By taking courses in a variety of disciplines and incorporating a range of skill sets, you will be prepared to engage in complex thinking and to develop an area of specialization. This combination of depth and breadth of study is the hallmark of Penn's liberal arts education.
As a student and a scholar, it’s your duty to be curious about everything, so nothing should be off-limits.
The General Education component of the Curriculum is comprised of two elements. Foundational Approaches develop key intellectual capabilities demanded in a variety of disciplines, while Sectors of Knowledge allow you to tailor your own education in the arts and sciences while gaining valuable knowledge across a broad range of disciplines
Writing is the primary medium through which the quality of a student's intellectual work will be judged. The ability to express oneself clearly and persuasively in writing is fundamental for success across all academic disciplines, and throughout one's personal and professional life.
For these reasons, writing plays a central role within the College curriculum. Students must take a writing seminar to fulfill the College's Writing Requirement. It is recommended that students take this course during their first year of study. Students are also encouraged to continue development of their writing skills by participating in Penn's writing programs.
Competence in a foreign language is essential for an educated person. Participation in the global community is predicated on the ability to understand and appreciate cultural difference, and nothing brings this more sharply into focus than the experience of learning a foreign language. The foreign language not only affords unique access to a different culture and its ways of life and thought; it also increases awareness of one's own language and culture. For this reason, College students are required to attain a certain degree of competency.
While students often opt to satisfy the Language Requirement by continuing to study the language that they have already begun in high school or earlier, the wealth of languages that the University offers is such that many students decide to explore a new culture and area of our globe by beginning a foreign language that they have never studied before. French, Spanish, and a few other languages are taught at the pre-collegiate level, but students are less likely to have been exposed to Arabic, Hindi or Japanese—let alone Uzbek or Hausa—and each of these languages is a mode of access to a fascinating culture and history.
In contemporary society, citizenship, work and personal decision-making all require sophisticated thinking about quantitative evidence.
Students in the College must complete a course that uses mathematical or statistical analysis of quantitative data as an important method for understanding another subject. Through such study, students learn to think critically about quantitative data and the inferences that can be drawn from these data. They also gain experience with the use of quantitative analysis to interpret empirical data and to test hypotheses.
Courses in calculus and computer science do not fulfill the requirement because these courses do not require students to analyze actual data sets with the goal of evaluating hypotheses or interpreting results. To count toward the Quantitative Data Analysis Requirement, a course must include such data analysis.
In contrast to Quantitative Data Analysis courses, which deal with inductive reasoning, courses designated for this requirement focus on deductive reasoning and the formal structure of human thought, including its linguistic, logical and mathematical constituents. These courses emphasize mathematical and logical thinking and reasoning about formal structures and their application to the investigation of real-world phenomena. In addition to courses in mathematics, this requirement includes courses in computer science, formal linguistics, symbolic logic and decision theory.
In our increasingly interconnected world, the Cross-Cultural Analysis Requirement aims to increase students' knowledge and understanding of socio-cultural systems outside the United States.
College students are required to take at least one course to develop their ability to understand and interpret the cultures of peoples with histories different from their own. The focus may be on the past or the present and it should expose students to distinctive sets of values, attitudes and methods of organizing experience that may not be obtained from American cultures. This exposure to the internal dynamic of another society should lead students to understand the values and practices that define their own cultural framework.
The Cultural Diversity in the U.S. Requirement complements the Cross-Cultural Analysis Requirement and aims to develop students’ knowledge of the history, dynamic cultural systems and heterogeneous populations that make up the national culture of the United States.
College students are required to take at least one course to develop the skills necessary for understanding the population and culture of the United States as it becomes increasingly diverse. Through historical inquiry, the study of cultural expressions and the analysis of social data, students will develop their ability to examine issues of diversity with a focus on race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class and religion. The goal is to equip graduates with the ability to become perceptive and engaged members of society.
Sectors of Knowledge
This sector focuses on the structure and norms of contemporary human society, including their psychological and cultural dimensions.
Courses in this sector use many analytical techniques that have been developed to study contemporary society, with its complex relations between individuals and larger forms of mass participation. Some Society courses are largely devoted to the analysis of aggregate forms of human behavior (encounters, markets, civil society, nations, supranational organizations, and so on), while others may focus on the relations between individuals and their various societies. While historical materials may be studied, the primary objective of Society courses is to enable students to develop concepts and principles, test theories, and perfect tools that can be used to interpret, explain and evaluate the behavior of human beings in contemporary societies. This objective will be realized through the specific content of the various courses, but the emphasis in each course should be on developing in students a general capacity for social analysis and understanding.
This sector focuses on studies of continuity and change in human thought, belief and action.
Understanding both ancient and modern civilizations provides students with an essential perspective on contemporary life. Courses in this sector examine the histories of diverse civilizations, their cultures and forms of expression, their formal and informal belief systems and ideologies, and the record of their human actors. Students should learn to interpret primary sources, identify and discuss their core intellectual issues, understand the social contexts in which these sources were created, pose questions about their validity and ability to represent broader perspectives and utilize them when writing persuasive essays.
This sector encompasses the means and meaning of visual arts, literature and music, together with the criticism surrounding them.
Most courses in this sector are concerned with works of creativity—paintings, films, poetry, fiction, theatre, dance and music. They generally address a considerable breadth of material rather than an individual work or artist. The objective of Arts and Letters courses is to confront students with works of creativity; cultivate their powers of perception (visual, textual, auditory); and equip them with tools for analysis, interpretation and criticism. This objective will be realized through the specific content of the various courses, but the emphasis in each course should be on developing and strengthening in students a general capacity for understanding meaning and the ways in which it is achieved in its distinctive environment of culture and moment.
This sector comprises courses that combine methods and approaches at work in at least two of the first three sectors.
Students will engage with diverse approaches to society, history, tradition and the arts more deeply than a single course from each domain can allow. Greater depth of experience is gained by bringing to bear several humanistic and social scientific perspectives upon a single issue or topic or by engaging directly in academically-based service or performance informed by these perspectives.
In this sector, students seek to broaden their perspective by taking a course in the humanities or social sciences that has been approved as a general education course but that cuts across two or more of sectors I, II, and III. Some courses approved for this sector will seek a more integrative approach by addressing a problem or topic from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Others will combine disciplinary study with community service or activism, and constructively and reflectively connect the theoretical with the actual. Finally, some courses in the arts that combine creative or performance experience with reflection and grounding within a discipline may be found in this sector.
This sector deals substantively with the evolution, development, structure and/or function of living systems.
Courses in this sector study the variety of approaches that are useful in understanding the diversity of living organisms, their interrelatedness, and their interactions with their environment. Analytical approaches employed range from analyses at the molecular and cellular level, to analyses of the cognitive and neural bases of behavior, to analyses of evolutionary processes and ecological systems. Students learn the methods used by contemporary natural science to study these topics, including ways in which hypotheses are developed, tested, and reformulated in light of new research findings. A full understanding of living organisms incorporates insights from approaches at many different levels.
This sector focuses on the methodology and concepts of physical science.
Courses in this sector aim to provide insight into the content and workings of modern physical science. Some courses in this sector are part of a major, while others are designed primarily to provide an introduction to the field for non-science majors. Courses for non-science majors may include some discussion of the historical development of the subject as well as the most important conceptual notions and their mathematical expressions. All courses in this sector seek to demonstrate the generally accepted paradigm of modern science: experiment and observation suggest mathematically formulated theories, which are then tested by comparison with new experiments and observations.
All courses in this sector use a significant mathematical prerequisite (advanced high school algebra through introductory calculus) - that is, students will actually be expected to use mathematical methods and concepts to achieve an understanding of subjects in physical science.
Students will engage with diverse perspectives generated by applying the principles of the natural sciences to broader applications. Courses in this sector emphasize the interrelationships and synergies gained from bringing together different perspectives in the form of: 1) two or more distinctive scientific disciplines (not just one discipline applied to a topic from another scientific field), 2) natural science and mathematics, or 3) natural science and societal issues.
The sector includes some intermediate and advanced courses that may be of special interest to STEM majors.