Courses & Requirements

Academic requirements and courses are available in the Vassar College Catalogue.

The chemistry curriculum offers a number of degree options for students who wish to concentrate in chemistry. An A.B. in chemistry, with or without American Chemical Society (ACS) certification, a correlate sequence (minor) in chemistry, and an A.B. in biochemistry are all options. Courses offered by the department also satisfy the requirements for the Environmental Studies major.

Throughout the chemistry curriculum, lecture and laboratory courses are taught in conjunction with one another, and students are encouraged and expected to use sophisticated instrumentation. Students have the opportunity to work closely with faculty and to become proficient in the use of modern instrumentation and methodologies throughout their studies in chemistry. The department strongly believes in the value of the undergraduate research experience, and therefore provides research opportunities for credit at all levels of the curriculum. A senior thesis based upon a student’s independent research project is required of all chemistry majors.

An undergraduate major in chemistry is excellent preparation for graduate study in chemistry or related areas such as medicine, environmental science, materials science, public health, and even the law.

Majoring in Chemistry

Chemistry majors from all classes form our Majors Committee which plays a vital role in the department, with responsibilities ranging from organizing our annual end-of-year picnic to planning and conducting outreach activities during National Chemistry Week to distributing and collating majors’ evaluations of the faculty. Majors Committee meetings are generally held every Friday at 1:00 p.m. in the Bridge for Laboratory Sciences north atrium. The Majors Committee chair announces meetings via email.

Another extremely important role of the majors is to serve as chemistry tutors and laboratory interns in the General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry laboratory courses. The laboratory interns assist the regular instructor in the teaching of the laboratory section. Some chemistry majors, as well as other interested chemistry students, are active in Vassar’s student affiliates chapter of the American Chemical Society.

The number of students who graduate from Vassar with a major in chemistry ranges from five to fifteen students each year. More than 20 students also obtain a degree in biochemistry.

Process for declaring a concentration (major) in Chemistry

  • The correlate advisor for the Chemistry department is Prof. Sarjit Kaur; please contact her regarding correlate declaration.
  • The chemistry department assigns major advisors to each class. The major advisors are:
    • 2024: Eric Eberhardt
    • 2025: Sarjit Kaur
    • 2026: Rebecca Pollet
    • 2027: Joseph Tanski
  • Contact the major advisor for your class. If you have trouble finding this person, please contact the chair of the department.
  • Meet with your major advisor to discuss the Chemistry major requirements and to complete a “Plan” for your major in Degreeworks. You can find links to Degreeworks and to a “Degreeworks Information Site” on the registrar’s website.
  • Once you have met with your new advisor and have completed the Degreeworks plan, send a pdf of the degreeworks plan to your advisor and to the chair of the Chemistry Department.
  • Next, complete the major declaration form, also found on the registrar’s website. Your advisor and the Chemistry chair will approve your declaration form after reviewing your plan.
  • Note that all Chemistry majors must complete at least 8 units of coursework outside the natural sciences division but we encourage you to take even more! AP or IB transfers cannot count towards this requirement but courses transferred in from another school can (e.g. taken during study abroad).

Planning advice for students considering a concentration (major) in Chemistry

By the end of your first year you should have completed CHEM 125.

By the end of your second year you should have completed CHEM 244 and 245 and possibly an elective, such as CHEM 272 or 375, that can be taken at the same time as CHEM 245.

In your junior year we recommend that you complete the Integrated Laboratory, CHEM 372/373. However you may take this in your senior year, for example if you will be abroad in your third year. CHEM 372 must be taken before CHEM 373. Other 300-level courses are usually taken in the junior year as well.

Your senior year you will complete a year-long thesis, usually 1.0 units of CHEM 399 (ungraded) in the fall and 1.0 unit of CHEM 300 (graded) in the spring. Other 300-level courses are usually taken in the senior year as well.

Students are encouraged to distribute the 300-level Chemistry requirements, such as physical chemistry (CHEM 350 and 352), and 300-level electives over their junior and senior years. It is not recommended, and often not possible, to do all 300-level chemistry courses in one year.

*Those students who wish to receive an American Chemical Society certified degree must elect biochemistry (CHEM 272), inorganic chemistry (CHEM 327 and 328), as well as two semesters of calculus and two semesters of physics with labs in addition to the other major requirements. 

Planning for study abroad

It is possible to study abroad in the junior year as a chemistry major, but it takes a little more advanced planning. If you are considering studying abroad, plan to take at least one elective in your sophomore year. 

Some study abroad programs will provide opportunities for you to take coursework that may count towards your major. You can count a maximum of two units taken abroad towards your major but you must consult with your advisor prior to studying abroad to determine which courses may count towards your major. 

First-Year Course Selection

Chemistry is the study of the composition, structure, properties, and reactions of matter. A major in chemistry at Vassar provides preparation for graduate study in chemistry or related areas, such as medicine and public health, environmental science, materials science, engineering, forensics and toxicology, and is also excellent training for future teachers, lawyers, and individuals working in business or an industrial setting.

There are two chemistry courses that can be taken during the first year. The course a student elects will depend on their background in chemistry. Chemical Fundamentals (Chemistry 121) is open to all students with limited or no background in chemistry. This course is designed to provide the fundamentals of chemistry in the context of an instructor-specific theme. Chemical topics covered include units, uncertainty, significant figures, dimensional analysis, estimation, atomic theory and symbols, the periodic table, chemical nomenclature, stoichiometry, solution chemistry including an introduction to acids and bases, solubility and precipitation, and oxidation-reduction chemistry, gases, and thermochemistry. Students may take this course so as to be exposed to chemistry and the theme chosen, to meet the QA requirement, and/or to continue from this course into Chemical Principles (Chemistry 125). Chemistry 121 does not have an associated laboratory and does not count toward the Chemistry major. Chemical Principles (Chemistry 125) is designed to cover the important aspects of general chemistry in one semester and is appropriate for students who have previously studied some chemistry. The material covered in Chemistry 125 includes chemical reactions, stoichiometry, atomic and molecular structure, and general chemical physics, emphasizing the fundamental aspects of and connections between equilibria, electrochemistry, thermodynamics, and kinetics. The Chemistry Department offers a written examination to incoming first-year students interested in advanced course placement into Organic Chemistry (Chemistry 244/245). This placement is only granted in exceptional circumstances. Please consult the department for further information.

An essential aspect of training in chemistry is the experience of independent laboratory work and research. The Chemistry Department, therefore, provides students the opportunity to use sophisticated instrumentation at all levels of the curriculum and encourages student participation in independent research as early as the second semester of the first year. First-year students may work on a research project under the direction of a member of the department by electing Independent Research (Chemistry 198) after consultation with a faculty mentor.

It is strongly recommended that students have a foundational understanding of single variable calculus, classical mechanics, and electromagnetism. Students considering majoring in chemistry should consult the department about electing the appropriate calculus and physics courses during the first and sophomore years. Basic knowledge of linear algebra and multivariable calculus are also recommended.

Students who plan to graduate in less than four years, undertake a study abroad experience, complete pre-medical requirements, or graduate with a degree certified by the American Chemical Society should consult with a department advisor in their first semester.

Recommended Courses

Students considering majoring in chemistry should elect Chemical Principles (Chem 125) during their freshman year. As it is strongly recommended that students have a foundational understanding of single variable calculus, classical mechanics, and electromagnetism, students considering majoring in chemistry should consult the department about electing the appropriate calculus and physics courses during the first and sophomore year. Basic knowledge of linear algebra and multivariable calculus are also recommended. Students who plan to graduate in less than four years, should consult with a department advisor in their first semester. All members of the chemistry faculty are firmly committed to assisting in the design of a student’s educational program in chemistry, and encourage students to speak with them about their plans in chemistry at any time during their undergraduate career.

A typical sequence of courses for a degree in chemistry which is certified by the ACS is:

First Year

  • Chemical Principles: Chem 125
  • Calculus and/or Physics

Sophomore Year

  • Organic Chemistry: Chem 244/245
  • Calculus and/or Physics

Junior Year

  • Integrated Chemistry Laboratory: Chem 372/373
  • Physical Chemistry: Chem 350/352
  • Instrumental Analysis: Chem 362
  • Biochemistry: Chem 272 or 325

Senior Year

  • Senior Independent Research: Chem 399 (fall)
  • Senior Thesis: Chem 300 (spring)
  • Inorganic Chemistry: Chem 326
  • 300-level elective in chemistry