Top 5 Fun and Unusual Courses at Penn

By Naomi Fink on July 10, 2020

Looking for exciting and unusual courses to balance your schedule and provide real meaningful experiences at Penn? Then you’re in the right place! Whether you’re an incoming freshman or a rising senior, here are five interesting and funky course options that you should definitely add to your schedule!

via Unsplash

1. ABCS Courses

Academically Based Community Service courses, or ABCS courses for short, are hands-on, community-engaged courses that take students out of the classroom and into the real world. These courses, offered through the Netter Center of Community Partnerships, are typically small in number and demand active participation and thoughtful reflection.

I personally loved Music: Arts & Well-being (MUSC 016), the ABCS course I took during first semester of my freshman year. The class was a little wacky, relatively easy, and pretty fun for a college course — and I learned a lot! Normal class sessions involved anything from collage-making to interviewing African singers to recording our own music on a loop machine to in-depth discussions of mental health. Every day of this unusual course was different and there are plenty of ABCS course options to check out!

2. Designated SNF Paideia Courses

Newly added to Penn’s course curriculum, Designated SNF Paideia Courses are courses that, as the Greek implies, involve educating the whole person. What does that mean? Essentially, these courses are more engaging and personally applicable than your average classes. As part of Penn’s new SNF Paideia Program, Paideia courses range in topics but are all centered around the core values of service, wellness, citizenship, and dialogue.

This past semester, I took two Paideia courses — Grit Lab (PSYC 005) and Can We Talk? (EDUC 245) — and I would highly recommend both! Instead of heavy reading and stressful midterms exams, these courses rely on dialogue and determination and equip students with useful skills and tools for self-growth and community engagement. I won’t remember the dates and facts I memorized for my other classes but I will certainly remember the personable professors and warm learning environment of SNF Paideia courses!

3. Music Courses

Yes, you can get credit for playing musical instruments at Penn! Although most music courses are only .5 CU, these eccentric courses are super fun and do not require any previous experience. Be part of a group ensemble by taking Samba or Arabic percussion (both listed under MUSC 007) or, for an added fee, you can get private lessons to learn the instrument of your choice (MUSC 005)! My friends look forward to their music courses each week and had a blast showing off their new skills in the final performance of the semester! I can’t wait to take a music course soon!

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4. Pursuit of Happiness and Existential Despair

Pursuit of Happiness (PSYC 006) is one of those special courses at Penn where people come out feeling like better versions of themselves. Taught by Positive Psychology expert Dr. James Pawelski, the Pursuit of Happiness course explores well-being and human flourishing from an intellectual perspective and then pushes students to actually practice what they learn. A typical week’s coursework might include 10 minutes of meditating or an hour of exercising — no matter what, every activity is aimed at improving students’ lives.

On the flip side, Penn also has a course called Existential Despair (RELS 256). This course, taught by Professor Justin McDaniel, involves reading and discussing books and meets just once a week — for seven hours straight. There is no homework, no exams, and no talking while reading! For some, this might be living hell, but for others, it’s a great opportunity to take a pause from the hustle and bustle of Penn and enjoy a good book! The choice is yours.

5. Global Seminars

Want to get course credit and travel abroad during winter or spring break? Then Penn Global Seminars are a great option for you! Students in Penn Global Seminars learn and bond throughout the semester culminating in an exciting short-term trip abroad to exotic locations like South Africa or the Galapagos Islands. These trips might not be as long or immersive as a full semester abroad, but they’re not nearly as expensive either! A flat fee of $950 covers all travel expenses including roundtrip airfare and lodging arrangements. (Financial aid is also available!) Grab your suitcase and start exploring Penn Global Seminars!

The “work hard” mentality is definitely real at Penn so don’t forget to “play hard” too! Balance your requirements and labs with these unique and unusual courses — you won’t be sorry!

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