Do you really need more than 5.5 CUs?
Probably not! In eight semesters at Penn, you can easily attain the 37 CUs needed to graduate without exceeding even 5 CUs per semester.
There are some cases where an overload makes sense - for instance, you may be working towards a dual degree, you may have switched majors earlier and need to “catch up”, you may have failed or withdrawn from some courses for various reasons, etc. However, it is not a decision to be made lightly: there are a couple of things you should consider:
It will be a LOT of work! Taking five CUs can already be challenging, and taking an even higher load will often result in a very stressful semester. You won’t necessarily feel this at the beginning of the semester, when all the courses will be going over light introductory material, but things can get very tough during midterms and finals.
Your GPA could suffer. Your time and energy are finite, and spreading them over more classes could result in lower performance, and thus, lower grades.
If you’ve already been struggling with a normal workload, taking an overload isn’t a good idea, which is why the SEAS Undergrad Handbook permits CU limit increases only in specific circumstances. More about this below.
Sometimes students request an overload in order to “hedge their bets” with course registration. For instance, so that they can request several waitlisted courses, or shop among different classes to figure out which one they like best. This is neither necessary nor recommended. If you are on the waitlist, you can always submit a CU limit raise request after you get a permit - we won’t expire the permit if you couldn’t use it but wanted to. If you are not sure yet whether you want to take a certain course, you can always sit in until the Add deadline and then enroll if (and only if) you like the class.
How to request a CU increase
CU limit increases must be requested, and are reviewed, each semester. There is no way to permanently raise your limit.
You can only request an increase at the beginning of the semester, once all the grades for the previous semester have been posted. Check the SEAS Undergrad Handbook’s rules regarding CU limits. Generally, you need a 3.0 GPA and demonstrated ability to handle X CUs if you want a limit of X+1 CUs. Typically you can’t go beyond 5.5 CUs for Advance Registration, either, even if you can get your limit raised later.
If you are eligible, you can submit a CU limit raise request for 6 or 6.5 CUs.
CU limits of 7 CUs require a SEAS Petition, and are rarely granted.
Planning for >5.5 CUs
Not all CUs are created equal. If possible, avoid taking multiple high-workload courses (e.g., project electives) in a semester where you are taking an overload. It is best to balance some lighter courses (e.g., free electives) with more challenging courses. If you aren’t sure how much work a given course is, have a look at the difficulty ratings at PennCourseReview, and ask other students who have already taken the course (ideally with the same instructor you will have).