Welcome to UW-Madison! This page is intended for incoming first-year and transfer students interested in taking chemistry courses. It is your guide to commonly asked questions about chemistry course selection and placement. When you attend SOAR, you will have an opportunity to speak with advisors about which chemistry course best fits your academic background and goals.
See below for information about introductory courses, enrollment tips, and how to obtain chemistry advising.
Introductory Chemistry Courses and Placement
There are multiple options for introductory chemistry, and the best choice depends on the student’s academic background and goals. See below for information about advanced placement, which semesters courses are offered, requisites, and the typical backgrounds of students who take each course.
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Advanced Placement (AP) Chemistry
A student who earns a 4 or 5 on the AP Chemistry exam will receive three credits for CHEM 103 General Chemistry I. If the student also meets the math requisite for CHEM 109 Advanced General Chemistry (below), they are usually advised to take CHEM 109 to complete their general chemistry requirements. Learn more about how to earn credit at UW-Madison from AP coursework.
International Baccalaureate (IB) Higher Level Chemistry
A student who earns a 4 or 5 on the International Baccalaureate (IB) higher level Chemistry exam will receive four credits for CHEM 103. If the student also meets the math requisite for CHEM 109 Advanced General Chemistry (below), they are usually advised to take CHEM 109 to complete their general chemistry requirements.
A score of 6 or 7 on the IB higher level Chemistry exam will earn four credits for CHEM 103 and five credits for CHEM 104. These students are ready for an intermediate level chemistry course. Learn more about how to earn credit at UW-Madison from IB coursework.
CHEM 103/104 General Chemistry I/II
This course sequence is the traditional one-year introductory chemistry sequence that the majority of students needing chemistry will take. CHEM 103 (4 credits) is taken first, followed by CHEM 104 (5 credits).
- Offered fall, spring, and summer terms
- Math Requisite: Placement out of MATH 112 on UW Math Placement Test, which means at least 470 on Math Fundamentals and 540 on Advanced Algebra; completion of MATH 112, MATH 114, MATH 171 or equivalent also satisfies the requisite, as does calculus credit from AP/IB exams.
- High School Chemistry: The vast majority of students have had at least one year of high school chemistry.
CHEM 108 Chemistry in Our World
CHEM 108 (5 credits) teaches chemistry through contemporary topics such as air quality, energy, food, plastics, nuclear chemistry, and global climate change. This course is intended for students who need just one semester of chemistry with laboratory. Students majoring in nursing, business, life sciences communication, agricultural and applied economics, rehabilitation psychology, and wildlife ecology are among those who select CHEM 108. This course (like all chemistry courses) counts towards College of Letters & Science breadth requirements in physical science. CHEM 108 does not serve as a prerequisite for any further chemistry courses.
- Offered spring semesters only
- Requisites: None
CHEM 109 Advanced General Chemistry
CHEM 109 (5 credits) is an accelerated introductory chemistry course recommended for students with an especially strong high school chemistry and math background. The course covers the breadth of the material from CHEM 103/104, skipping the more basic concepts and focusing in depth on the more comprehensive topics, such as atomic and molecular structure, biomolecules and polymers, equilibrium, thermodynamics, kinetics, acid-base chemistry, and electrochemistry. Students are expected to be familiar with these prerequisite topics and to have strong college-level study skills.
- Offered fall semesters only
- Math Requisite: Placement into MATH 221 (1st semester calculus) on UW Math Placement test, which means at least 470 on Math Fundamentals, 540 on Advanced Algebra, and 560 on Trig and Analytic Geometry; credit for calculus from course work or AP/IB exams also satisfies the requisite.
- High School Chemistry: Most students who complete CHEM 109 have had two years of high school chemistry. Students with one year of high school chemistry are welcome in CHEM 109, but they will need to work harder to perform satisfactorily. About 77% of students who completed CHEM 109 reported scores from AP or IB Chemistry exams.
- High School Math: About 64% of students who completed CHEM 109 reported scores from AP or IB Calculus exams.
CHEM 109 Honors
The honors section of CHEM 109 (lecture 3) for fall 2023 will adhere to the same course structure as non-honors CHEM 109, and it will cover the same content. The main goal in pursuing Honors credit is to master a portion of the course material more deeply by engaging in creative activity relevant to the material. The requisites are the same as those for the non-honors sections of CHEM 109 (lectures 1 and 2). To ensure that students know that they are enrolling in an honors section, they will need to request access from the Chemistry Consultant or by emailing email@example.com.
Learn more about the honors section of CHEM 109.
CHEM 115/116 Chemical Principles I/II
CHEM 115/116 Chemical Principles I/II is a two-semester mathematically based honors chemistry sequence designed for well-prepared and highly motivated first year students with an interest in science or engineering. The goal of this unique sequence is to expose freshman to the frontiers of science, which is much sooner than is usually possible in the first year of college. The physical and experimental origins of key chemical models are emphasized, focusing on quantum mechanics, which is a subject that chemistry majors do not typically learn until they are juniors or seniors. Advanced mathematics and physics are used as needed. Lecture material connects basic chemical principles with state-of-the-art research and in 116, students are placed into research laboratories for guided research over 7 weeks. The class size is small with about 28-32 students.
Learn more about the CHEM 115/116 sequence and how to apply.
Deciding between CHEM 103/104 and CHEM 109
We recommend that students consider taking CHEM 109 instead of CHEM 103 if they:
- Placed into MATH 221 (required) or higher or have AP/IB test credit or transfer credit for calculus
- Completed two years of high school chemistry or at least one full-year of a rigorous chemistry course that covered only chemistry, as opposed to a course where chemistry is one of several science topics. The course(s) should have covered stoichiometry, atomic structure, thermochemistry, bonding and molecular structure, equilibrium, acids and bases, and kinetics.
- Did well in both chemistry and math in high school and enjoy learning chemistry
- Would like an accelerated and challenging chemistry course
- Have college-level study skills – includes the ability to learn content and work problems independently, seek clarification from appropriate course resources, solve novel problems, and manage time effectively
CHEM 103 is usually a better option for students who:
- Placed out of MATH 112 College Algebra (required) or have college credit for MATH 112, 114, or 171, but do not have a strong (or any) calculus background
- Completed one year of high school chemistry, but do not meet the other criteria for CHEM 109 listed above
- Prefer a less fast-paced option than CHEM 109 offers
- Did not enjoy math or chemistry courses in high school and/or found them to be especially challenging
- Are not an entering first-year student (i.e., a transfer or continuing student)
Chemistry Credit by Examination
The Department of Chemistry offers credit by examination for the lecture only parts of CHEM 103 and CHEM 104. Learn more about the exams and eligibility requirements.
Intermediate Chemistry Courses
New students who have already completed general chemistry might be ready for the next level of courses in analytical, inorganic, or organic chemistry. Learn more about the available options.
We have reserved a small number of seats in CHEM 104, 327, 329, 343, and 345 for new transfer students only. Students should first try to create a class schedule using available open seats in these courses. If they are unable to do so, they may contact firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance and possible access to reserved seats.
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If you receive an error message like “Course validation failed” or “Enrollment requisites not met” while trying to enroll, but you think that you meet the prerequisites for the course, you might be attempting to enroll in a special section reserved for students in a First-Year Interest Group (FIG), Residential Hall, or a special honors section. Please check the notes and enrollment requirements for any restrictions.
If a course section is full, students may add themselves to the wait list in Course Search & Enroll. Wait lists for the introductory (100 level) courses are not activated until the bulk of enrollment is complete and most sections are full, while wait lists for other chemistry courses are activated earlier.
Every effort is made to accommodate as many students as possible and wait lists are monitored continually up through the add deadline. Being on the wait list does not guarantee a student a seat in the class. Students are strongly encouraged to look for ways to make an open section work with their schedules, before adding to the wait list for a full section. Wait listed students are notified via email if a seat becomes available. Students should check their email daily, even over breaks. In general, priority is given to students in the order they joined the wait list, but for some courses more senior students will have priority.
Chemistry Advising During SOAR
SOAR Chemistry Consulting
Chemistry Consultants Katie McCullough and Susan Schueneman are available to assist new students with chemistry questions during SOAR. Appointments are scheduled via Starfish. Please do not make an appointment with a Chemistry Consultant until after you have been referred by an academic advisor.
New Transfer Students Intending to Major in Chemistry
New L&S transfer students are instructed to meet with an advisor for their intended major after meeting with a general L&S advisor and before enrolling in classes. Students intending to major in Chemistry should schedule a 30-minute appointment with Chemistry Major Advisor Katie McCullough via Starfish. When scheduling, you may select either two back-to-back 15-minute “SOAR Consulting” appointments with Katie or one 30-minute “Academic Advising Appointment”.
Not all Chemistry Questions Require an Appointment!
Students with chemistry scheduling conflicts, questions about wait lists, or access to seats saved for new transfer students can obtain assistance by emailing email@example.com.