for Advance Registration. Students cannot register for courses without viewing the videos, completing the questionnaire and having this conversation with their pre-major advisor.
  • Request courses during the Advance Registration.

First-years should come to campus in the fall with a selection of courses in place, even though that selection may be tentative. First-year students work with their pre-major advisor during the summer to determine an initial course schedule during Advance Registration. Upon arrival on campus, students meet with advisors in person, have an opportunity to discuss educational goals and course selection and, if appropriate, make adjustments in their fall schedule.

Students should take courses to satisfy the General Education Requirements during their first few semesters, but these courses should be ones in which there is genuine interest, and should include a course or two in areas of a potential major. Most students spread their requirements over all four years of study and, in so doing, explore more advanced topics in a variety of academic disciplines. The Foreign Language Requirement can be fulfilled by continuing with the same language(s) studied in high school, or by developing proficiency in a new language. If students have not placed out of the Foreign Language requirement upon matriculation or are considering study abroad in a country where English is not the native language, they are encouraged to enroll in a language course in their first semester. Students should also try to take a writing seminar to satisfy the Writing Requirement during their first year.

Students needing help with a course should first go to the teaching assistant or the instructor. In addition, a wide variety of academic support programs are available on campus. Several departments offer special help sessions for introductory-level courses, and in many cases teaching assistants are assigned to work with students, either individually or in small groups. The Weingarten Center provides individual tutoring, exam review workshops, and professional instruction focusing on reading, critical thinking, studying and time management.

The Critical Writing Program is designed to provide students with several avenues for developing their writing skills. Students can work on their writing with senior tutors at The Marks Family Writing Center. Senior tutors are advanced graduate students trained to offer constructive criticism across the disciplines. Students can also get feedback on their writing assignments and papers from peer tutors, advanced undergraduates who have been extensively trained in peer review and writing strategies. Peer tutors also provide 24-hour online help with writing.

Students may drop a course any time before the end of the sixth week of the semester without creating a permanent record of having been in the course. They can do so through Path@Penn. After the sixth week of classes, and up to the end of the eleventh week, students may, with the permission of the instructor, withdraw from a class. The grade point average will not be affected, but a W will appear on the transcript. One or two withdrawals during a college career are acceptable, but students should avoid a pattern. In any event, students should always consult with an advisor before dropping or withdrawing below 3 c.u., as this may affect athletic eligibility, financial aid or visa status for international students.

A student who decides to major in two different departments within the College—History and English, for example, or Biology and Philosophy—is completing a double major. A student who is fulfilling the requirements of two different schools within the University—the College and the Wharton School, for example, or the College and the School of Engineering—is completing a dual degree program. Students must apply for the dual degree program.

Students are expected to declare a major before the Advance Registration period in the spring semester (late March to early April) of their sophomore year. The procedure involves gathering information about the major(s) under consideration, meeting with the pre-major advisor to discuss their plans, then meeting with the undergraduate chair or other departmental representative to discuss plans and declare the major.

In setting the academic calendar for each year, the University tries to avoid obvious conflicts with any holidays (such as New Year’s Day, Juneteenth, July 4th, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas) that involve most University students, faculty and staff. For other holidays affecting large numbers of University community members, no examinations may be given and no assigned work may be required on these days. (For more details see the University's policy on secular and religious holidays.)

After matriculation at Penn, students may take up to five course units at another college or university and transfer them back to Penn as credit away. Such courses must be taken in a four-year institution (not a community or junior college), and acceptance of the credit is subject to the prior approval by the appropriate Penn department through XCAT.

Many Penn students choose to study abroad for one or two semesters after their sophomore year and the University offers study abroad programs on virtually every continent. These approved programs have been carefully evaluated and offer academic work of very high quality. Considerable Penn faculty and staff time is involved in coordinating these programs, counseling students prior to their participation and interacting with students while they are abroad; consequently normal Penn tuition is charged. Upon their return, students receive credit as though they were in residence at Penn, their grades are tabulated into the Penn g.p.a. and their work appears in the body of the Penn transcript. Students on financial aid who participate in these Penn-approved programs continue to receive aid during their participation.

Students may request a leave of absence for one year, with extensions given in special circumstances. Students considering a leave should consult with an advisor in the College Office, 120 Cohen Hall (215.898.6341) who can provide guidance and information about the process.

The College Graduation Ceremony is for students graduating from the College of Arts and Sciences. Families are invited to attend. Each College student will cross the stage as their name is read. The University Commencement is for all students graduating from all of the undergraduate divisions, as well as from the various graduate and professional schools. Families and guests are encouraged to attend. The College Graduation Ceremony generally occurs the evening before University Commencement.

University policy regarding confidentiality of student records reflects current interpretations of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 and amendments thereto. This policy allows a student to inspect, review and obtain copies of records (including grades) that are directly related to the student but prevents the University from divulging such records to anyone other than the student (including members of the student’s family) without the student’s permission. We encourage students and their families to talk openly about this matter. All incoming students should adjust their profile in Path@Penn to indicate what information, if any, may be divulged and to whom.

The total number of course units required for graduation varies, depending on the number of credits required in the major. Major requirements range from 12 to 20 c.u. and credits for graduation range from 32 to 36 c.u. Students take 4 to 4.5 c.u. in their first semester; after that the normal load is 4 or 5 c.u. per semester.

Although students do not have classes on Saturday and Sunday, these are important days in their lives at Penn. They are not only the time when many key social events occur, but they are also a time when students do reading, homework and paper writing for their classes. For this reason we strongly encourage students to remain on campus over the weekend. Even students who live close enough to go home for the weekend are often better served by staying on campus.

If a student has difficulty in a class or questions a grade, they should discuss this with the instructor. Students who feel the need for outside advice should consult with their academic advisor. It is sometimes tempting for family members to want to intervene on behalf of the student. However, we strongly encourage students to attempt to resolve any academic difficulty themselves by talking with the instructor and obtaining the guidance of their academic advisor. Developing the skills to negotiate appropriately with faculty and staff is an important part of the student’s maturation process as an undergraduate.

Some professors and departments are very strict about class attendance; others do not consider it part of the grading system. If the instructor determines a student has an excessive number of absences, the student’s final grade may be lowered. Some departments, the foreign languages in particular, have very precise rules for attendance.

If a student must miss five days or less of class at any point during the semester, they should notify the instructor as soon as possible using the Course Action Notice system. It is the student’s responsibility to find out what work was missed and to catch up as quickly as possible. Athletes are responsible for making up any work missed because of athletic obligations.

If a student misses or anticipates missing more than five days of classes, they should contact the College’s CaseNet group as soon as possible.

Students should check Path@Penn before the end of the Course Selection period and before the end of the Drop period each semester to verify their schedule. Failure to attend a class for which one is registered does not result in being automatically dropped from the class.