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It’s finally your last year at Penn. You’ve taken a lot of great classes. You’re ready to kick back and revel in your seniority.

And then you realize something that is all too familiar to Penn students: you’re missing a requirement ­­— or two or three.

All of a sudden, your laid-back senior year becomes one where you grapple with a class — or several — relating to subjects that have literally no relevance to your preferred job or post-college plans.

These all too common near-horror stories can be alleviated with a simple fix. The University needs to widen the landscape of classes that fulfill requirements and combine redundant foundational and sector requirements. It should also institute pass/fail options for seniors who are taking classes that have little relevance to their fields of study.

College senior Adam Friedman epitomizes the structural problems inherent in the requirement system. “For someone like me — a communication major, political science minor — [for whom] science does not come easy … the challenge of fulfilling the physical world requirement seems more of getting into the right class than excelling in the class in which you end up,” he wrote in an e-mail.

If you can’t get into one of the easier and highly sought-after classes that fulfill a requirement, Friedman continued, “you spend your semester struggling in a class whose sole purpose seems to be lowering your GPA and teaching you absolutely nothing that will help you in the future.”

This problem isn’t limited to Friedman or a small segment of seniors. The Daily Pennsylvanian reported a few weeks ago that, because of the necessity of fulfilling requirements senior year, many seniors are still trying to enroll in core classes (“Seniors struggle to fulfill grad requirements,” 1/19/2011). An example of this trend can be found in “Survey of the Universe,” a course that fulfills multiple requirements. Forty seniors are enrolled in the class out of 94 total students. Seniors are crowding other students out of the course that other students might genuinely want to take.

Even worse, scrambling to fulfill these requirements puts seniors at risk of not graduating in time. Of course, it is easy to blame seniors for simple course mismanagement, but the University should make it easier for seniors to fulfill requirements that are definitively unrelated to their fields of interest.

Part of the problem lies in the laundry list of requirements that the College of Arts and Sciences bestow so graciously upon the students enrolled. Besides sector requirements, one is obligated to fulfill foundational approaches. While the different names might lead one to believe that sector requirements and foundational approaches are two completely distinct paradigms, some of the requirements are so similar that it makes sense to merge them into one concise list. Can anyone really explain what distinguishes “quantitative data analysis” from “natural science and mathematics?”

There’s something to be said for nudging students into widening their academic curricula and to discover subjects that they would otherwise be averse to. In some instances, it’s not hard to imagine that it could spawn a real and genuine interest in the new subject.

A further question that arises — why is it not reasonable for a communication major such as Friedman to take a quantitative data class pass/fail? This would allow affected seniors to take such a class without putting their GPA at risk, which can hurt their employment prospects.

This rigid and esoteric system of requirements can clearly be updated and altered to reflect the will of students. It takes away from seniors’ ability to choose classes freely during their final year of study and places extra pressure to maintain a GPA that is examined closely by employers before graduation. At the very least, a change in the requirement system could help bring an end to that all-too-common Penn senior-year story that has been told too many times.

Brian Goldman is a College junior from Queens, N.Y. His e-mail address is The Gold Standard appears every Monday.

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