Gustav H. Carlson School of Chemistry

Student and professor in lab

Planning a Course of Study

Individual courses of study will obviously vary a great deal, but it is important to plan ahead as far as possible. The following points need to be considered:

  • Many advanced courses have other courses as prerequisites, so it is advisable to take the basic courses early.
  • Students intending to take MCAT or GRE exams should try to complete all basic courses before sitting for the exam.
  • Students contemplating research or Honors should complete Organic, Analytical and Physical Chemistry courses early, because most research projects involve application of the material learned in these courses.
  • It is important to take calculus early, and certainly before Chem 260 (Physical Chemistry).

The most common program

First Year

  • Introductory Chemistry (Chem 101 and 102) or Accelerated Introductory Chemistry (Chem 103)
  • Calculus (Math 120 and Math 121)


Second Year

  • Organic Chemistry (Chem 131 and Chem 132) or Biological Organic Chemistry (Chem 134)
  •  Introductory Physics (PHYS 110 or 120 and 111 or 121)
  • Analytical Chemistry (CHEM 140)

    Third Year
  • Physical Chemistry (Chem 260 and Chem 262)
  • Biochemistry (BCMB 271)


Fourth Year

  • Inorganic Chemistry (Chem 250)
  • Directed Study (Chem 299)
  • Advanced Chemistry Courses


We strongly advise students to take CHEM 140 in the spring of their second year, and if they have completed CHEM 103, even in the first year. We also strongly advise students to take Physical Chemistry in their junior year. However if you delay these courses or if you do not take CHEM 101 and CHEM 102 or CHEM 103 in your first year, you can certainly still major in Chemistry.

A typical program would be:


Second Year

  • Introductory Chemistry (Chem 101 and Chem 102) or Accelerated Introductory Chemistry (Chem 103)
  • Introductory Physics (Phys 110 and 111)
  • Calculus (Math 120 and Math 121)


Third Year

  • Organic Chemistry (Chem 131 and Chem 132)
  • Analytical Chemistry (Chem 140)
  • Physical Chemistry (Chem 260 and Chem 262)


Fourth Year

  • Inorganic Chemistry (Chem 250)
  • Biochemistry (BCMB 271)
  • Directed Study (Chem 299)
  • Advanced Electives

However, you must be careful to plan your course of action because many courses are taught only in either the fall or spring semester. You will also find that your junior and senior years are fairly chemistry-oriented. One problem is that most chemistry courses have labs and more than two labs a week can prove to be an extreme burden. Although it is not essential to follow the suggested order, each student should follow a general plan. Organic Chemistry is almost always taken as the first advanced course. It is largely non-mathematical, so taking it early leaves time to accumulate additional math and physics background. Environmental Chemistry follows after Chem 102 and does not require calculus. Since the laboratory component of the course concentrates on basic technique, it is a good idea to take this course as soon as possible. It is recommended that chemistry majors take this in their sophomore or junior year.

The order of the remaining courses is not so critical. Physical Chemistry is highly mathematical and requires calculus. Its concepts are used in many other courses, so it is advantageous to take Chem 260 and 262 in your junior rather than your senior year. Chem 250 can be taken at any time after Chem 140 and after or concurrently with Chem 260. More specialized courses are generally left until the senior year, or used to fill out a schedule. A possible exception is Directed Study, which can often be started in the second semester of the junior year.

The general principle, then, is to take your basic courses early (but not so early that you lack background for them). This has the advantage that you can use the material in later courses. It also gives you more flexibility in your senior year to choose courses that interest you, because you can be sure that you have completed the prerequisites.