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Photo: Julio Sosa

GROUP THINK is The Daily Pennsylvanian’s round table section, where we throw a question at the columnists and see what answers stick. Read your favorite columnist, or read them all.

This week’s question: A recent DP article found that many Penn students end up taking around half of their classes in the College of Arts and Science even if they are in different schools such as the Wharton School, the School of Nursing or the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Should Penn change course requirements so that students in Wharton, Nursing and Engineering can take more classes in their home schools or is the system fine as it currently is?

Alex Silberzweig | Brutally Honest

Simply put, it is more than fine for Wharton, Engineering and Nursing to take a great deal of their classes in the College. It definitely helps them achieve the same level of well-roundedness that College students already seek to achieve by completing their general education requirements. A student concentrating in electrical engineering or finance should not be far worse at writing than, say, an English major. Writing is, should and will continue to be a universal skill that is important for almost any job. Just because your major doesn’t directly require essay writing, that doesn’t mean that you will just never write again.  

The College’s students have many career-oriented aspirations that are level with those of Wharton, Engineering and Nursing. However, the liberal arts education associated with the College detracts from that air of pre-professionalism to some, though it shouldn’t. In other words, by allowing or even mandating non-College students to take more classes in their home schools, Penn will be drawing an even deeper divide between the College and those schools that are deemed more pre-professional.

This question about a well-rounded liberal arts education versus a seemingly more rigorous pre-professional one leads to a conversation about the extent of the divide between schools. Do Wharton students really want to gain an entire package of skills, or just the ones that may seem marketable in the short term? Do Engineering students take some College classes just for an easy A or two, or do they actually crave intellectual stimulation? For many, it could be the former. For others, there is definitely an intellectual hunger that comes with taking College classes and even pursuing a second major that either aligns with or completely opposes their central area of study. The four years you spend in college are probably the last four years that you can spend exploring and taking courses that pique your interest. 

Jacquelyn Sussman | The Objectivist

As a student in the College, I’m not qualified to say whether students in Wharton, Nursing or Engineering should be required to take more or less classes outside their home schools. In applying to these schools, students opt for a pre-professional degree as opposed to one rooted in the liberal arts, so I understand why College course requirements seem unnecessary and may be frustrating. Conversely, I also understand why Penn would feel an obligation, in accordance with its One University Policy, to give all students who come to Penn a well-rounded and interdisciplinary education, even if that means combining pre-professional and liberal arts degrees — and yes, I am biased, because I clearly want and value a liberal arts education as an undergraduate.

But what I will say is that Penn was my first choice school and I applied early decision because of the connections and integrations between its four undergraduate schools. I find it unique and intellectually exciting to be able to understand how the world works through the angles of a business, engineering, science and humanities perspective, all of which I can develop and hone as a student in any of Penn’s schools. How lucky are we that we can take advantage of the incredible resources all of Penn offers regardless of your primary academic interests? It is imperative to remember that before we are College, Wharton, Engineering or Nursing students, we are Penn students, and while that may mean specializing in one area to some, I think it’s pretty great that that can mean being an interdisciplinary learner to others.

Carlos Arias Vivas | Convos With Carlos

Penn’s liberal arts curriculum is a focal point of a Penn education and has an impact in the four undergraduate schools: the College, Wharton, Nursing and Engineering. The level and the extent that this factors into each school varies. A good balance in the curriculum within each school is to have two-thirds of a student’s classes in their home school and the remaining third outside of their school to fulfill any necessary requirements. The College would be students’ primary choice to take these classes due to the array of subjects offered there.

The importance of a liberal arts curriculum is to engage students and promote intellectual discovery in other disciplines outside of their current major or concentration. The delicacy of this system is much more important at Penn than at other Ivy counterparts because of the four distinct undergraduate schools. The balance is very hard to calculate because each student has a different preference. One student might enjoy taking all the classes related to his or her major. On the other hand, other students like to branch out and pursue their interests in completely different fields by taking some interesting classes that happen to fulfill their requirements for their degree.

College is the epicenter of exploration. So, there shouldn’t be students who are chained to their major from the start of their freshman year to the end of their senior year. At the end of the day, everyone is a Penn student. Although we are students in different undergraduate schools at Penn, we share the same community, take some of the same classes and contribute to scholarly discussions we learn through our respective major or even from the classes we happen to take at the other schools. 

Jessica Li | Road Jess Travelled

Penn prides itself on offering a liberal arts education, and by requiring Penn students to take a wide range of classes in the College, I think that is doing what they advertise. As the One University Policy suggests, students get a wider breadth of knowledge and perspective when they take a good amount of classes that do not directly relate to their field of study or their school. At its very core, Penn is trying to structure an education that isn’t solely focused on direct career-building skills, contrary to its pre-professional stereotype — it is an institution that aims to give us a “well-rounded education,” and that means a wide variety of courses that offer different ways of thinking and lends itself to different skillsets.

Without the number of College classes students have to take, a lot of students may not find what they truly want to study. Most students come in unsure about what their course of study will be for the next four years, and taking College classes is the first step to exploring every subject and discipline. There is so much opportunity in the classes we think aren’t relevant to what we want to do in the future, and by carefully considering other options, we are getting one step closer to finding an education that suits us. 

I’m not advocating that we force students to take too many classes that digress from their main studies, but I do believe taking a number of classes in the College, regardless of which school or major you’re in, is extremely important in receiving the kind of education that prepares you for an unpredictable future with a multitude of possibilities. That is what a liberal arts education strives to achieve, and I think we should appreciate Penn for that.

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