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It’s that time of year again! The onset of winter weather, the realization that your class has a second (or third) midterm, and those Halloween pictures you forgot about reappearing on Facebook: Yep, advanced registration is here.

For College students, this means figuring out which of the five foundational approaches, seven sector requirements and 12-plus major requirements you should take care of next.

In an attempt to prevent anyone else from doing the same thing I did, here’s a true tale of academic woe. In spring 2007, I took “The 19th Century Novel.” It was a fine course — we read novels, wrote papers about them and discussed them in class. Pretty standard Englishy stuff. According to the description of the Arts and Letters requirement on the College web site, courses for this sector should be “concerned with works of creativity [and] address a considerable breadth of material.”

My naïve mind believed that “The 19th Century Novel” clearly met these goals, and therefore I could just take advantage of that nifty teal-and-black button on my Academic Planning Worksheet that says “Approved by Petition” in order to fill it. Choosing a class not on the approved list and assuming that merely because it was an English course that dealt with both arts and letters it would be counted was a mistake on my part.

I realized that it hadn’t filled my worksheet shortly after I finished the semester, but didn’t speak to anyone about it for about a year (hey, I’m a busy person). I finally met with many advisers in the College Office and the English Department. Everyone was extremely kind and agreed that the course should count, but that unfortunately for whatever reason (most likely because my professor didn’t turn in her syllabus to the appropriate committee in time), my course had not made the list.

So what about retroactive course-counting? According to what one adviser told me, getting a course to count retroactively would require a petition, signed by 2/3 of the standing faculty of the (in this case English) department, and then be voted on by the Committee on Undergraduate Academic Standing. She cautioned it would probably be faster and easier for me to just give up on the petition and take another course.

Although I ultimately took her advice, there needs to be an easier way for students to petition to get courses counted for sector requirements. Some sectors have an extremely limited number of courses to choose from — ironic, since Penn’s most outstanding feature academically is its focus on interdisciplinary studies. More courses should be available to fill requirements and that the process to make your case should be more open, not restrictive.

Diana Rodriguez-Sains, a College senior, went and spoke to a College adviser after realizing that neither of the two courses she took to fulfill the Living World requirement — “Intro to Linguistics” and “Humans and the Environment” — actually did.

“I was told the College Office did not even entertain the idea of petitions to meet sector requirements,” said Rodriguez-Sains, who is now enrolled in Psych 001. “I now feel like I’ve taken three courses that fulfill the stated requirements of Living World. It seems like the goal of having sectors, of exposing students to a greater number of academic disciplines, is lost in the mess of course confusion.”

Penn is constantly retooling its academic requirements, making sure they provide students with the best liberal-arts education possible. It would benefit both the administration and students if a clearly stated, reasonable petition process for students wishing to count a different course toward a sector requirement were posted on the College web site.

Some of the unique goals of Penn — and one that the University places a great deal of emphasis on — are merging disciplines and giving students the tools to independently chart their education. It’s time to loosen the restrictions so students can do so.

Lauren Burdette is a College senior from Overland Park, Kansas. She is the former president of Penn Dems. Her e-mail address is

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