Math and Sciences

Department majors and minors in the Sciences tend to be more "hierarchical" in terms of necessary requirements and pre-requisites. For that reason, this section is devoted to general information about the departments in the Natural Science Division and advice for the first-year student who needs to start their course work as soon as possible.


The Biology department provides students who major in biology with a solid foundation in modern biology and the opportunity for advanced and independent investigation within the framework of a liberal arts curriculum. Biology offers two disciplinary majors, a B.A. and a B.S., and a disciplinary minor.

More than 60% of biology students are actively engaged in a research or field study project each semester, both on-campus in state-of-the-art labs and off-campus with local scientists and doctors, getting the hands-on experience that makes them stand out in the job market.

Hobart and William Smith students benefit from the Colleges' long and valuable relationship with Cornell's New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, located right in Geneva. Biology students work and study alongside Experiment Station scientists during the school year and summer, gaining significant exposure to applied research while making important contributions to experiment station projects.

Students interested in pursuing careers in medicine also have access to clinical internships, skill training and direct patient care experiences through a special partnership with Finger Lakes Health, a local health system with 75 staff physicians and a broad range of primary and specialty services located just one mile from campus.

The First Year
Students interested in biology should take two science courses in their Fall semester. One of these should be a BIOL160-level Introductory Topics course. The second science course should be either CHEM 110 Molecules that Matter, MATH 130 Calculus I, or, if appropriate, Math 100 Elementary Functions. Students interested in medicine or a health-related field should consult the information for pre-health professions.


The Biology and Chemistry departments offer a joint major to those students interested in both biology and chemistry. The Biochemistry major consists of core courses from the biology and chemistry departments, cognates in math and physics, and a capstone seminar experience. The required biology courses include BIOL 167, 212, 220, 232, 236 and a 300-level cell/molecular biology course. The required chemistry courses include CHEM 110, 240, 241, 280, 320, 448 and 449.


The Chemistry department is designed for students with a wide variety of interests and needs and is approved by the Committee on Professional Training of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Students who are planning graduate work in chemistry, chemical engineering, biochemistry, or for those pursuing a career as a practicing industrial chemist, the ACS-certified major in chemistry is highly recommended. Students interested in this program should plan their programs with the department chair as early as possible.

Students who are planning to enter medical or dental schools are advised to take the following courses in chemistry: 110, 240, 241, 280 and 448.

Chemistry offers two disciplinary majors, a B.A. and a B.S., and a disciplinary minor.

More than 90% of chemistry majors become actively engaged in research during their academic careers either during the semester or during the summer. Approximately 12-15 students do research on campus each summer with chemistry faculty and another 20-25 students typically do research during the academic school year. Some students start doing research during their first year.

Students interested in pursuing careers in medicine also have access to clinical internships, skill training and direct patient care experiences through a special partnership with Finger Lakes Health, a local health system with 75 staff physicians and a broad range of primary and specialty services located just one mile from campus.

The First Year
Students interested in chemistry or biochemistry as a major should take CHEM 110 Molecules that Matter and MATH 130 Calculus I in their first semester. In their second semester, students should take CHEM 240 Organic Chemistry I and continue calculus.

Computer Science

In a rapidly growing and changing field, the Computer Science department offers a range of courses that enable majors to use modern technology, to understand its applications across a broad range of disciplines, and to comprehend the fundamental and enduring principles underlying those applications.

The computer science department offers two disciplinary majors, a B.A. and a B.S., and one disciplinary minor.

The First Year
CPSC 120 (Principles of Computer Science) is a survey course introducing the fundamental ideas of computer science. Most students who take it do not plan to major in computer science, but it can be counted towards a major or minor in computer science if it is the first course taken in the field.

CPSC 124 (Introduction to Programming) is the entry-level programming course for students majoring or minoring in computer science. It is also appropriate for students interested in Java programming, even if they do not intend to continue in computer science. It has no prerequisites, but students who are uncomfortable with computers or with abstract thinking might consider taking CPSC 120 before taking CPSC 124. Many students, though not all, who take CPSC 124 have had at least some previous experience with programming.


Students in the Geoscience Department at HWS learn to understand the Earth as a system linked by processes and defined by an array of varying factors. They also explore the ways in which this knowledge can be used to monitor and predict changes in the Earth system and to manage the Earth’s resources.

The study of Geoscience provides students with a strong preparation for a variety of careers in government, industry and academia, including areas of: environmental law, mineral and energy exploration, weather forecasting, science teaching, science journalism, and research in geology, meteorology, climate change, hydrology, and oceanography.

Research with faculty mentors is an important component of the student experience in the Geoscience Department. In addition to independent study courses during the academic year, 6 to 12 students receive summer stipends to remain on campus and conduct research with faculty. Summer research often leads to a senior-year honors project. Most students who do research present their results at regional and national meetings. Occasionally, students will share authorship with their faculty mentors on publication of scientific papers. Geoscience students have been very competitive in obtaining internships available from the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, research labs at other colleges and universities, and with private environmental firms.

The First Year
Students interested in Geoscience are urged to take an introductory Geoscience course from the 140-series or 180-series in their first year, preferably in their first semester. Geoscience courses in the 140 series have no prerequisites and have been developed for the general student population. They can be used toward a Geoscience minor. A selection of these courses is offered each year.

All 180-series Geoscience courses have a prerequisite of MATH 100 or a score of 20 or better on the math placement test. See the on-line math placement test at for more information. The Geoscience 180-series introductory courses are prerequisites for many 200- and 300-level Geoscience courses and all can be used toward a major or minor in Geoscience. All Geoscience 180-series courses are offered every semester.

In addition, we recommend that first year students take one other math or science course, MATH 130 Calculus I, MATH 131 Calculus II, CHEM 110 Molecules that Matter, or PHYS 150 Introduction to Physics I.


Mathematics majors acquire skill in the use of mathematical methods for dealing with problems from a variety of disciplines, and complement these tools with some training in computer science.  The math department offers two disciplinary majors, a B.A. and a B.S., and one disciplinary minor.

Mathematics Placement Testing
The Mathematics Placement Test (MPT) is an on-line multiple-choice test containing thirty (30) questions on topics such as algebra, trigonometry, and functions and graphs, which are prerequisites for many courses offered by the Department. Designed and administered by the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at HWS, the MPT helps determine the appropriate mathematics course for each entering student. See the online placement test for more information.

All students who intend to take MATH 100 (Pre-Calculus), MATH 130 (Calculus I), MATH 131 (Calculus II) or MATH 232 (Multivariable Calculus) during the Fall Term of their first year are required to take the Mathematics Placement Test (MPT). If they have not taken the online test over the summer, they should consult a Math professor. Students not planning on taking a Math class in the fall term should delay testing until the term immediately preceding their enrollment.

Math Placement Test: Scores and Placements

To Enter...

Less than 10 - should consult Math faculty

Math 100: Elementary Functions


Math 130: Calculus I

20 and above (if close to the cutoff and anxious about taking calculus, consult math faculty; may be better off in Math 100)

Math 131

MATH 232: Multivariable Calculus

20 or above and AP Calculus exam score of 4 or 5

25 or above and strong math background, Calculus in HS, or AP Calculus exam score of 4 or 5. Consult with Math faculty.

Please Note: Students are not permitted to take Math 130, Calculus I, if they have Calculus Advanced Placement (AP) credit.

Introductory Math Courses
First a general reminder about 100-level courses: During the regular registrations period, registration of Juniors and Seniors into 100-level courses is restricted. However, advisers should remember that Juniors and Seniors can register for one of these courses during the regular registration period under certain circumstances, in particular: if it is required for a declared major or minor; if it is approved by the adviser as counting towards the goals; or if there is any "compelling programmatic reason" for taking the course with approval of the adviser and the course instructor.

Note that professors teaching introductory math courses, especially Math 110, sometimes have to turn away Seniors who say that they need the course to fulfill the Quantitative Reasoning Goal. Since those students need the course to address a Goal, they could have signed up for it during the regular registration period for Seniors, when the course still had plenty of room. advisers and students should be aware of this option.

Depending on their background and interests, students might take any of several mathematics courses as their first course in the Department. Students who are not sure what course they should take are advised to consult with the Mathematics Department. Jonathan Forde (x3814) is the current chair.

  1. Math 100 (Elementary Functions) is a precalculus course that is meant exclusively for students who intend to take Calculus but who need to improve their math background before doing so. There is a math placement test that is meant mainly to test whether students have enough background to take calculus.

    In the past, Math 100 has been offered in every semester. However, this year (2009-2010) it is offered only in the Fall. Because of the relatively low enrollment in this course, the same schedule will probably be continued in the future. This makes it especially important for students who need to take calculus to plan ahead.

  2. Math 110 (Discovering in Math) is a popular course for non-majors, especially for students fulfilling their Quantitative Reasoning Goal and for education students who need to take a math course. This course is generally taken by students who do not intend to continue in mathematics. It does not serve as preparation for Calculus or other math courses.

    Generally, three sections of this course are offered every year. However, there is usually more demand for this course than capacity. advisers should remember that Juniors and Seniors who want to take this course to fulfill a Goal can register for it during the regular registration period, with their adviser's signature.

  3. Math 130 (Calculus I) is a first course in calculus. Because many students now take reasonably good calculus courses in high school, more and more students are skipping this course and moving directly to Math 131 or to Math 135. (This is true of almost all students who are thinking of majoring in math.) However, high school calculus does not automatically mean that a student should skip Math 130. It depends very much on what type of course they have taken, how well they have done in it, and in some cases how long it has been since they have taken a mathematics course.

    Registration in Math 130 requires that a student take the math placement test and receive a grade of 20 or higher.

  4. Math 232 (Multivariable Calculus) is a required course for the math major and strongly recommended for the math minor. Some students who have taken Calculus in high school will take Math 232 as their first math course at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. However, Math 131 (Calculus II) is a more appropriate choice in some cases.  Students are advised to consult with the math department about which course would be the best starting point.


Because physics is the foundation upon which all other sciences and engineering are based, its study provides a strong background for students who plan careers in areas such as physics, astrophysics, astronomy, geophysics, oceanography, meteorology, engineering, operations research, teaching, medicine, and law.

In addition to offering a major and a minor program, the physics department administers a joint-degree program with Columbia University and the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth. Upon completion of three years at HWS and two years at an engineering school, a student will receive a B.S. in engineering from the engineering school and either a B.A. or a B.S. from HWS. See the joint-degree programs website for more information.

The First Year
Students interested in physics should take MATH 130 Calculus I and PHYS 150 Introduction to Physics I in the fall semester. For students not ready for calculus, a combination of MATH 100 Elementary Functions and PHYS 112 Astronomy will provide a suitable start.


The Psychology Department provides students with a broad introduction to the study of behavior and its underlying processes with an emphasis on the discipline as an experimental science.

Psychology offers two disciplinary majors, a B.A. and a B.S., and a disciplinary minor.

Students choose from a variety of introductory and advanced courses, each designed to provide students with a solid foundation in the study of behavior and its underlying processes.

Many Psychology majors choose to complete an Honors project on a topic of their interest. Most or all of the work associated with an Honors project is done in the senior year, though it may be begun earlier, and culminates in a research or critical paper or its counterpart in the creative arts.

The Psychology Society and Active Minds are student-run organizations that may be of interest to students studying psychology.



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