Helping Students Broaden Their Horizons

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By second semester freshman year and well into sophomore year, some students find that the classes that they expected to enjoy or in which they thought they would succeed, turn out to be disappointments. Helping these students find new paths can be one of the most interesting aspects of advising. At times, a student discovers that a course taken for other reasons may open up new possibilities for a major. Other students keep their initial focus, but want to find a way to satisfy it through a different major. Here are some suggestions to guide them. All of the major program websites can be accessed from the list of majors.

For example, students who loved biology in high school but find that the lab sciences at Penn don’t suit them, may try:

  • Human Biology, a concentration within the Anthropology major.
  • Health and Societies, which looks at issues of health and health care from multiple perspectives.
  • Philosophy and Science, one of several majors offered by the Philosophy Department, includes courses in the sciences along with a range of philosophy classes. Students who begin studies in international relations with coursework in economics, political science and history may find that they are better suited for a History major with a concentration in diplomatic history or a Political Science major.

Or students interested in psychology sometimes find that the emphasis on experimental psychology that characterizes the Penn Psychology major does not suit them. Other possible majors that address the nature of human beings from a different perspective and that may be a better fit include:

  • Sociology, which includes a different type of research that may be adapted to a student’s particular interests.
  • Anthropology, and particularly cultural anthropology.
  • Visual Studies, which blends the science of perception with the study and practice of the visual arts.

And students for whom computing is a fascination but who do not wish to pursue an engineering degree may be interested in a Computer Science major or minor through the Engineering School, or the College majors in Cognitive Science or Logic, Information and Computation, which include courses in computing, psychology, philosophy and linguistics.

When both advisors and advisees are familiar with major departments and programs, it is easier and more rewarding finding new paths to explore existing or new interests.

Advisors may find the following resources helpful in guiding students toward the exploration of a major: