General Information About the Chemistry Major: 

Students enter Amherst College with a wide variety of prior experience with and preparation in chemistry.  One common factor we have found is that college chemistry in general, and chemistry at Amherst College in particular, takes a broader view of the subject and makes greater use of concepts from mathematics and physics than the vast majority of pre-college approaches to the material.  This includes AP, IB, and A-level programs.  Consequently, our 100 level courses are the best starting points for study in our department.  

Information for Advisors and Advisees:

This information, regarding Chemistry Placement, will aid in advising, both during first-year orientation or for pre-registration during the semester.  If you have any questions regarding Chemistry Placement after reading this information, please contact Professor David E. Hansen (x2731 or 

Please note that Chemistry 155 is not offered in the spring semester; in addition, students who place into Chemistry 155 will not be allowed to register for "off-semester" Chemistry 151 in the spring.

Please read the following information carefully:

For the vast majority of Amherst College students, Chemistry 151 or Chemistry 155 followed by Chemistry 161 are the appropriate first courses in the department: Since some calculus is used in Chemistry 155 while Chemistry 151 is calculus-free, chemistry placement is based primarily (but not exclusively) upon a student's Math placement.  To a good (but again not perfect) first approximation, students who have been placed into Math 121 or 211 are placed into Chemistry 155; students who have been placed into Math 111 are placed into Chemistry 151.  (While some high school background in chemistry is useful for students who have been placed in Chemistry 155, having taken AP Chemistry is certainly not a requirement.)  Finally, students who have been placed into Math 105 may not begin chemistry in the fall semester but may then enroll in Chemistry 151 in the spring (the "off-semester" of Chemistry 151).  Note that students who have placed into Chemistry 155 will need to take the course in the fall semester as it is not offered in the spring.

Advanced Placement: In accordance with Amherst College policy, advanced placement credit is not granted, but extremely well-prepared students may receive placement out of either Chemistry 151/155, Chemistry 161, or in rare cases, both.  It is sometimes the case that a student is qualified to place out of Chemistry 161 rather than Chemistry 151/155.  These decisions are made on an individual basis, taking into account the student's background and performance on an examination administered by the Department, covering the material of Chemistry 151 or 161.  Before considering whether or not to ask to take the placement exams in either Chemistry 151 or 161, consider the following:  Students who have placed out of one of these courses in the past have come to us with some combination of the following: a math SAT1 score well above 750, a chemistry SAT II score well above 750 plus a chemistry advanced placement score of 5 or other evidence of superior college-level preparation.  Placement out of both courses is very unusual and has been recommended when a student comes to us with an exceptional chemistry background such as placement in the International Chemistry Olympiad or extensive college level course work.   If you think you fit this profile and wish advanced placement, speak to a chemistry department faculty member when you arrive on campus.  These considerations regarding advanced placement apply equally well to students with A level or IB diplomas. 

Effect on requirements for the major: Students wishing to major in chemistry who place out of introductory courses are still required to take eight chemistry courses at the college.  In order to complete this requirement, it may be necessary to take a special topics course at Amherst College or an advanced chemistry course at one of the other Five Colleges.

Students considering a career in medicine: It is essential to consult the Health Professions advisor regarding the implications of placement out of chemistry courses that are required for admission to medical school.

Students with college credit: Occasionally, entering students have credit from previous college chemistry courses.  These students should speak with the Chemistry Department Chair regarding appropriate placement into courses and requirements for the major.