As students make their final course selections for the upcoming semester, many say that information on course listings needs to be more comprehensive in order for them to plan their academic schedules.
College junior Heidi Lee said she only learned from her academic advisor during her sophomore spring semester that a course she had been planning on taking to fulfill her Living World sector, "Physics for Architects I," was only offered once every other year.
“My advisor recommended that I take this class that particular semester because she said I wouldn’t have another chance to take it,” Lee said.
Lee added that if she had not spoken with her advisor, she would have assumed that the course was offered every semester, or at least every year. While she understood that not every course could be offered regularly, she said more information on these course listings would be helpful.
“[T]he school should at least be open about when a certain class will offered, when it will be offered again and how regularly it will be offered," she said.
All Penn courses are listed every year on the Undergraduate Course Catalog, but not all are offered regularly. According to the College Requirements Course Listings page, which provides a list of all the courses that fulfill a particular sector in the College, only 40 of the 133 courses that can fulfill the History and Tradition sector are available in the Spring 2018 semester.
This can make academic planning confusing for students, especially because most department sites publish their course listings only for the subsequent semester. Similarly in Penn InTouch, students only know that a course won't be offered that semester when they enter the course into the search function and receive a page that states "no results found."
College sophomore Natasha Cheung said she only realized that PHIL 205: “What Is Meaning” was not offered every year when she saw on Penn Course Review that it was offered once in 2010 and again in 2016.
“A lot of the courses I’m interested in, because they are so small and particular, are offered very sporadically,” Cheung said. “So I don’t know if I can ever take it or not unless I approach professors individually and ask them when the course will be offered again.”
Cheung added that when she went to speak to a professor about courses for her minor in International Development, he was uncertain as to which courses would be available in the 2018-2019 academic year.
“[The professor] said that it was very hard to predict, which makes sense because they don’t know which professors are staying or leaving next [academic] year,” Cheung said. “But I’m trying to figure out classes, or even just have an idea of what I can take for the next two years.”
College sophomore Michelle Lu, an urban studies major, also expressed frustration that it was hard to find information on course offerings for future semesters.
“Since I only have seven elective spots in my major, I want to do very specific things with those slots,” Lu said. “I want to plan ahead, and because I’m given the freedom to structure my major, I want to structure it right.”
Because of this reason, the Classical Studies department is trying to publish its course offerings two semesters in advance.
Undergraduate Chair of Classical Studies James Ker said he empathized with students who found it difficult to plan their academic workload because they were uncertain about what course would be available. Ker added that he saw how difficult it was for students to plan two or three years ahead and pushed to publish the department’s course plan for the 2017-2018 academic year since late fall.
“Up until a few years ago, [our department] wasn’t able to predict much more than a semester in advance, but more recently, we’ve been publishing on our website the course plan for the upcoming year,” Ker said. “My ideal is that we can put out a list of all of our course offerings and indicate when the next iteration will be and which semester it’s going to be offered in.”
“The students deserve some type of certainty in planning their courses, so I’m very committed to increasing multi-year transparency,” Ker said.
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