General Questions, Declaring, and Academic Advising for Undergraduate Majors

[updated July 30, 2018 - revised note on Symsys 1 requirement for declaring in 2018-2019]

General Questions. For general information about the Symbolic Systems undergraduate major that you do not see on our website, email symsys-afs at lists dot stanford dot edu from an account, or see the Student Services Officer in Building 460, Room 127E during normal business hours (M-Th 8-noon and 1-4:30 pm).

Declaring. Students matriculating with the Class of 2018 or later must take SYMSYS 1 ("Minds and Machines", formerly SYMSYS 100) before their declaration of the Symbolic Systems undergraduate major will be approved. Students in the Class of 2018 or later must either have completed SYMSYS 1 or be enrolled past the add/drop deadline in Autumn Quarter to have their declaration approved. A Stanford undergraduate with a SUNET ID who entered Stanford prior to the Autumn of 2014, or who has taken SYMSYS 1, can initiate the declaration of a Symbolic Systems major on Axess, However, before the declaration is approved, you must come in person to the Symbolic Systems Program office (Building 460, Suite 040) for a declaration interview with either the Associate Director or an Undergraduate Advising Fellow. Before coming for a declaration interview, please fill out the Symsys Couse Plan and bring a copy of it to share with your interviewer either on paper or on your laptop. During your declaration interview, you will be asked some questions to verify that declaring the major is appropriate for you (e.g. that you will have sufficient time in your remaining career to complete the coursework, and that you have some familiarity with the requirements of the major). The course plan is the best basis for this discussion. We encourage you to use this as a worksheet for yourself, throughout the program. There is no need to submit this preliminary version to the Symbolic Systems Program staff. As part of the approval process, you will be given an account and a profile on the Symsys website, and you will be added to the email list for undergraduates in Symbolic Systems. If you are not ready to declare, but want to be included on email announcements sent to the general Symbolic Systems students list, you can self-subscribe to the symsys-others list and you will receive any student messages not restricted to declared Symbolic Systems undergraduates. To see when the Associate Director or an Advising Fellow will be available to help you declare, see AF/Staff Office Hours. For seniors, a final version of the Symsys Course Plan is due to Lisa Woodcock ( in December. Although the Symbolic Systems Program staff will not officially approve the courses on your course as fulfilling the requirements of the major at this time, completing a preliminary version is required as an exercise, so that we are sure you have thought through at least one possible path through the major. You can change your course plan at any time throughout the program, without having to notify anyone, but you are responsible for ensuring that the courses you take meet the requirements (see below under Advising - Tier 2).

Special Notice for 2018-2019. SYMSYS 1, which is usually taught in the Autumn Quarter, will be taught in the Winter in 2018-2019. This means that if you are an undergraduate who wants to declare Symbolic Systems as your major and have not yet taken SYMSYS 1, you will need to wait until after the add/drop deadline in Winter Quarter before you can declare, at which point you must be enrolled in SYMSYS 1. However, because the scheduling of SYMSYS 1 is a break from our usual pattern, we recognize that some juniors who were planning to take SYMSYS 1 in the fall and then declare may be unable to take the course in the Winter because they have already committed to going away during Winter Quarter (e.g. to an overseas campus).

If you are a junior with an enrollment hold for not declaring a major, you can declare during the Autumn Quarter and your declaration will be approved if you provide a letter of admission to another campus for Winter Quarter. This only applies to juniors under a registration hold for not yet declaring (or students declared in another major who entered Stanford in 2016 or earlier), who can establish that they will not be on campus in the Winter. Undeclared Juniors who are considering majoring in Symbolic Systems but who have not yet taken SYMSYS 1, and who are *not* going to be away for Winter Quarter, can meet with their UAR Advisor (AAD or AARC Advisor) to discuss their academic plans prior to enrollment for Winter Quarter in order to have their enrollment hold released. They may then declare and get approval for a major in Symbolic Systems after the add/drop deadline for Winter Quarter if they are enrolled in SYMSYS 1 at that point.

Our current intention is to resume teaching SYMSYS 1 in the Autumn in 2019-2020, so we are hoping the accommodation for undeclared juniors going overseas in Winter will only be necessary in 2018-2019.

Advising. Once you are declared as a Symbolic Systems undergraduate major, you have until the Autumn Quarter of your junior year to find a Concentration Advisor. Prior to that, you will immediately be assigned to both the Program Director and Associate Director as Major Advisors. If you declare the major after the opening of Winter Quarter registration (late October) in your junior year, you must have a concentration advisor before your major declaration can be approved. Throughout your time as a major you will have access to three tiers of advising, depending on the questions and action you require:

  • Tier 1.Undergraduate Advising Fellows. The Advising Fellows (AFs) are 6-7 upper division undergraduate or coterm students in Symbolic Systems who have taken a substantial number of courses for the major and can advise you from a student's perspective. They answer questions such as "What is this course like?", "How can I get involved in research?", and "How can I meet other Symbolic Systems students?" The AFs also plan and host events for students, appear at majors fairs, perform declaration interviews, and serve as the official voice of students in policymaking for undergraduate programs in Symbolic Systems.
  • Tier 2. Director, Associate Director, and Student Services Officer. The Director, Associate Director, and Student Services Officer are official administrators of the program. One or more of them are generally the appropriate people to ask to sign forms and grant approvals on behalf of the program, depending on the exact approval required. They can also answer questions and give advice about the program as a whole, particularly pertaining to the core requirements, degree requirements, and finding an advisor.
  • Tier 3. Concentration Advisors. You must declare a faculty Concentration Advisor by the Autumn Quarter of your junior year in the major. If you have not done so, a hold will be placed on your registration for subsequent quarters. Your concentration advisor provides advising specific to his/her area of research and teaching, which should fit your concentration area within the major. Concentration advisors are not expected to provide advice or to know about program requirements or areas of the major outside of their specializations, though they may do so.

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