Integrated Studies and BFS Seminars
There is only one good, knowledge, and only one evil, ignorance. —Socrates
Those students accepted into BFS who are enrolled in the College engage in a unique liberal arts education. It begins with a special freshman-year curriculum, Integrated Studies, which surveys the broad territory of the arts and sciences, and continues into the Sophomore, Junior, and Senior years with an open invitation to participate in a wide array of BFS seminars, from which our scholars choose according to their own interests, where students and faculty pursue advanced topics, with minimal prerequisites, from a wide variety of fields. Watch the discussion unfold at the ISP course blog.
In the Sophomore year, Integrated Studies / BFS students choose their major or majors just as all other students in the College do. All fields of study are open for them to pursue.
Check out the recent Penn Spotlight on the Integrated Studies Program:
Applying to Integrated Studies
ISP / BFS is designed for incoming Penn Freshmen who have opted for liberal arts and are looking to pursue it intensively. All single-degree students accepted into the College at Penn are invited to apply. Applications are due on May 1. While the process is competitive, we do not see it as a means of weeding out, but rather as a sorting mechanism. Integrated Studies will be just the right fit for students who are looking to pursue breadth intensively during the freshman year. Those enrolled in another undergraduate school (Wharton, Engineering, Nursing), or enrolled in a dual-degree with another school, might be able to be a part of BFS via those other schools, but will not be able to enroll in ISP. Similarly, those who in the end opt to pursue another kind of intensive experience within the College (such as the Vagelos Program or University Scholars) will not be able to simultaneously pursue Integrated Studies. Penn has many extraordinary opportunities, each with its own rigors; amazing experiences, inside and outside of our particular program, are simply the norm. We see BFS / ISP as a particular way of having one of those commonly extraordinary Penn experiences.
Students apply to the program by doing the following:
- Officially accept Penn’s offer of a place in the entering freshman class.
- Access the online application in the Penn Decision site. On the left hand side, click on the link that shows your Special Invitation From the Integrated Studies Program. In the fourth paragraph, click on the online application hyperlink.”
- Third, select “Integrated Studies” as your first choice for Residential Housing Program when you fill out your housing application
DEADLINE: May 1, 2013.
Notification date: early June
Freshmen already on Penn’s campus and who wish to be considered for BFS are able to submit applications beginning second semester freshman year. For these students there is a different application process, please see how to apply while a student already at Penn.
The Integrated Studies Program
ISP provides the heart of the College freshman’s BFS experience. It is a rich introduction to the power of ideas in an innovative pair of two-credit courses, one taught in the fall of the freshman year, and another in the spring, which make up half of the typical course credits that Penn freshmen take. These courses fulfill a portion of the College’s General Education requirements, and provide a large piece of the solid foundation needed for any major area of study. In the spirit of great civilizations courses, they explore powerful ideas over the common ground of the liberal arts. Further, following the model of Franklin himself, they range more widely than an exploration of this or that canon of texts. Integrated Studies brings together the humanities, social sciences, and sciences in a coordinated set of explorations around the great ideas that continue to drive our understanding of the world and the human place in it.
Integrated Studies is a residentially-based program. All students live together during the freshman year in Riepe College House in the Quad, and some parts of ISP are taught in house. Each semester’s ISP course is comprised of three concurrent lecture-based streams, one each in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences. None presumes specialized knowledge, and each is tailored to speak to talented students of all backgrounds and intellectual dispositions. Within the streams, faculty experts guide students through an introduction to a discipline’s content and habits of mind — whether that be English, Anthropology, Biology, Classical Studies, or History— and also steer the course to converge toward weekly Big Questions shared by all the streams. These form the basis for wide-ranging weekly discussions that are built into the course, on topics like human nature, evidence, love, identity, change, and death.
For 2013-14, Integrated Studies will bring together the disciplines of Anthropology, Biology, Classical Studies, Math, Literature, and the History of Islam, around the themes of “Identity” in the Fall and “Reality” in the Spring. All parts of the course will be taught at an introductory level, and none will assume prior knowledge of the disciplines being taught. Check out the templates of the Fall and Spring courses. To see more of what goes on in Integrated Studies, have a look at ISP’s public blog that publishes current students’ work. Here’s President Amy Gutmann’s inaugural lecture for the Integrated Studies Program in Fall 2011.
For more information on the program, please email us at .
Who does Integrated Studies?
There are a lot of answers to that question. Here’s a chance to get to know a few of them. After studying human identity from the point of view of genetics and biology, ancient Greek myth, and modern anthropology, ISP students recently had a special project to create videos where they reconsidered their own identities in the light of their shared experience at Penn. Here are some of the results.
The BFS Seminars
ISP / BFS scholars develop specialized interests and pursue their majors in one of the dozens of concentrations available to Penn students, from Anthropology to Theater Arts, Cognitive Science to Women’s Studies.
All BFS students, whatever their undergraduate school, take at least three BFS seminars during their time at Penn (four, for the class of 2014 and earlier). Most students find the Benjamin Franklin Seminars to be among their most interesting and intellectually stimulating experiences at Penn. They are pursued as part of the major, as fulfilling a General Education Requirement, or as electives outside the major. They are small classes, usually fewer than 20 students, are designed to be intensive, and offer students and faculty the chance to jointly pursue deeper discoveries through discussion and investigation. Most seminars do not have extensive prerequisites; others require some knowledge going in. We design these courses to foster connections to your peers and to faculty with similar interests to your own. You can find information on the seminars in several places: this website, the Freshman Seminar booklet, and in the seminar section of the Course Timetable. You may have semesters in which you take no BFS courses, and others in which you take more than one. The current record among alums is 15 BFS seminars by graduation; of course, there is no upper limit!
1. Integrated Studies seems intensive – is it harder than other ways of going through Penn?
That depends on what a person means by hard. ISP will give you a chance to flex your intellectual muscles. But the kind of work you will do is also likely to be deeply rewarding, and so bring out the best in you. There are many ways of doing Penn, each with its own rigors. The best way to think about ISP is not so much on the hardness/easiness scale, but rather on the particular way it shapes your first year experience at Penn. If you’re the kind of person who especially likes to think independently, is heedlessly curious, and tends to be drawn in more by ideas the bigger they get, chances are we’re right for you.
2. If I take Integrated Studies / BFS do still I major or double-major in whatever I want?
Yes! ISP / BFS does not take the place of a “normal” major or majors. It is instead a particular way of engaging in Penn’s wide array of resources. Integrated Studies is meant as a way to help you explore during the freshman year. It fits into the wider exploration that helps you find the major you’ll choose to pursue and fulfills part of your General Education requirement. BFS seminars invite you to dig into a topic in depth without barriers, and could be taken inside or outside your major. We do steer students away from doing ISP / BFS simultaneously with pursuing multiple degrees between different undergraduate schools — say, a BA in history in the College and a BSE in the Engineering School.
3. Is Integrated Studies part of BFS?
Yes – Integrated Studies is the name for the specialized curriculum taken by all incoming BFS students who are in the College. Penn students in our other undergraduate schools – Nursing, Wharton, and Engineering – do BFS in their own ways. All BFS students, including those in the college, take BFS seminars during their time at Penn, and are welcomed into the vibrant intellectual community of students and faculty with many and diverse ways of approaching their undergraduate experiences.
4. I’m not planning to be a science major and ISP includes a science component, is it still right for me?
Yes! ISP includes the humanities, social science, and the sciences into an integrated whole. Our approach to all of these topics is the same one we would use for non-specialists. We aim to engage broad ideas at a high level but with minimal barriers to entry. In our experience good thinking is just good thinking and students who demonstrate intellectual prowess in one or the other area of knowledge are the right kind of candidates for us. ISP will fulfill some of the College’s general education requirements in the sciences, so you could understand it as a way of checking off some of that requirement.
5. I’m not planning to be a humanities major and ISP includes a humanities component, could it still be right for me?
Yes! ISP includes the humanities, social science, and the sciences into an integrated whole. Our approach to all of these topics is the same one we would use for non-specialists. We aim to engage broad ideas at a high level but with minimal barriers to entry. In our experience good thinking is just good thinking and students who demonstrate intellectual prowess in one or the other area of knowledge are the right candidates for us. ISP will fulfill some of the College’s general education requirements in the humanities and social sciences, so you could understand it as a way of checking off some of that requirement.
6. Is Integrated Studies hard to get into?
ISP has an application process. We like to think of this as more a sorting mechanism than a weeding out process. Penn is a big and complex place, with lots of wonderful ways to go through, and extraordinary experiences here are simply the norm. The particular flavor of extraordinary experience that ISP aims to foster will be the best fit for students whose first inclination toward their undergraduate education is to go broad.
7. What is the application process like?
All single-degree students accepted to the College at Penn are invited to apply to ISP/BFS. Completing an application means taking three steps: 1) filling out the application form available on this page (which includes a short essay), 2) accepting Penn’s offer of a place in the incoming Freshman class, and 3) selecting “Integrated Studies” as your first choice Residential Program when you apply for housing. We make decisions and notify students simultaneously with notification of housing (by early June). We cannot consider applications that do not complete all three of these parts.
8. I noticed that all ISP students live in Riepe College House together. If I am applying to ISP, does this affect my housing application?
Yes. ISP is a residential program and one of the three steps you take to apply to the program involves your housing selection (see #7 above). This means that during the housing selection process you will indicate the Integrated Studies Residential Program in Riepe College House as your first preference. You should also indicate your other housing preferences, just as you normally would.
9. I really want to live in the Quad, is this a good reason to apply to ISP?
No. ISP is designed for a person that wants to have a certain kind of freshman year experience. If after carefully reading over the description of our program, you think that it’s right for you, then please apply! If it doesn’t quite seem right for you, but you are looking for a room in the Quad, you’re much better off just indicating that rather than trying ISP. We would also just underscore something you’ve probably already heard from others – there are many fantastic places to live Freshman year and after a first few weeks, most students find their living situations to be everything they wanted them to be, Quad or not.