Academic Experience

As a liberal arts college with a strong interdisciplinary curriculum in the social and behavioral sciences, Pitzer College presents a unique opportunity for self-expression and for exploring the world around us. Pitzer believes you should take an active part in formulating your individual plan of study, bringing a spirit of inquiry and adventure to the process of learning. In order to graduate, you are expected to fulfill the educational objectives of the College by designing, in coordination with your faculty adviser, a program of study that meets your intellectual needs and interests. You must complete 32 courses (usually translated into a normal load of four courses each semester), complete a major and earn at least a 2.0 grade point average. By the end of your sophomore year, you will consult with your faculty adviser and complete the process of choosing a major.

  • Cross-Registration

    Cross-registration with the other Claremont Colleges offers Pitzer students even more academic opportunities. You may register here at Pitzer for courses open to you at the other colleges. With the signed approval of the instructor and faculty adviser, courses may be added or dropped during the first part of each semester.

  • Your Academic Adviser

    Each student entering Pitzer is assigned a faculty member as an academic adviser. Academic advising is an integral part of faculty-student interaction and teaching at Pitzer. You and your adviser will meet during New Student Orientation to create a program of study that meets your needs and fulfills Pitzer’s educational objectives. Our faculty members represent a range of expertise and interests and will be glad to talk with you at any time. In addition to your academic adviser, you will meet your student mentor during New Student Orientation. Academic Guides are sophomores, juniors and seniors who have received special training and are ready to give you the inside scoop on life at Pitzer and any advice or assistance you might need as a new student.

  • Independent Studies

    The option of independent study gives you the opportunity to create and develop your own course of study. Independent studies are intended to foster students’ intellectual and creative development. Projects are arranged between the student and faculty member, who serves as a consultant and evaluator. Independent study is most successful when the student and the faculty member have a good working relationship and when the student is already familiar with the subject area. Students develop the capacity to plan and execute projects of their own conception, researching and writing at an extremely high level.

  • Register for Classes

    During the summer, you will receive information to access your online portal which will give you access to the 5-College Undergraduate Schedule of Courses, your academic adviser information, as well as other helpful information. All advising, class selection and registration will take place during on-campus New Student Orientation. You will have a couple opportunities to meet with your academic adviser to discuss your course of study during orientation before you register. It can be helpful to look over the online 5-College Undergraduate Schedule of Courses , but the only thing you will need to do for class registration before you arrive on campus is submit your preferences for the First-Year Seminar when contacted by the Dean of Faculty’s office in May or June. All transfer students will have a member of the dean of faculty’s office as an adviser until paired with a suitable faculty member in your major of interest.

  • Placement Exams

    To assist you in choosing the appropriate level of courses for math and foreign language, placement exams will be held during New Student Orientation. If you are unsure which courses you are prepared for, the placement exams and/or your faculty adviser may assist you. All dates, times and locations will be available in your New Student Orientation schedule when you arrive. If you are interested in taking language courses, you will need to take a placement exam. Exams will either be offered online over the summer or will be held during New Student Orientation. Pre-registration is not necessary.

  • Your First Class: First-Year Seminar

    One of the exciting things about a Pitzer College education is the opportunity to engage ideas in small, interpersonal and innovative classes. Each fall, new Pitzer students enroll in a small seminar class designed just for first-year students. These first-year seminars, required for new students, are limited to about 15 students and are structured to encourage class discussions and to engage in intensive writing experiences. These are not lecture courses; the expectation is that you will be an important part of the learning process. A separate mailing will provide you with seminars offered and an opportunity to sign up sometime in the summer.

  • Introductory Sciences at the Keck Science Department: An Informal Advising/Orientation Guide

    If you are considering becoming a science or pre-health major, please talk with a Keck Science faculty member before enrolling in your first-semester courses.  Science faculty can help ensure that you are enrolled in classes appropriate to your previous experience and can assist with the advanced planning that is often necessary to navigate through the prerequisites required for many upper-division courses.

    For the majors listed below, these faculty indicated are available for consultation:

    • Biology – Professor Sarah Gilman (
    • Chemistry – Professor Kersey Black (
    • Physics – Professor Scot Gould (
    • Biochemistry – Professor Mary Hatcher-Skeers (
    • Biophysics – Professor Scot Gould (
    • Economics and Engineering – Professor Scot Gould (
    • Environmental Analysis – Professor Donald McFarlane (
    • Environment, Economics, and Politics (EEP) – Professor Branwen Williams (
    • Human Biology – Professor John Milton (
    • Management-Engineering – Professor Scot Gould (
    • Molecular Biology – Professor Emily Wiley (
    • Neuroscience – Professor Melissa Coleman ( or Professor Thomas Borowski (
    • Organismal Biology— Professor Marion Preest (
    • Science Management— Professor Anna Wenzel (\

    Below is some informal course-specific advice we provide to help determine your first year of courses.


    We generally advise potential Chemistry, Biology and pre-health-intended majors to take introductory Chemistry the first year. This allows them to take organic chemistry the following year if needed, which frees up the possibility of studying abroad during the junior year. There are several paths to taking introductory Chemistry at Keck (see Figure 1).

    The traditional path is Chem 14 in the Fall and Chem 15 in the Spring. These courses are to be taken in order, and each semester there are multiple lectures/professors with associated weekly laboratory sessions. For those with weaker mathematics preparation there is a section of Chem14 with additional time dedicated to problem-solving, please contact Professor Purvis-Roberts at for more details on this section.

    An interdisciplinary path is to take Chem 14 in the Fall, and Chem/Bio 42 in the Spring. Chem/Bio 42 is an Integrated Biology and Chemistry course that is co-taught by Biology and Chemistry professors. It is a new course intended to be added to the catalog in the Fall. It is not an accelerated course – it has largely the same content as the second semester of introductory chemistry (Chem15), and of introduction to biology (Bio 43), but is taught with an additional emphasis on interdisciplinary connections. There is only one section of it offered this Spring, and entry is via regular pre-registration in the late-Fall (there is no admission-test, and the only prerequisite is Chem 14). For those deciding whether to take Bio 43 in the Fall vs. Integrated Biology and Chemistry in the Spring, please email professor Sanii at .

    An accelerated path for a student with a strong high school chemistry preparation is to take a placement exam which will be held on Friday, August 31, 3:30pm-4:00pm, in Keck-127 and register for Accelerated General Chemistry (Chem 29) in the Spring. This accelerated course surveys the content of the traditional chemistry courses in one semester. For further information, please contact Prof. Nancy Williams at

    Chemistry prerequisite chart


    Biology majors or any student wishing to take upper division courses in biology are generally advised to complete the two course Introductory Biology series (Bio43 and Bio44) by the end of their second year. These courses serve as prerequisites for all upper division biology courses. The courses may be taken in either order, but Bio43 is offered only in the Fall and Bio 44 only in the Spring. Note that a Bio43 equivalent may be taken in the Spring through the Integrated Biological Chemistry (IBC) double course. Both Bio 43 and Bio 44 have a laboratory component that meets once each week for four hours.

    There are several options for taking the introductory biology series. If a student has taken some Chemistry and Calculus in high school, then taking Bio 43 in the first semester (along with Chem 14) is a possibility. A popular option is to take Bio 44 in the second semester (Spring), and Bio 43 in the third semester (Fall semester of the second year). A student who wishes to have an integrated Biology-Chemistry experience may take IBC in Spring semester of their first year and Bio 44 in Spring semester of their second year. All of these options will allow a student to stay on track with their upper division coursework.

    For students wishing to major in biology, it is strongly advised that they complete the introductory chemistry series in their first year. This means enrolling in Chem 14 in fall and Chem 15 (or IBC) in the spring of the first year.


    The neuroscience major requires both semesters of Intro Bio and Intro Chem, which should be taken during the first and second year. Foundations of Neuroscience (Neuro095) is only offered in the Spring and should be taken during the first or second year. It is not advised that Foundations be taken at the same time as two other science courses as that requires taking 3 labs in one semester. Neuro1 and Neuro2 can be taken at any time prior to graduation. It is highly recommended that students take Foundations prior to either of these classes. Students tend to do better in Neuro1/2 if they take the courses during their junior and senior years. The material covered in the courses are quite integrative and can be a little overwhelming for students with less science background.

    Students decide on a ‘sequence’; a set of 4 courses in a particular area. These are listed on the neuroscience website For example, students interested in psychology based neuroscience will take 4 psychology-related courses. The courses in the second ‘tier’ are based on the sequence. Students taking psychology based courses should take Research Methods and Psych Stats (these usually have to be taken at their home institution), along with math or CS. The non-psychology students should take some combination of biostats, computer science, math, or physics.


    Students contemplating a Physics major should take Principles of Physics (Physics 33) in the Fall semester of their first year, followed by Physics 34 in the Spring. Waiting until sophomore year before taking intro physics is strongly discouraged, since it can produce a variety of scheduling challenges later (including with study abroad). Potential physics majors should also plan on finishing at least through second-semester college calculus by the end of their first year. Math 31S at Pomona has a focus on applied calculus, and might be an especially good choice for science majors.

    Students contemplating a Biophysics major have the option of taking either the Principles of Physics (Physics 33-34) intro sequence or the General Physics for Life Science (Physics 30-31) intro sequence (see below), though we recommend starting with Physics 33. Ideally, biophysics majors should take intro physics starting in the fall semester of their first year, though it is possible for biophysics majors to wait until sophomore year.

    Students contemplating participating in our Engineering program should immediately consult with Prof. Scot Gould,

    The physics program has two distinct intro physics course sequences: Principles of Physics (Physics 33-34) and General Physics for the Life Sciences (Physics 30-31). Physics, Chemistry, and Engineering majors should take Physics 33-34, while life science majors often take the Physics 30-31 intro sequence; biophysics majors can do either sequence, though 33-34 is preferred. Although the two intro sequences are similar, the key differences are: (a) 33-34 is taught in an integrated lecture-lab format, whereas 30-31 has separate lectures and labs; (b) while both sequences use calculus, 33-34 uses it more heavily; (c) 30-31 has more life science related examples; (d) 33-34 uses numerical software packages more; (e) 34 covers electromagnetism and waves, while 30 covers electromagnetism, waves, and some modern physics.

    Environmental Analysis Science Track

    The environmental analysis science track major requires both semesters of Intro Bio and Intro Chem (or equivalent), which should be taken during the first and second year. Majors must also take an introductory earth science course (e.g., EA55L KS, GEOL 20 PO, or equivalent). The core courses, Introduction to Environmental Studies (EA10PZ or PO) and either Nature, Culture and Society (EA20PO) or Environmental Justice (EA86PZ), are not generally prerequisites for other courses, but are required for the major and are recommended to be taken within the first two years. EA30LKS, Science & The Environment is not required for the EA science track major.

Page last updated on August 20, 2019