Information for Prospective and First-Year Barnard Students

As you begin planning your first year of study at Barnard, you no doubt will have many questions about how to construct an academic plan which best suits your goals and interests. Though this process may seem a bit daunting, there are many resources available at the College to help you. The information here is designed to help Barnard students interested in the study of the natural sciences, particularly those with an interest in chemistry or biochemistry,  put together a program that will not only be fulfilling and stimulating but also allow for the greatest flexibility in planning throughout your college studies.

Much information is available on our department website regarding specific faculty members, majors offered through the department, courses and student organizations. In addition, we pride ourselves on being available to answer student questions; you should always feel comfortable asking any member of the department if you would like more information.  Some common questions and answers include the following:

What is different about Introductory Chemistry at Barnard College?

The Department of Chemistry serves a wide variety of students with varying interests.  No matter what your goals are in your study of science, you can find a place in our introductory general chemistry course BC2001x:General Chemistry I. While some institutions offer varying levels of introductory chemistry, at Barnard there is only one entry level course. We believe that any admitted student has the potential to succeed in chemistry, and we encourage interested First-Year students to consider taking the course in their first year. This unified 5-point course contains both lecture and laboratory components.

What you might find particularly interesting is that Barnard College follows an untraditional chemistry sequence. Most institutions (including Columbia) follow their introductory course with a second semester of general chemistry, followed by a year of organic chemistry to complete the introductory sequence. These two years of chemistry are the foundation courses for chemistry and biochemistry majors, and also the required courses for the pre-health track.  At Barnard, our approach is different. Our students continue directly into Organic I after a single semester of General Chemistry, then take Organic II, and finally a fourth semester of general chemistry chosen from one of several options based on their goals. We believe there are numerous benefits to this approach:

  • Targeted material – In BC2001x, we focus on carefully selected topics designed to provide a solid foundation in chemical principles & problem solving skills and to prepare you for the study of organic chemistry.
  • Early entry to Organic Chemistry – Our students have the opportunity to begin the study of organic chemistry earlier than in a traditional sequence. Doing so enables our students to experience a very different flavor of chemistry that is more conceptual and visual than what they have seen before. This exposure is very useful in other science courses at Barnard; molecular biology, for example,  is much easier to understand if you have a working knowledge of organic chemistry.
  • Advanced study - A consequence of our approach means that at Barnard your second general chemistry semester will arrive with you being an advanced student, capable of dealing with much higher levels of inquiry. As a result, this second semester general chemistry course will give you a more in-depth treatment of material. Our students find this approach particularly helpful in preparing for other upper level science courses as well as improving their performance on standardized tests (MCAT, GRE, etc.)

Who should consider taking BC2001x in her first semester, and what are the benefits of doing so?

If you are at all considering chemistry or biochemistry as a potential major, we strongly recommend you consider taking BC2001x: General Chemistry I your first semester at Barnard. If you are considering a major in one of the other science departments, or are considering a pre-health track but not necessarily a science major, there are still potential advantages to beginning your study of science at Barnard with BC2001x in your first semester. Some of these include:

  • Flexibility – The chemistry sequence at Barnard must be taken in order. We do not offer the same courses in both Spring and Fall semesters, so if you do not take BC2001x in your first semester, you will have to wait a full year. This can limit your options in future course selection, particularly if you are considering a major in the department.
  • Scheduling – The chemistry and biochemistry majors and pre-health track require taking courses which frequently carry many points of academic credit and significant time commitments in both lecture and lab. Delaying BC2001x until your sophomore year usually leads to having to ‘double-up’ with other higher level laboratory courses. While doing this is certainly possible, some students find spreading out these courses desirable.
  • Increased options – Starting the two year chemistry sequence during your first semester at Barnard can allow for more efficient use of your time. Spreading out your laboratory courses may help you to undertake more of what Barnard has to offer, such as study abroad, work or internship opportunities, or more in-depth research projects.

Can I take two science lab courses my first semester at Barnard?

Absolutely! Taking General Chemistry I BC2001x and Introductory Biology 1500x, for example, can be a big help in your future program planning, especially if you are considering a chemistry or biochemistry major. However, you should be aware that all lab science courses at Barnard require large time commitments both in the lab and outside it, and having two laboratory sessions a week will require careful planning and a solid work ethic. You should carefully consider if this is the best choice for you, and discuss the additional time commitment with your advisor. 

I’m worried that BC2001x will be ‘too hard’ for me my first semester at Barnard. Is this a good reason to wait?

All classes at Barnard are rigorous. Students come to Barnard with a wide range of preparation in chemistry, just as in other subjects. Our studies suggest that high school performance is not necessarily correlated with how you do in our course. Ultimately, you control your experience in BC2001x based on your work at Barnard, not what you may have learned previously, or any perceived weak background in chemistry you might have.  We offer a wide range of support for students in the course, including many faculty office hours and student led study groups.

The biggest challenge for first-year students in BC2001x is in the areas of problem solving and quantitative reasoning skills. Recognizing this, We encourage first year students with weak quantitative analysis or algebra skills to take a year of college math before enrolling in BC2001. The Department also offers a one-credit course "Chemical  Problem Solving" which can be taken concurrently with BC2001 to provide extra support in these areas. Please speak to any member of the chemistry department if you have questions about this.

What about Columbia University? Can I take my chemistry courses there?

Yes and no. Barnard students may satisfy their LAB general education requirement at CU, and pre-health students can fulfill the medical school (and associated) requirements in chemistry there. Be aware, however, that because of the different sequence offered at Barnard, if you choose to take General Chemistry I at Columbia you may not return to the Barnard department in your second semester to take Organic I: you must complete the second semester of CU General Chemistry and wait until the following Spring before returning to take organic at Barnard, as we do not offer Organic I in the Fall semester.

In addition, students who are planning to satisfy the pre-health requirements should be aware that after taking even a single semester of organic chemistry, no credit will be awarded for UN1404 General Chemistry II. Under that circumstance, you must take BC3232 Chemistry IV to complete the pre-health requirement – there is no CU alternative. 

Although every student’s experience and needs will be different, we believe that there are many reasons that Barnard students are better served by taking introductory chemistry at Barnard. Any member of the chemistry department would be happy to discuss this with you – please do not hesitate to come to us with your questions and concerns.