Stanford University
Lecture Class

Major Policies & Requirements

Students who wish to graduate with a B.S. in Symbolic Systems, must complete the core courses and a five-course concentration, following the general degree policies below, except as modified by the COVID-19 policies in effect during 2020-2021.

Course Plan for Graduation

To be recommended for a Bachelor's degree in Symbolic Systems, you must

  • Be an approved declared Symbolic Systems major
  • Submit a Course Plan to the Student Services Officer for Symbolic Systems at least two quarters prior to your planned graduation date, listing the courses you have taken or will complete by that date in order fulfill the course requirements for the major
  • Obtain approval for any courses that are not publicly listed as approved for a major requirement (see Replacement Petitions)
  • Complete each course on the final Course Plan you submit, subject to the Policies below that govern course requirements

General Degree Policies

The requirements to be fulfilled by a student for a major in Symbolic Systems must be active for the present Academic Year in the Stanford Bulletin: Explore Degrees website and on the Symbolic Systems Program website when the student's declaration of the major is approved, or thereafter. This means that

  • requirements no longer in place when a student's declaration is approved cannot be used by that student to complete the major, and
  • any changes in the requirements introduced after an approved declaration may be treated as optional by the student, provided that if the student chooses a version of the requirements introduced after their declaration, the student must complete the full set of requirements specified under the version of the requirements they choose to fulfill.

Earlier versions of the Core requirements for the major are described in past Stanford Bulletins. Earlier lists of courses fulfilling Advanced Small Seminar and Concentration requirements may be obtained either on the program's website or from the Program office.

All courses taken to fulfil a major requirement for Symbolic Systems must be passed with either

  • a Letter Grade (a C- or better for Core courses, or a D- or above for Concentration courses) or
  • a no-option pass grade, i.e. an S grade, or its equivalent in the Schools of Business, Law, or Medicine, or in an approved Transfer Credit course from another institution (see Replacement Petitions).

The above means that a CR grade (or its equivalent) received in a course with a Letter Grade Optional grading basis cannot be used to fulfill a major requirement for Symbolic Systems. This is a strict policy, which is designed both to encourage students to do the best work they can in each major course, and, importantly, to protect the integrity of the grading system for all students in our program. Allowing a CR grade to count for the major would compromise the ability of the Program Directorate to provide meaningful rankings of students by GPA in the major, when requested e.g. for scholarships, graduate school applications, and nominations for graduation with Distinction. Students who have already completed a required course with a CR grade may file a Replacement Petition to take a course in the same subject area -- at the same or a higher level -- in order to avoid having to retake the course. All petitions are subject to approval, modification, or denial by the Program Directorate (see Replacement Petitions).

A course must be passed with a letter grade of C- or better for Core courses, or D- or better for a Concentration course, or, if no letter grade option is available, with an S grade, or its equivalent. (See also the Grading Basis Policy). Students who receive less than a C- in a Core course should contact the program Director or Associate Director to discuss what this means for their degree progress, and to develop a plan for moving forward. If a course is not passed with the minimum grade better on first taking, the student can pursue any of the following options:

  • Retake the course, in which case the original grade will generally be replaced by an RP grade next to the first appearance of the course on their transcript, and with a new grade for the later instance
  • Take another approved course, if one is listed in the major requirements and is available to the student
  • Find and seek approval to take a replacement course (see Replacement Petitions)
  • Drop the major

Unless otherwise stated, each course that is counted for the major must be taken for 3 units or more. Taking a course for 3 units is sufficient unless the requirement specifically states otherwise.

Each course taken for the major may be counted toward at most one required course in either the Core or Concentration (not both), except in cases where double-counting is explicitly allowed.

Two of the Experiential Requirements in the Core, namely

  • the Advanced Small Seminar requirement and
  • the Capstone - Integrative Requirement,

are *asterisk requirements that may be fulfilled by courses taken for a student's Concentration, in the areas noted under each Concentration. A course that is taken and counted for a Core requirement can fulfill a Concentration requirement for which it is approved, but in that case an additional approved Contingent Elective course must be taken (chosen from among the courses approved for the student's Concentration or for the Core) to substitute for the Core course as part of the student's 5-course Concentration plan.

An undergraduate at Stanford may combine a major in Symbolic Systems with another major as either a Double/Multiple Major (which severely restricts double counting across courses between the two majors) or, alternatively, with one of the majors designated as a Secondary Major (which allows double counting without restriction).

More information is available at the Stanford Bulletin: Explore Degrees website. Note especially the following:

  • With a double major, both majors are listed on a student's diploma.
  • Secondary majors are not listed on a student's diploma, but the transcript is annotated to note that the requirements for the secondary major have also been met, and of course this may be stated on a student's resume.
  • If a student double majors in Symbolic Systems and another major, any overlapping course requirements will have to be met within the university's policy against double counting. This means that unless a course is an introductory skill requirement for both majors, different courses must be taken to fulfill the overlapping course requirements for the two majors, even if one course is listed by both programs as fulfilling one of their major requirements.
  • In some cases, a student with multiple majors can be approved to substitute a course that is not listed as an option for a major requirement if the student has taken an approved course but is counting it for another major.
  • For more information on this process, see Replacement Petitions concerning Overlapping Requirements.

University rules for completing an Undergraduate Minor prohibit most courses from being double counted for both a major and a minor. There is an exception for introductory skill requirement courses that apply to both the major and minor. Symbolic Systems maintains a list of introductory skill requirement courses that can be counted for both a minor in Symbolic Systems and another major. However, it is generally up to the minor department what courses can be double counted for that department's minor and another department's major.

All units received by a student at Stanford must be designated as applying either to a student's Undergraduate or to their Graduate career, and not to both. Here are some practical consequences of this rule:

  • It is not possible to double count courses toward the unit requirements for both an undergraduate and a graduate degree.
  • However, some Master's degree requirements in some programs at Stanford can be waived if a student has completed equivalent coursework as part of their undergraduate degree. So while the units received for an undergraduate degree cannot be applied toward the required number of units for a Stanford Master's degree, a course taken to fulfil a requirement for the Symbolic Systems major may qualify the student for a waiver of a requirement in a Master's degree, depending on the course and the program.
  • Moreover, Stanford undergraduates who are admitted to a Coterminal Master's program can often choose to assign units taken as early as their Sophomore year to their Graduate careers, as long as this assignment is done before the student receives their undergraduate degree. See the policies for specific Master's programs at Stanford for more information on the available ways to use units taken while pursuing a major in Symbolic Systems.
  • A Symbolic Systems major may use a course that would otherwise count toward a Sym Sys major requirement for their Coterminal Master's degree instead, in which case the major requirement will need to be fulfilled by another course, similar to the situation of a double major. See the section on Replacement Petitions - Overlapping Requirements for more information.