Chemistry Major FAQ’s

What are the prerequisites for the chemistry major?

There are a few different “flavors” of the chemistry major (see below), but each one requires Chemistry 5 and 6 (General Chemistry), Physics 13 and 14 (Introductory Physics), Math 3 (Calculus I), and Math 8 (Calculus 2).  All of these are recommended to be completed by the end of your sophomore year to prepare you for Physical Chemistry.

What are the differences among the Plan A, Plan B, Biophysical Chemistry, and Biological Chemistry majors?

After completing the prerequisite courses, you must take 8 additional courses, 6 of which must be offered by the Chemistry Department .  An outline of the required courses for each major is shown below:
  • Plan A: 51/57, 64, 75, 76, 96, elective, elective, elective (this also has Math 13–or 11, or 12– as a prerequisite)
  • Plan B: 51/57, 64, 75, 76, elective, elective, elective, elective
  • Biophysical Chemistry: 51/57, 52/58, 41, 64, 75, 76, 67, elective
  • Biological Chemistry: 51/57, 52/58, 64, 40, 41, 42, elective, elective

The Biological Chemistry major features a new physical chemistry course, Chem 40, which focuses on topics of relevance to fundamental biological processes, and also prepares students to take Chem 161.x as an elective. The Plan A major is for students interested in physical chemistry and allows room to focus in this area (by having the option to elect one or more sections of Chemistry 96). The Plan B major has the most flexibility of these majors. The Biophysical Chemistry major has the least flexibility for electives but still provides an overview of biological and biophysical chemistry, and is a great way to prepare for the 4+1 Master’s Program in Biophysical Chemistry if you are interested.

Electives besides those listed above include Chemistry 63 (Environmental Chemistry, offered in the summer), 90 (Organometallic Chemistry), 91 (Catalysis), 92 (Inorganic Biochemistry), 93 (Physical Organic Chemistry), 96.x (Special Topics in Physical Chemistry, the offerings change from year to year and term to term), 161.x (Topics in Advanced Biophysical Chemistry), and many others.

See for more information.

How do I declare a Chemistry Major?

First, pick up 3 blank major cards from the Chemistry Department office or from the Office of the Registrar. Second, contact a member of the Undergraduate Advising Committee (Robert Ditchfield, Jon Kull, Jane Lipson, and Gordon Gribble). The conversation should start during your 4th or 5th term at Dartmouth. When filling out a major card, you can’t choose Chemistry 87 (Research) as one of your courses even if you intend to elect it later because there is an application process, but you can revise your card later if you plan to pursue research and/or write a thesis. Lastly, after choosing your D-Plan that allows you to complete your major plan, the UAC member keeps one card, you keep one card, and the Registrar’s office needs one. You must declare a major by the end of your 5th term.

What extracurricular opportunities are there in chemistry? How can I best take advantage of the department’s offerings?

The Dartmouth College Chemistry Society, a student chapter of the American Chemical Society, is the best place to start for those interested in chemistry! In addition, there are teaching assistant positions open to qualified students for general and organic chemistry. You can also become a tutor or a study group leader through the Academic Skills Center if you receive an A or A- in a course. The Chemistry Society is initiating a new volunteer/outreach program directed toward education of middle school students through teaching and demos, which is also exciting and a great way to give back to the community. See the “Outreach Program” tab on our website.

What is the difference between Chem 51/52 and the Chem 57/58?

Each sequence covers most of the same material, but Chem 51/52 uses a different textbook than Chem 57/58. The latter also has a smaller class size and is generally for chemistry majors or other science majors looking to explore some topics in greater depth. The laboratory component of each course is similar (a few additional experiments included in 57/58) but the order of experiments generally varies slightly (in part because the McMurry textbook presents material in a different order than the Vollhardt and Schore textbook).

Can I take Physical Chemistry before Organic Chemistry?

Yes, Chem 40/75 can be taken before Chem 51/57 because the prerequisite courses do not include organic. However, the prerequisite courses for Chem 76 are Chem 75 and Chem 64, and 64 requires one term of organic chemistry (51/57), so Chem 76 should be taken later.

What mathematics background is necessary for the chemistry major?

The more “math-intensive” courses are Chem 40/75 and 76. Completing Math 8 and having an mastery of partial derivatives as well as a solid foundation in algebra techniques is essential. Differential equations or linear algebra may be helpful but are not required. Most necessary mathematics (i.e. integration techniques, series expansion, vector algebra) will be reviewed in the first week of each course.

How can I get involved in research in the department?

First year students can participate in the WISP program, Sophomores in the Sophomore Science Scholarship program, Juniors in the James O. Freedman Presidential Scholars program or the Junior Science Scholarship program, and Seniors in the Senior Fellows program.  If you are interested in being on campus during a leave term (“Hanover FSP”), you can also apply for a Leave Term Research Grant (up to $4000)

Start by reading faculty bios and research interests, skimming through abstracts/introductions of recent publications, and thinking about whether it would be something you would enjoy doing. Once you have a few people in mind, send them emails expressing your interest and set up an appointment to meet with and/or interview with each professor.

In addition to the programs offered by the Undergraduate Research Office, linked above, you can also be involved in Chemistry 87 and/or the Honors Program.

What is Chem 87? What are its rules/restrictions, and how does grading work?

Chem 87 provides a way to earn academic credit for undergraduate research. It’s often elected during the senior year, but juniors can elect it too (except, by chemistry department policy, not during a term that counts for Presidential Scholars). Students who elect Chem 87 as one of their 3 (or 4) Dartmouth courses should expect to spend at least 20 hours per week doing work related to their research. You can elect it up to 3 times for academic credit (only one of which counts for the 8 major courses), and when you defend your thesis or complete your last term of Chem 87, you will be awarded a grade for each Chem 87 term retroactively based on your work.

More information can be found here.

How can you become eligible for the Honors Program?

If you meet the GPA requirements for the Chemistry major and overall GPA and spend at least the cumulative effort of three terms of Chemistry 87 working on your research, you should be eligible. Contact the Undergraduate Advising Committee or the Chair of the Chemistry Department for more details.

The application for the Honors Program can be found here.


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