How to Declare the HSOC Major

1. Read the requirements for the HSOC major on the website thoroughly.

2. Make sure you are enrolled in or have taken the prerequisite course: HSOC 0480 (Health & Society) or HSOC 0490 (Comparative Medicine)

3. Visit Path@Penn and fill out the major declaration form under "Declare/Update field of study"

4. Fill out and submit the HSOC program's application.

5. Set up a meeting with the HSOC Associate Director or Director to discuss the major and your plans.

6. (Optional) Fill out and submit the HSOC Mentor-Mentee interest form.


Please Note:

  • There is no exception to the rule that to declare the HSOC major, the student must be taking or have taken HSOC 0480 or HSOC 0490. (LPS students and transfer students shold contact the Director or Associate Director for further information.) 

  • For all HSOC majors, the Associate Director is their major advisor to handle anything concerning the major. The HSOC Program Chair is also available to advise and support students in the major.
  • If a student who is planning a possible HSOC major cannot get into one of these classes during preregistration but still wishes to take it, they should:  
(1) contact the instructor in advance to be on the waitlist
 (2) attend the first lectures and recitations and (3) contact the Associate Director.

  • All HSOC majors are responsible for knowing the requirements of the major, and for knowing and taking the courses necessary to fulfill those requirements.

FAQs about the HSOC Major

What can I do with an HSOC major?

What can’t you do? What do you want to do?
Our majors say HSOC "allows you to study the big picture” and "understand real issues for a real world.” HSOC majors go on to every kind of professional school, and jobs in business, public and international health, and government. For more information, contact the HSOC Director or Associate Director, read the Alumni page, or contact or a member of the HSOC Student Advisory Board.

What other courses are recommended for me to take to explore the HSOC Major?

Many of our introductory level courses will help you explore the major. 
Freshmen are urged to consider one of several freshman seminars offered by the department.  Other courses that are excellent ways to explore the major include Medicine in History (HSOC 0400), Comparative Medicine (HSOC 0490), and American Health Policy (HSOC 1411).  See all courses at the "Courses" link on the left side of this website.

What are the requirements for the HSOC major?

HSOC is a fourteen credit major.

  • Students in the HSOC program take four core courses, three department courses, six interdisciplinary courses in a field of concentration, and a research seminar.
  • HSOC 0480 or HSOC 0490 are pre-requisite for declaring the HSOC major. 
  • HSOC majors must complete at least 34 c.u. overall, 14 for HSOC and 20 in the College, to graduate with an HSOC major.  

What is a field of concentration?

A field of concentration is an interest area. There are seven (7) HSOC concentrations, each reflecting a different academic path within the larger field of Health & Societies. Each concentration consists of six (6) courses. Some concentrations have a required core course and topical categories which must be fulfilled. The lists of pre-approved courses for each concentration can be found on the concentrations page.

Bioethics and Society
Disease and Culture
Global Health
Health Care Markets and Finance
Health Policy and Law
Public Health
Race, Gender and Health

What if I find a course that I think should be part of my concentration, but which is not on the list of pre-approved courses?

You may petition to include a course or courses into your concentration other than the pre-approved ones, if you can show, and the program directors concur, that the course (or courses) are related to Health and Societies and make a meaningful contribution to your in-major concentration.
Courses cannot be petitioned to substitute for the three required department courses, which must be courses taught by the department or crosslisted by the department. NOTE: The lists of pre-approved courses for each concentration do change from time to time as courses are added and dropped. Courses that are on the pre-approved list when a student becomes an HSOC major will always apply to the concentration even if the course is later taken off the list. Courses from old lists do not apply to new majors.

What specific courses will I need to fulfill core requirements?
You must take HSOC 0480 or HSOC 0490, HSOC 2002/SOCI 2000 or HSOC2202/SOCI 2220, a core history course (HSOC 0400 or or HSOC 1401 or HSOC 1411), and a core social science course (HSOC 1382/ANTH 1238 or HSOC 1222/SOCI 1110).  

Do courses double-count within the major?
No.  For example, if you take HSOC 0490 as the prerequisite course, you may not use it to fulfill any other requirement within the major.  If you take a 4000-level course for your capstone requirement, it cannot count for a department course or in your concentration.

What is a department elective course?
These courses have the attribute "AHSM" in Path@Penn.

What if I am not ready to declare a major but have questions about HSOC? How do I get academic advising?
The Undergraduate Chair or the Associate Director will be happy to meet with you. You may also talk to HSOC faculty and contact members of the HSOC Student Advisory Board.

What does it mean to be on registration hold?
Any sophomore who has not declared a major by the time of Advanced Registration in the spring is put on registration hold until they do declare a major. This means that they cannot register for courses. As soon as sophomores declare a major, they are removed from registration hold (unless they are on registration hold for other reasons, in which case they need to talk with an advisor in the College office).

Can I double-major in HSOC and something else?
Yes. Please be aware that the College requires double majors to complete a minimum of 18 separate courses between the two majors. 

It is important to remember that it is not necessary to double major, and there is little evidence that it "matters" much outside Penn when you are job-hunting or applying for graduate school. What is most important is that you get the most out of your primary major and out of your undergraduate education, and that you do not sacrifice your educational journey to the challenges of fulfilling two sets of major requirements.  Once you have graduated, double-majoring will matter little, but the quality, coherence, and depth of your major will matter a lot.

Can I double-concentrate within the HSOC Major?

Can I minor in HSOC?
We do not offer a minor in Health and Societies, but you can choose to minor in Bioethics or Science, Technology, & Society. 

Can I study abroad if I am an HSOC major?
Yes. We encourage HSOC majors to plan a semester abroad, and many do. Some (but not all) select programs with courses similar to the Health and Societies program. Credits from study abroad are applied to the in-major concentration portion of the HSOC major. Majors may use two courses from abroad in their concentrations, or three if they go on the IHP program.  Check both the College study abroad website and the Penn Abroad website for more information. Courses taken abroad are submitted through the XCat system, and evaluated for credit by the Undergraduate Chair or Associate Director.

Do my pre-med courses count toward the HSOC major?
Pre-med courses do not count toward the HSOC major, with the exception of STAT 1110 and BIOL 4266, which count for some but not all concentrations, and with the exception of some English courses which count toward some concentrations as well as fulfilling the pre-med requirement.
Pre-med students should schedule regular appointments with the pre-med advisers and go to the Pre-Med website in Career Services for information about pre-med requirements and advising.

What if I am a transfer student? How do I get credit for courses taken at another school?
Go to the section on transfer students on the College website for information. Transfer courses must be submitted via the XCat system. Credits from other institutions may be counted toward the HSOC major based on the evaluation of the Director and Associate Director.

Can AP credits count toward the HSOC major?

Can I get transfer credit for a summer course at another university?
Sometimes. Read the section about "credit away" on the College website. If you wish to take a course at another university, you must petition the department at Penn that has a course most closely matching the course you are planning to take.

Do LPS courses (courses offered through the College of Liberal and Professional Studies) count toward the HSOC major?
Yes--if the course would count toward the major if offered in the College, then it counts if offered in LPS.

Can I take more HSOC courses than the major requires?
Yes. You may take as many HSOC courses as you wish.

Can I do independent study projects as part of the HSOC major?
Yes. Go to the Research Opportunities page and and find the Independent Study page for further information.

Is research an important part of the HSOC major?
Yes. All HSOC majors take a research seminar in the spring of junior year or fall/spring of senior year to fulfill their Capstone Research Requirement. Some may wish write a senior thesis for honors during the senior year.  HSOC majors are encouraged to explore other opportunities for research, such as internships and publication. See the College website for research opportunities and for College policy on internships, and also the CURF website.

What is the Capstone Research Requirement?
This is a requirement that you take a 4000-level HSOC course during spring of junior year or fall/spring terms of senior year. The only courses that count for the capstone requirement are 4000-level HSOC courses taken during one of these three semesters.  We encourage students to take more than one 4000-level course, but if taken before the middle of junior year it does not fulfill the capstone requirement.  Visit the Capstone page for more information. HSOC students may not fulfill the capstone requirement with STSC 4000. 

What if I want to write a senior thesis- what are the requirements for graduating with honors in HSOC?
To graduate with honors, an HSOC major must apply for admission to the Honors program after taking and completing a capstone course the spring of their junior year or the fall of their senior year. Students need to meet GPA requirements, obtain a letter of support from their capstone instructor, and have the support of a faculty advisor in the History & Sociology of Science department.

How do I participate in HSOC events and meet other HSOC majors?

Become involved with the HSOC SAB. The HSOC Student Advisory Board sponsors programs on topics of interest to HSOC majors, and is a source of information for majors on courses, careers and internships. 

How do I find out about internships, career and postgraduate study related to HSOC?
We absolutely recommend you contact Career Services for internship and postgraduate information. You can also ask to join the HSOC student & alumni LinkedIn group by reaching out to the Associate DIrector and follow us on Instagram @penn_hsoc.