Starting Math in the College

Initial placement in the appropriate level of mathematics is essential to student success in science, engineering, economics, business and many other fields. For the majority of students who take math in their first year, the choice is between a course in the first-year calculus sequence (MATH 103, MATH 104 and MATH 114) or MATH 170, 172, 180 or 210.

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

All students are eligible to take the Mathematics Department's internal exams for credit, which are offered at the beginning of the fall semester. More information is available on the Mathematics Department website.

A student may receive credit for MATH 104 (1 c.u.) by earning:

  • A score of 5 on the Advanced Placement (A.P.) Calculus BC exam
  • A score of 7 on the International Baccalaureate (Mathematics [Higher Level] plus Further Mathematics).

No credit is given for the A.P. Calculus AB exam regardless of score.

The Mathematics Department does not give credit for foreign examinations, such as the German Abitur, the French Baccalaureat and the English A-Levels.

MATH 103 prepares students with little or no calculus in high school or need to strengthen the foundations of their calculus skills. Students whose high school curriculum did not provide them with the necessary foundation in algebra and trigonometry should consult with their College contact advisor before continuing with a calculus course.

MATH 104 is the next course in the calculus sequence. Students with MATH 104 credit may choose to continue in the calculus sequence for their major or intellectual interest. Some majors (such as Biochemistry, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics) specifically require MATH 104 and 114; otherwise students who need a second semester of calculus may take either 114 or 115. Not all students will need to take a second semester of calculus; when in doubt, consult a pre-major or department advisor.

MATH 114 and more advanced math courses will be appropriate for students with MATH 104 credit and placement through the diagnostic exam. Students who are interested in math or science might also want to consider a more challenging honors version of Calculus, Math 116 and Math 260 (the analogues of MATH 114 and MATH 240). These courses will cover the material more in depth and involve discussion of theory as well as computations.

Note: Students who request a math course may not get the exact lecture or recitation section they want. It may take some persistence to get into the course. The department never turns a student away because a course is full. The student can always be fit in somewhere, although not necessarily in the section or at the time the student prefers. Students who need help getting into a course should contact the Mathematics Department.