School of Arts & Sciences

In the tradition of its eighteenth-century founders, the College of Arts and Sciences regards the enduring purpose of education as the liberation of the mind from ignorance, superstition, and prejudice. From its central position in an international research university, the College invites students to explore the broad spectrum of human knowledge and takes pride in its capacity to respond to the particular intellectual needs of those who join it. The College thrives on the diversity of scholars and students whose interests it sustains and whose intellectual goals it unites.

Study of the arts and sciences provides a solid basis for advanced scientific and scholarly research, for subsequent training in the professions, and for the informed exercise of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. The College’s goal is to help students to become knowledgeable about the world and the complexities of today’s society, aware of moral, ethical, and social issues, prepared to exercise intellectual leadership, and enlivened by the use of their mind. 

The College is committed to offering a broad education that will lay a durable foundation for critical and creative thinking. We believe that students should explore fundamental approaches to the acquisition and interpretation of knowledge through introduction to substantive bodies of current thought in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. Equally important, they should learn to understand and evaluate the sources and methods from which this knowledge derives. In this way they can be led to appreciate the contingency of all knowledge and to participate in the ongoing excitement of intellectual discovery that is at the heart of the College.

We challenge our students to develop the skills of analysis and communication that will enable them to perceive pattern in complexity, render reasoned judgments, make wise choices under conditions of uncertainty, and join with others in the pursuit of common endeavors. They should, for example, be able to write and speak effectively and to use another people’s language as one means of access to the diversity of contemporary and historical culture.

A student’s emerging interests and talents find expression through an organized program of study in a major field. In the specialized context of the major, students investigate the traditions and contemporary status of an established branch of knowledge. The structured study of a discipline complements the general exploration of our intellectual heritage to provide the balance of educational breadth and depth to which the College is committed.

There is no single or easy path to the benefits of liberal education. A program of study must be shaped as a student grows. But the special strengths of the University of Pennsylvania—its combination of academic and professional excellence, its diverse and interdisciplinary tradition, its active community of scholars at all levels of experience—provide a setting in which the College can dedicate itself to nurturing honest, eager, and critical minds. The College welcomes those who seek to understand, appreciate, and contribute to the achievements of the human intellect.

The College of Arts and Sciences is the full-time undergraduate division of the School of Arts and Sciences (SAS), which offers the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree. Other divisions include:

  • The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences which offers the advanced degrees of Master of Arts (M.A.), Master of Science (M.S.) and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.);
  • The College of Liberal and Professional Studies (LPS) is the home of lifelong learning at the University of Pennsylvania. It offers high school, undergraduate, post-baccalaureate, graduate, summer and online studies as well as customizable professional training with courses that span across disciplines. LPS also administers the Summer Sessions.

The twenty-seven departments in SAS represent the core disciplines of the liberal arts.  They individually offer thirty-two major programs.  In addition, through interdepartmental collaborations, the SAS faculty offer a number of interdisciplinary majors. Around SAS are grouped the various specialized professional schools, all of them drawing extensively on the intellectual resources provided by SAS.  Two of these schools, the Annenberg School for Communication and the School of Design, offer undergraduate majors for College students through special collaborative relationships with SAS.

The College aims to provide its undergraduates with a broad general education that will lay the groundwork for critical and creative thinking in all fields. Ideally the graduate of the College will be well informed about the world and confident in today’s complex technological society.  He or she will be willing and able to make critical judgments and to exercise intellectual leadership.  The B.A. degree thus provides a solid basis for specialized scientific and scholarly research, for education for the professions, and for the informed exercise of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

The University of Pennsylvania is particularly well placed to provide its students with an education that links the theoretical and the practical.  Within the College and the other schools is an extraordinary range of programs.  The College alone offers over fifty different major programs. The College does its best to make all of the University’s resources accessible to its students, giving them wide latitude in planning their programs of study and in deciding on their areas of specialization.

In 1739, the noted evangelist George Whitefield preached to thousands of Philadelphians. His sermons were so impressive that, one year later, a "House of Public Worship" and "Charity School" were established at Fourth and Arch Streets for the religious education of young men. Whitefield supported the idea of forming a "Negro School," but it was never implemented due to lack of support. The "Charity School" was not officially opened until 1749, when Benjamin Franklin and twenty-one leading citizens of Philadelphia founded an "Academy." By 1755, the academy had come to be known as the "College, Academy and Charitable School of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania." The first commencement took place on May 17, 1757, and graduated a class of seven.

Alumni of the College of Philadelphia were instrumental in the development of the nation and played vital roles in the American Revolution. Twenty-one members of the Continental Congress were graduates of the College; nine signers of the Declaration of Independence were either trustees or alumni; and eleven signers of the Constitution were associated with the College. In 1779, Pennsylvania's state legislature decided that the College was a hotbed of loyalism and tried to abrogate its charter. The provost and trustees of the College refused to be unseated. This forced the legislature to transfer the assets and property to a new board of trustees of a "University of the State of Pennsylvania." After a ten-year legal battle, the College was allowed to reopen its doors in its old buildings. Meanwhile, the University continued down the block on Fifth and Chestnut Streets. This situation continued until 1791, when the two merged to form what we now know as the University of Pennsylvania, the first university in the United States.

During Benjamin Franklin's forty years on the board of trustees, his idea of combining practical and traditional education guided the curriculum of the University. Thanks to Franklin, Penn went beyond the traditional classical education and diversified into the sciences, mathematics, history, logic and philosophy. Franklin indicated his philosophy of education when, in establishing the University, he said, "As to their Studies, it would be well if they could be taught every Thing that is useful . . . Regard being held to the several Professions for which they are intended." This emphasis on the practical aspects of education distinguished the University of Pennsylvania from other colleges and universities of the era. The tradition has continued. For example, the first medical school (1765), the first law classes (1850) and the first business school (1881) in America were founded here.

The University arrived at its present location by twice moving west. In 1802, it moved from Fourth and Arch Streets into a mansion on Ninth and Chestnut Streets built for, but never occupied by, the President of the United States. It moved again in 1872 to a ten-acre spot of land located across the Schuylkill River that was purchased for $80,000. That plot of land was in a section called Blockley Township, a semi-rural area known mostly for its alms house and the Hamilton Grange, a farm.

The Pennsylvania courts ruled in 1877 that the University should provide scholarships to young men and "instruction to female students so far as may be convenient and practicable in the University building." Therefore, in 1878, the Towne Scientific School and the Music Department responded by admitting nine women into their programs. In 1879 George Whitefield's dream of a "Negro School" was realized when Penn admitted one black student to the College, one to the Dental School and one to the Medical School. The Law School was the first major division of the University to admit women to its courses as degree candidates. The College of Liberal Arts for Women was established in 1933 to provide women with a liberal arts education instead of one designed specifically for teachers. The College for Women merged with the College of Arts and Sciences in 1974, thus forming our modern-day School of Arts and Sciences, which includes the Graduate School, the College of Liberal and Professional Studies and the College of Arts and Sciences.

The College is the largest of the undergraduate schools, enrolling 6,000 of the University's 10,000 undergraduates, and it teaches all of Penn's undergraduates. The study of the arts and sciences provides students with critical perspectives on their world and with the fundamental intellectual skills necessary for engaging it. As Franklin recognized, professional education relies on the sustenance provided by the arts and sciences and could not exist without them. The School of Arts and Sciences remains the heart and the soul of the modern University.

The fundamental purpose of the University as an academic community is the pursuit of knowledge. Essential to the success of this educational mission is a commitment to the principles of academic integrity. Academic work represents not only what we have learned about a subject but also how we have learned it. Values and beliefs about academic integrity have been adopted by scholars so that others may trace our honorable footsteps, verify what we have learned, and build upon our work. Every member of the University community is responsible for upholding the highest standards of honesty at all times.

As members of the University community, students are also responsible for adhering to the principles and spirit of the Code of Academic Integrity. Penn believes strongly in the importance of academic integrity. Students who violate its precepts are subject to punishment through the judicial system. Ignorance of the rules is no excuse. If a student is unsure whether his or her action(s) constitute a violation of the Code of Academic Integrity, it is that student’s responsibility to consult with the instructor to clarify any ambiguity.