Credit for courses at another university

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In general, there are three situations where you would request credit for a course at another university:

  • Study abroad: The most common reason is that you are planning to spend some time at another university abroad. Once you return, you will probably want to count some or all of the courses you took towards your degree at Penn. In this case, it is very important that you get permission well in advance, and certainly before you leave - you wouldn’t want to come back to Penn and discover that your courses won’t count!

  • Summer courses: You may want to take courses over the summer, e.g., at a university that is close to your home town. This can be a good way to take extra courses, e.g., after a difficult semester. As with study abroad, it is very important that you get permission before you take the course!

  • Transfer credit: Finally, a third reason is that you transferred to Penn from another university and would now like to count the courses you previously took towards your Penn degree.

Please review the rules in the Undergraduate Handbook for details. In particular, three rules that sometimes surprise students are that:

  • online courses do not count unless they were taken at Penn.

Courses that would normally have been in-person but were held online due to the Covid-19 pandemic are eligible for transfer credit.

  • you cannot use credit from courses you took while still in high school, or the summer after high school, unless the course was taken at Penn
  • you cannot use credit away to replace a course you failed at Penn

What kinds of credit can I get?

Specific Penn courses

Normally, you would request credit for the equivalent course at Penn. For instance, say you are going to spend some time at the University of Edinburgh and are planning to take INFR08018 there. This course has historically been relatively close to CIS 2400formerly CIS 240 at Penn, so you may be able to get CIS 2400formerly CIS 240 credit for it. This is the best kind of credit - it satisfies the CIS 2400formerly CIS 240 requirement just as if you had taken CIS 2400formerly CIS 240 at Penn. However, the bar for approval is also relatively high. This is because the course needs to be pretty close to its Penn equivalent: if it is in the same subject area but covers different material, it may not prepare you properly for other courses that have the Penn course as a prerequisite. Sometimes Penn courses fulfill multiple requirements: for instance, CIS 3800formerly CIS 380 can count as a Project Elective for ASCS students, so an operating systems course without a substantial project may not be approved.

CIS 1100

One exception to this rule is CIS 1100formerly CIS 110: The department will usually give CIS 1100formerly CIS 110 credit for any reasonable introductory programming course, even if it is somewhat different from Penn’s own CIS 1100formerly CIS 110, e.g., your course was taught in a different programming language. However, the course still has to be a serious programming course: very introductory courses (e.g., based on Alice/Scratch) will not count.

CIS 2970/2980

A third kind of credit is CIS 2970formerly CIS 297/2980formerly CIS 298 credit. This kind of credit is available even for courses that have no direct equivalent at Penn; it is meant as an opportunity for you to broaden or deepen your study of Computer Science by taking courses that you do not have the opportunity to take here. The difference between CIS 2970formerly CIS 297 and CIS 2980formerly CIS 298 is that CIS 2980formerly CIS 298 credit is given for major-related courses and can be used in the Engineering category; CIS 2970formerly CIS 297 is awarded for courses that do not qualify for the Engineering category but are still suitable as Technical Electives. Note that this kind of credit is meant for fairly advanced courses - you would not be able to get these credits for introductory courses. Additionally, CIS 2970formerly CIS 297/2980formerly CIS 298 credit is available only for courses in Computer Science and not, e.g., business or music courses.

CIS 0000

A fourth option is CIS 0000 credit. This is a “free CIS credit”. It can be used as a CIS Elective (despite its diminutive course number), Technical Elective, or Free Elective. Since CIS 2970formerly CIS 297/2980formerly CIS 298 is meant for Study Abroad, CIS 0000 credit is more commonly given to students who are transferring to Penn from another school.

Preparing your request

Before you can request credit, you’ll need to get some fairly detailed information about the course - at the very least, a comprehensive syllabus and/or a link to a course web page with a detailed schedule. This is necessary to allow us to check whether the course really is equivalent to a particular Penn course, or eligible for CIS 2970formerly CIS 297/2980formerly CIS 298 credit. A brief paragraph from the course catalog will not suffice. Many universities have detailed syllabi on the web, but not all do; if yours does not, you may need to contact the instructor. Please be sure to get a current syllabus; courses do change over time, so a syllabus or course web page from three or four years ago may not be recent enough.

If you are requesting course-specific credit (i.e., something other than CIS 1100formerly CIS 110 or CIS 2970formerly CIS 297/2980formerly CIS 298), you also need to specify which course at Penn you believe to be equivalent. This information is important - do not leave it out, and do not list a long sequence of courses that could be equivalent (e.g., “CIS 4190formerly CIS 419, CIS 4210formerly CIS 421, CIS 5200formerly CIS 520, or maybe CIS 5450formerly CIS 545” for a machine-learning course elsewhere). We will not make this decision for you - it is your job to review the other course and to figure out which course at Penn is the closest match.

Submitting your request

The College has some guidance on using XCAT. You can file your requests via the XCAT website.

Some computer science courses at other universities are recorded as XCAT precedents. This means that other students have recently taken this course and been awarded Penn credit for it, so your request can be approved as well. We do periodically review these precedents, since course content (at both Penn and other universities) changes over time, so a precedent is not a guarantee in perpetuity that credit will be awarded.

If you do not find a precedent for your course, XCAT will ask you some fairly detailed questions about the course you have taken, or are planning to take, so please have everything ready. You’ll be able to attach documents (e.g., syllabi) and/or specify URLs (e.g., links to course web pages). Documents are strongly preferred because web links might always break down the line.

If you do attach documents, please make sure that all attachments are in PDF. Also, please do not forget to specify which credit you are requesting: CIS 1100formerly CIS 110, 2970formerly CIS 297, 2980formerly CIS 298 or some other course.

Approval is not guaranteed; the department rejects about a quarter of the requests that are filed - usually because the course is not really equivalent to the Penn course for which credit was requested. Because of this, it is critical that you do not submit requests retroactively, i.e., for courses that you are already taking, or have already taken (unless, of course, you’re a transfer student).

Please do not submit a huge stack of requests, e.g., because you are considering half a dozen courses for study abroad and “just want to see what would count”! This process takes a fairly substantial amount of faculty time (see below), so we reserve the right to start rejecting requests if we think you are abusing the system. If you are not sure yet which university to attend abroad, or which courses you might want to take there, please speak with someone from RAS (Towne 109) first. They will be able to suggest universities whose curricula align well with Penn’s, and they will know which kinds of courses can be approved. This is critical so that you can still graduate on time once you return!

After you submit your request

The department reviews XCAT requests periodically, usually once every one or two weeks. Usually, your request will first be reviewed by an undergraduate coordinator, to make sure that it is complete. Your undergraduate chair will then contact the instructor of the equivalent course at Penn, to get input, and finally make a decision. XCAT should send you the decision via email once it is available.

Please do not submit requests at the last minute! Keep in mind that the process can involve some back-and-forth between the undergraduate chair and the instructor(s) and sometimes you as well, so this all adds up.

When will the credit appear on my transcript?

Once the course is approved in XCAT and you have completed the course, it will take about a semester(!) for the credit to post to your transcript. Please be patient!