Starting Chemistry in the College

Initial placement in the appropriate level of chemistry is essential to student success in science, engineering and many other fields. For the majority of students who take chemistry in their first year, the choice is between an entry course in CHEM 1011, CHEM 1012 or CHEM 1151.  

Students who intend to take a chemistry course at Penn should complete the Chemistry Diagnostic available through Canvas and work with their academic advisor to determine which chemistry course is appropriate, given their previous chemistry and math exposure and the results of the exam.

The Department of Chemistry does not grant advanced placement credit based on external exams.

Students may receive credit for CHEM 1012 and/or CHEM 1022 by passing the Departmental placement exam for that course. These exams are offered annually at the start of both the Fall and Spring semesters. See the Chemistry Department's website. Students can also reach out to the Chemistry Undergraduate Chair if they have questions.


CHEM 1011 - Introduction to General Chemistry I is an introductory chemistry course that will provide an overview of atomic structure, mole concepts, stoichiometry, limiting reagents and balancing reactions, and quantum theory as it applies to understanding molecular structure and chemical reactivity, including the behavior of gasses and liquids. It is directed at both potential majors and non-majors who require a first-year introductory chemistry course and did not have a rigorous chemistry course in high school. Students who have not had much exposure to physics and calculus at the high school level should also consider this course.

CHEM 1012 - General Chemistry I is a more advanced introductory chemistry course that is geared toward students who have taken 1 or 2 years of high school chemistry. This course focuses on chemical bonding and molecular structure, providing coverage of quantum theory, electronic wave functions for 1-electron species, electronic and vibrational spectroscopy, molecular orbital theory, bonding and molecular behavior of gas, liquid and solid states, and emphasizing the role of intra- and intermolecular forces. The course introduces chemical bonding in inorganic, organic, and biochemical systems. It is directed at both potential majors and non-majors who require a first-year introductory chemistry course and have solid preparation in chemistry, physical science, and calculus at the high school level.

CHEM 1151 - Honors Chemistry I is a course that will focus on introducing students to the nature of the chemical bond (including forces, potentials, and quantum mechanics). We will discuss the following topics: chemical bonding theories, quantum mechanics, atomic structure, molecular structure, bonding in organic and inorganic complexes, and atomic and molecular spectroscopy. It is designed for students who have had AP Chemistry (with a score of 5) in high school, who are concurrently enrolled in Math 1410,  and who are planning to major in STEM and who would like to take the honors-level general chemistry course.

For more information and guidance on choosing the right Chemistry course and other STEM courses based on placement, high school background and current interests, see our Entering the STEM Fields at Penn interactive tool or PDF infographic (accessible).

I'm an incoming student. How do I decide which course to take (CHEM 1011, CHEM 1012 or CHEM 1151)?  CHEM 1011 is designed for students with more limited experience in high school science and math. Students who had AP Chem in high school typically enroll in CHEM 1012, and students who earned a 5 on the AP Chem exam and are enrolled in MATH 1410 are eligible for CHEM 1151. There will be an online chemistry placement exam offered over the summer that will guide students choosing between CHEM 1011 and CHEM 1012.