Policies Governing the Sector Requirement

To satisfy the Sector Requirement, students must take a different course in each of the sectors, for a total of seven courses.

Courses fulfilling Requirements

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.

  • The lists of approved courses indicate all courses that fulfill the Sector Requirement.
  • Students in the classes of 2024 and earlier may take any course in the Natural Science Across Disciplines list in order to fulfill sector VII,  or they may do so with a second Living or Physical World course. Students from the Class of 2025 and later must take one course from the Natural Science Across the Disciplines sector list.
  • In addition to the courses listed in the various sectors, students may use designated first-year seminars and Benjamin Franklin seminars to fulfill the various sector requirements. One first-year seminar may be used in this way as a substitute for a course on the relevant sector list. Up to two Benjamin Franklin seminars or one Benjamin Franklin seminar and one first-year seminar may be used.
  • Non-College courses used to fulfill the Sector Requirement are counted as College courses in calculating total credits needed for graduation.

list of approved courses

Courses taken to fulfill the Sector Requirement must be taken for a letter grade, not pass/fail. Any passing grade, from A+ through D, is acceptable in order for a course to fulfill the Sector Requirement.

  • Most students may double count no more than one course toward both the Major and the Sector Requirement. Students with a double major may double count one course for each major.
  • Students in majors that allow courses from both the Living World and Physical World to fulfill their major requirements are permitted to double count two courses toward the Major and the Sector Requirement—one each in the Living World and Physical World sectors. Majors in which this double counting is permitted include, but are not limited to, Neuroscience, Biology, Biophysics and Earth Science.
  • Students who are double majoring must have a minimum of 18 unique course units between the two majors and may count one course from each major toward the Sector Requirement. Students who are triple majoring must have a minimum of 24 unique course units among the three majors. Major departments may have additional rules limiting such double counting.
  • There is no limit to the number of courses that may be double counted between General Education Requirements and requirements for a minor.
  • The same course cannot be used to fulfill more than one Sector (i.e., the seven Sectors must be fulfilled using seven different Requirement courses).
  • Courses being used to fulfill the Language Requirement Substitution may not also be used to fulfill a Sector nor any Major Requirement.

The Sector Requirement may not be satisfied with advanced placement credit (including A-Levels, IB and other similar credit based on external examination). In addition, credit awarded by departmental exam can not be used to fulfill the Sector Requirement.

  • Students who receive an advanced placement credit or waiver in a Living World or Physical World field (physics, environmental science, psychology), and who take a more advanced course at Penn in that subject, may use the additional course to fulfill the relevant sector.
  • Students in the Class of 2024 and earlier who receive an advanced placement waiver for PSYC 001 (Introduction to Experimental Psychology) or successfully complete PSYC 001 at Penn may use any odd-numbered 100-level psychology course to fulfill the Living World sector. Students in the Class of 2025 and later who receive an advanced placement waiver for PSYC 001 (Introduction to Experimental Psychology) may use one of a selection of higher-level Psychology courses to fulfill the Living World sector.
  • Pre-college credit, transfer credit, credit away and credit earned studying abroad may be counted toward the Sector Requirement only when departments award credit use the number of a Penn course approved for the Sector Requirement.