University administrators recently implemented new regulations limiting the number of courses undergraduates can take per semester and extending the pass/fail deadline. The move, which comes as a part of a University-wide wellness initiative, has prompted a mixture of reactions from students.
Provost Wendell Pritchett and Vice Provost for Education Beth Winkelstein announced the changes in an email sent to undergraduates on Sept. 7. The new rules place a hard cap on the number of credits an undergraduate can take, limiting students to seven and a half course units per semester.
Students are also limited in the number of courses for which they can pre-register. During advance registration, most students can sign up for up to five and a half course units. Those who are pursuing dual degrees or are seniors struggling to graduate on time can pre-register for six and a half course units.
In their statement, Pritchett and Winkelstein wrote that the limitations were implemented to promote "thoughtful academic planning" and decrease the stress associated with taking too many classes.
The regulations also extended the deadline to declare a course pass/fail, which used to coincide with the last day to drop a course. This semester, the drop period ends Oct. 8 and the pass/fail deadline is Oct. 26.
Chair External for the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education Justin Bean said SCUE discussed the changes with the Council of Undergraduate Deans and supported both policy changes. Bean, a College senior, added that he believes it is unhealthy to take seven courses unless absolutely necessary for graduation.
But some students, particularly those pursuing double majors or dual degrees, expressed reservations about the new policies.
Emily Despinoy, a sophomore pursuing degrees in international studies in the College of Arts and Sciences and economics in the Wharton School, as well as a triple minor in political science, math, and Russian literature, said she has concerns that it will become more difficult to register for large course loads under the new policy.
“I think this was an effort to relieve people’s stress, but I think that most people’s stress isn’t classes-related, it’s more about finding their place in the University, friends, being far from home, [and] finding a job,” Despinoy said.
She emphasized that most students looking to pursue an above-average amount of credits should be able to do so, as everyone has a different credit capacity and circumstance.
“I could have studied for free in Sweden, so when I pay so much, I’m also trying to get my money’s worth,” Despinoy said.
Engineering sophomore Nelson Ngouenet and College sophomore Declan Stecher both said the new policy could add unnecessary stress at the beginning of the semester.
Although Stecher finds the total course unit cap to be reasonable, he said he disagreed with the five and a half course unit advance registration limit. Stecher, who needs to complete 40 credits for a double major, said it was inevitable that he would have to take six credits at some point during a semester.
“If I want to take six credits, I’m going to take six credits," he said. "So if you’re making me wait until the school year starts, it’s adding stress."
Ngouenet, who is pursuing a double major in mechanical engineering and economics, said he worries the pre-registration cap could keep students from getting a place in crowded introductory courses.
Other students said they would not be affected by the changes.
Engineering sophomore Noah Kamerling, who is majoring in mechanical engineering and minoring in computer science, said he would feel overwhelmed taking more than five and half credits per semester and does not need to do so to complete his degree. Nursing sophomore Claire Cardarola echoed this sentiment, noting that most nursing students do not take more than five and a half credits per semester.
Despite the mixed reactions regarding the course registration limits, students largely expressed support for the extended pass/fail deadline.
“I think [the new pass/fail deadline] is definitely a step in the right direction, allowing students to not feel the time crunch as much is always helpful, and always helps relieve stress,” Stecher said.
The new policies are the latest in a string of administrative changes to promote student wellness. In the past year alone, Penn has created a new wellness portal, conducted an operational review of Counseling and Psychological Services, and hired a Chief Wellness Officer for the University. Most recently, Wharton announced that it would close Huntsman Hall — previously a 24-hour study spot — from 2 a.m. to 7 a.m. in an effort to reduce students' stress.
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