The arts and sciences (aka the liberal arts) prepare you for life. They comprise the broad intellectual fields of the Humanities, Social Sciences and Natural Sciences and lay a foundation for intellectual inquiry and skills that you can apply NO MATTER what your ultimate goal in life. The shifting knowledge base of most careers has broken the traditional link between certain majors and certain careers. Therefore, it’s important to find something you have a passion for, and will do well in. This path will ultimately lead you to a first job and/or graduate school.
A College Culture with University Resources
In the College of Arts and Sciences, students have access to the tremendous resources of a world-class research university, but with the culture of a much smaller college. This means you quite literally have the best of both worlds: access to top professors, facilities and financial assistance for all who need it, but with the option of smaller classes where faculty are teaching and mentoring undergraduates. When a university allocates resources towards undergraduate study the way Penn has done, it can hire more faculty to teach more classes which means more variety in every way.
Structured Choice that Allows for Flexibility
Students complete a curriculum in the College designed to challenge them, while allowing a tremendous amount of flexibility to explore. This “structured choice” means that there isn’t a single class that every student in the College must take in order to graduate from Penn. Our faculty believe you must approach your studies from multiple perspectives to be best prepared for a 21st century world, therefore every student will have an interdisciplinary experience regardless of his or her major.
A World-Class City as your Backdrop
The City of Philadelphia is an amazing canvas, laboratory, and job-generator that will blur the line between work and play during your time here. Penn’s tree-lined campus exists in the midst of one of the country’s greatest urban centers, providing College students with tremendous opportunity.
The College's curriculum is described as three parts: General Education, Major, and Electives. Every student in the College must have a major and complete the General Education requirement. Students then complete free electives, or use that time for a minor area of study, a second major, completion of pre-med requirements, etc. In general, students take a minimum of 32-36 courses to graduate, depending on the major they declare, although there is no upper limit on the total number of courses a student may take.
Our faculty created a General Education requirement because they believe intelligent individuals should be exposed to certain concepts and skills in order to live humane, productive and fulfilling lives in the 21st century. We call this “structured choice” which is different than a core curriculum in which students are expected to select courses from a much more limited menu. Students have tremendous flexibility while also being exposed to an interesting variety of disciplines en route to choosing a major. Students take one course in each of seven sectors, such as Society or Physical World, while learning transferable skills like quantitative data analysis and writing. The faculty have identified hundreds of classes to choose from to fulfill these sector and foundational requirements.
Many students say that exploring courses through the General Education requirement led them to ultimately find a major in an area they hadn't originally considered. It’s a license to explore courses that sound interesting, without worrying if they will “count for something” or be "useful" to your post-Penn plans. Every course in the College teaches something valuable both for holistic and professional development, and students should study what they love.
Not very important is the short answer. Identifying a major certainly gives the admissions committee a sense of which direction you’re leaning, but what you check on the application has no bearing on your course of study once enrolled. Over half of the students who identify an intended course of study on their application end up pursuing something else once at Penn. Half of the College’s applicants check the “undecided” box from the outset!
Not at all. People are surprised to learn the amount of resources Penn devotes to helping students in and outside the classroom. In addition to the pre-major and peer advisors assigned to every incoming student, numerous services are integrated into campus life to ensure that students have the best possible experience. From the Tutoring Center to Counseling and Psychological Services to our many cultural resource centers, students will find staff ready to ease their transition to Penn and to support them in developing the skills they need to succeed here.
This is somewhat confusing, even for people already within the Penn community. The economics department at Penn is housed in the School of Arts and Sciences. It is ranked among the Top 10 economics departments in the country, and confers the University's Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in economics concentrating on the theoretical and mathematical. Students in the Wharton School study some economic theory, but the Wharton degree (Bachelor of Science in Economics) is a degree in applied business knowledge and is not designed to signify an economics concentration. Economics in the College uses theory, history and modeling to study the science that explains the choices made by individuals and organizations, and the Wharton BS should be viewed as more applied in nature. At the end of the day, any student considering either program should love math and statistics in order to be successful!
Research is the investigation of the unknown. As a top tier research institution, Penn is committed to creating new knowledge that advances the way we understand the past, present and future. Our location in an urban setting allows students and faculty to apply research to real-world settings with an immediate impact.
Undergraduate research is available to any student with an interest in working collaboratively with a member of the faculty in any discipline. Seventy-five percent of College students have direct research experience by the time they graduate. With state of the art scientific facilities, cultural resources throughout the city, business and educational partnerships locally and around the world, research at Penn is abundant and accessible.
The Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (CURF) has a directory of faculty projects in which students might become engaged as well as undergraduate research advisors who can assist students looking for funding for their projects. The College funds undergraduate research through the College Alumni Grant program, which is administered through CURF.
Through discussions with your pre-major advisor, research on department websites, and discussions with faculty, you will eventually determine the best major for you. You don't have to declare a major in the College until spring of your second year, giving you plenty of time to explore. The General Education requirement encourages exploration in academic areas outside of your comfort zone in the hopes you might discover an interest you didn’t know you had.
The College’s diversity in academic offerings and opportunities attracts very different kinds of students, but generally all CAS students possess a curiosity about the world in which they live – locally, regionally, and globally. They also share a passion for learning and want to make a difference in the world. How each student achieves this will differ. Students choose different paths with the help of faculty, advisors and friends, but Penn will help them to achieve their educational and life goals, no matter how eclectic and unique.
Our size makes us large enough to offer the academic and social diversity you would expect, but also small enough to offer individual attention to our students, and foster personal relationships.
On the surface, 10,000 undergraduates may seem like a lot, but there are smaller communities within the larger Penn community and that makes the place feel smaller. The College has 6,400 students, and your College House will have several hundred. Your academic major in the arts and sciences will also be a sub-community, and could include as few as a handful of students or hundreds, depending on the program you select.
Add to that students in your classes, clubs and organizations, and you start to see how easy it is to meet others with similar interests and goals. Likewise, part of the reason you’d come to a place like Penn is to meet students and staff with different worldviews, and to learn from those people. You will have ample opportunity to achieve this at Penn.
Academic mentoring and advising for undergraduates in the College involves the coordinated efforts of a professional advising staff, a substantial number of the faculty, and a supplementary team of experts in such specialized fields as career services, learning resources, and international programs.
Students in the College are assigned a faculty or staff member as their pre-major advisor in June before their freshman year. They will work with this trained advisor for the first two years to pick courses, discuss any problems or concerns, and plan their curriculum. Once they declare a major, they will have additional advisors, but can always use the College advising office for assistance. They will also have a trained upperclassman as a peer advisor during the first year.
Any student can use the services of the College Office in 120 Cohen Hall for advising assistance, regardless of his or her advisor assignment. House Deans living in the College Houses are also a resource right where students live. It means that advising is available all the time, in multiple places around campus.
No. 95% of lectures and seminars are taught by faculty. As a top research university, however, our graduate students will be the best faculty of tomorrow. Therefore, when you do encounter a graduate student, he or she will be a wonderful resource. We utilize them to teach writing seminars, introductory language courses, and to serve as teaching and laboratory assistants.
It’s not the case that one must study a certain major to have a career in a certain field. This is true because the study of the arts and sciences facilitates the acquisition of broad skills that all careers will require, wherever you go after Penn. At its best, the liberal arts and sciences education our students experience inspires them to be intellectually creative and draw on a wide variety of disciplines in order to positively influence the world around them. Check out the "People" and "Life After Penn" sections for more advice on careers from students and alumni.
No. At Penn, you may major in anything you like from music to biophysics, and then apply to medical school. There is, however, a pre-med science core that you must take to prepare for the MCAT and to apply to med school regardless of your major. These include two biology, two general chemistry, two organic chemistry and two physics courses. Additionally, you will need college-level calculus and two writing courses. Getting into medical school is a very competitive process. Nationally, only 43% of the individuals who applied for admission to allopathic (M.D. degree-granting) medical schools were admitted last year. Penn applicants were much more successful in gaining admission: 85% of seniors were accepted and the overall acceptance rate for seniors and alumni was 76%.
Penn provides exceptional opportunities to gain a broad education while preparing for medical school. On one contiguous campus, we provide undergraduate and graduate study in a broad range of fields, from bioengineering to gender studies. Penn also offers courses and majors in a number of health-related fields, including internationally-recognized science departments, health care management, technology and society, health and societies, biological basis of behavior, and human biology. Regardless of their fields, however, our students have the opportunity to study with some of the finest professors in the world. And our students also have the chance to assist in clinical care and research opportunities at the University's medical, dental, and veterinary schools, all of which are located on the same campus.
Law schools do not look for students who follow a specific course of study. A wide range of acceptable majors can be found in the humanities, social and natural sciences. So what should you consider in a major that might help you later on when applying to law school? Most importantly, find an academic area that appeals to you. Why? It's very simple. If your studies are personally gratifying, you will be more likely to perform well in your classes. If you perform well in your classes, you will have a greater chance getting into the law school of your choice. Thus, level of interest should be a significant criterion in your decision about a major.
Law schools look for applicants who challenge themselves with a broad-based curriculum that trains them to analyze, read, speak and write effectively. Almost any major in the College will train your mind to think analytically and critically. What’s more, Penn's law school actively encourages undergraduates to sample its course offerings, regardless of future plans. Only a handful of top law schools allow non-matriculants to do this.
Last year, 68% of all Penn applicants (seniors and alumni) enrolled in Top 20 law programs.
Almost any major choice can prepare you for a career in business. Companies of all types are interested in employees who have a contribution to make in practical and creative terms. They want analytical minds, a skill set that all of the College's majors instill. This is why arts and sciences graduates get job offers in finance, consulting and marketing with majors such as sociology, classical studies and history. The majority of these students did not take a single class in business at the undergraduate level. If, however, you are truly curious about what it's like to explore a field like marketing or finance, you may enroll in Wharton School classes on a limited basis.
After working for a few years, many alumni then apply for a Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) degree. Most competitive graduate programs in business are looking for at least three years of business-related experience, regardless of what you studied at the undergraduate level. Keep in mind that the quality of your work experience after college will play a major role in MBA admissions decisions. And the way to land that first job is to major in something you enjoy so that you do well in it!
This is an important and serious question because at many prestigious research universities there are tiers of faculty – some teach undergraduates, and some do not. At Penn, we have one outstanding tier of faculty who are hired to teach everyone – undergraduate and graduate students, and who come here because they enjoy this concept. Classes are as large or as small as you choose. Over 70% of lectures and seminars have 25 or fewer students, so that means you will get to know these outstanding faculty very well over four years.
Penn students often think about how their studies can translate to real-world experiences as an undergraduate and beyond. There are a number of resources for students in all schools, including Career Services and the robust network of Penn alumni who remain engaged with the school through mentoring opportunities. A few resources that specifically target students in the College of Arts and Sciences include the College Alumni Mentoring Series, Fox Leadership Series, Fels Institute of Government, Kelly Writers House, Civic House, and the Arts at Penn program.
Students whose interests after Penn lie in further education or research utilize the services of the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowship (CURF), faculty members, and academic advisors among others to refine their ambitions and find success after Penn in graduate and professional school.
Yes. Many students in the College of Arts and Sciences seek internship opportunities on and off campus, which they discover in consultation with Career Services, the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (CURF), the Fels Institute of Government, RealArts@Penn, or directly from faculty members. Most of these internships do not count toward degree requirements, but the College recognizes the value added to a student’s curriculum by participating in an internship opportunity.
Philadelphia presents a wealth of opportunities in almost any industry for undergraduates to gain experience. Areas of particular strength include city government, legal professions, healthcare (pharma, medicine, or administration), and education. The region also plays host to the corporate headquarters of Urban Outfitters, AmerisourceBergen (pharmaceuticals), Sunoco, IKEA North America, Comcast, Endo Pharmaceuticals, Unisys and the Campbell Soup Company to name just a few!
Graduates of the College of Arts and Sciences follow their passions wherever they may lead. Regardless of the destination, a broad education in the arts and sciences is a strong tool that has many useful applications in navigating diverse career paths. A fair number of our students go into law, medicine and business, but many others find success in education, government, media/communications, technology, science, engineering and consulting. Additionally, many College alumni go on to receive degrees in fields of professional interest.
Learn more about the College curriculum, advising, support and opportunities by taking our website tour.