Step 1: Articulate Program Learning Outcomes

Program learning outcomes (PLOs) are a series of statements that describe the specific skills that students should acquire by the end of your program. A few things to keep in mind while crafting and refining your program’s PLOs:

PLOs should be relevant & specific.

Above all, PLOs should make sense for your particular academic program. They can refer to distinct areas of knowledge within your field (e.g., algorithms, biochemistry, morphology), or to broader abilities (e.g., analytical thinking, writing, problem-solving), but the key is to paint a clear picture of the specific skills students will be graduating with.

PLOs should be measurable & time-bound.

PLOs are aspirational in nature, but in order to be most useful to your program, they also need to be measurable within a particular timeframe. For example, you may hope that all of your majors emerge as lifelong learners, but how would you quantify their “learner”-ness and realistically measure this quality over the course of their lives? Instead, think about which specific skills characterize an ideal “learner” and capture those in your PLO statements.



Content knowledge:

“Students will be able to demonstrate knowledge of how biochemistry, genetics and molecular biology are used to elucidate both the function of cells and their organization into tissues.” (BS in MCD Bio)

“Students should be able to recognize and analyze performance works within the general culture and historical period that produced them.” (BA in Theater Arts)

“Students will be able to demonstrate sociological understandings of phenomena, for example, how individual biographies are shaped by social structures, social institutions, cultural practices, and multiple axes of difference and/or inequality.” (BA in Sociology)

General abilities (e.g., critical thinking, research skills):

“Students should be able to use critical thinking to evaluate and interpret evidence, and to apply psychological concepts, theories, and research findings to individual, social, and cultural issues.” (BA in Psychology)

“Students will demonstrate the ability to communicate and interact effectively with different audiences, developing their ability to collaborate intellectually and creatively in diverse contexts, and to appreciate ambiguity and nuance, while emphasizing the importance of clarity and precision in communication and reasoning.” (BA in Mathematics)

“Students will be able to apply ethical reasoning to make decisions about engineering methods and solutions in a global, economic, environmental, and societal context.” (BS in Biomolecular Engineering)

“Students will be able to formulate research questions that expand their knowledge of art and visual culture.  Students will be able to apply research methods to answer these questions by consulting the current literature and developing independent results through archival, library, or field research.” (BA in History of Art & Visual Culture)



  • Frame your PLOs in terms of a student’s perspective (i.e., if you were a student entering the program, what skills should you expect to develop by the end?)

  • Use direct action verbs (e.g., demonstrate, apply, use) rather than cognitive ones (e.g., understand, grasp)

  • Stick to what you can actually observe and measure either during or at the end of a student’s time at UCSC (rather than what you hope will happen after their time at UCSC).

  • Use accessible, student-friendly language

  • Avoid general, cookie-cutter PLOs. Your PLOs should feel like your own!

  • Ask for feedback! There are designated assessment specialists here at UCSC who would be more than happy to help you refine your PLOs.



For a list of all PLOs in all academic programs at UCSC, click here.


Once you have finished developing your PLOs, the next step is to map out your course curriculum (Step 2).