Supplement to Information on the New Student Academics Webpages

Overview of the Math/Stat Program for Incoming Students

Placement and Credit

First Year Seminars

Fall Registration and Lotteries

Should you buy a graphics calculator?


Welcome to Swarthmore! We suspect you are planning to take some math or statistics here; most Swarthmore students do. There are 3 different groups of courses from which a first-year student typically chooses. The best known and most popular, but not necessarily the best for you, is the calculus and linear algebra sequence (Math 15, 25, 27-28-28S, 33-34-35). The second group is statistics (Stat 1, 11, 31). The third might be called "the rest of math", courses on basic ideas (Math 3) or on areas not covered in the calculus sequence (Math 7, Math 29). If you are planning a major that requires or recommends the traditional calculus topics (majors such as physics, chemistry, engineering, economics, and of course mathematics) you will probably want to start or continue with the standard calculus sequence, although you may well wish to branch out after a semester. For the rest of you, consider a math/stat course from outside the calculus sequence this Fall - one goal of the first two years at college is to expand your horizons.

The Math/Stat First-Year Advisor is Cheryl Grood. Any questions you have should be directed towards her. She can be reached by email ( and phone 690-6860). Or, look for her during Orientation in Science Center 147. In fact, any member of the Department will be happy to talk to you at Orientation.


Current semester information on courses can be found on the Registrar's Math & Stat catalog pages. To search available courses visit the online Course Schedule. Any further changes since the online catalog was last updated, including new course offerings, can be found at the Registrar's Course Announcements page.

Placement and credit.

What we give and how we give it is well explained on the New Students pages. Here we answer two common questions.

  • Must you follow our placement recommendation?

    Try it. If it turns out to be either too hard or too easy, you can switch. Swarthmore students have two weeks in which they can add and drop courses without penalty, after consulting their advisors.

  • Why don't we give credit for your work before Swarthmore beyond calculus?

    First, let's make the distinction between placement and credit clear. Placement is what math/stat course we think you should take next. Credit is a listing of a course on your Swarthmore transcript, so that it counts as one of the 32 course credits you need for graduation.

    We are willing to place you as high as you show us you are ready for. See Advanced Placement beyond Calculus.

    So why don't we give any credit beyond first-year courses? Because what's the point of coming to Swarthmore if you are going to fill up your transcript with courses you took before you got here? Your transcript should be a record of what you did during your college years, here or in programs elsewhere approved once you are here. Your Swarthmore credit should be a record of what we stand behind.

    Math is almost unique in that it is possible to have studied before entrance many courses for which you would get credit if you studied them here. The closest parallel is with foreign language. You may well have studied as much German or Chinese before entrance as would get you 6 credits here at Swat. If so, the college will exempt you from the language requirement, but it won't give you any credits toward graduation.

    There are members of the Math/Stat Dept who feel we should also not give any credits on entrance towards graduation. However, as a compromise, and partly to fit in with what many other departments and colleges do, we will give you up to 2 credits for calculus (as explained elsewhere) and 1 for statistics.

    Please note that if you enter as a first-year student, the same rules apply whether you took your advanced math in secondary school or through a college or university. However, if you took it at a college or university, and have a transcript from that institution, there is a difference. Suppose you were hoping Swat would also give you credit for that course because some outside organization requires college credits (e.g., medical schools require two college credits in math). Then keep that transcript. It probably won't matter to that outside organization that the credit it not a Swarthmore credit. Of course, you should double check with such outside organizations, or their representatives at Swat (e.g., the pre-med advisor).

First-Year Seminars.

The Math/Stat Department is currently offering one first-year seminar, at the honors linear algebra level (Math 28S).

What is a math seminar? First, like all seminars, it's small. The first-year seminars are limited to 12 students, whereas regular class sections may be 30 or more. And as with all Swarthmore first-year seminars, part of the goal is to form an informal advising group through which you learn the ways of Swarthmore. But the biggest difference between a math course and a math seminar is in the style of learning. You learn cooperatively by discussing math with your peers, through getting up to the board and explaining your insights and solving problems. Lectures by the professor are limited. Seminars typically meet in a seminar room, around a table with blackboard all around.

To accomplish this style of learning one needs more class time. So math seminars tend to meet more than the normal number of hours. The amount of material covered is the same, so it's still a 1-credit course, but many students feel they learn it better in a seminar, have more fun, and become friends with their seminar-mates.

But don't take our word for it. Here are some comments from two students who took the linear algebra seminar:

  • The linear algebra seminar is one of the best classes I have ever taken. I learned concepts at a much deeper level than I have in comparable, science/math lecture classes. This was probably because unlike lecture classes, we did not spend time going over material in the book. Instead we spent all the time addressing issues we faced while doing problems and readings. All of that discussion (which we do not get much of during lectures), really helped in solidifying my understanding. I had expected the linear algebra seminar to be more difficult than a lecture, and took it only because it fit into my schedule. It turned out to be an amazingly interesting and challenging, but not overwhelming class.
  • Math 28P [a version of Math28 in 2005 with a physics slant] was my best and favorite class of the fall semester. Though the time commitment was admittedly large, it was not unreasonable for the material covered, or considering the culture of the class. Every day before class, five or six of us would work problems for about an hour, and attack misunderstandings and difficult problems so that, come seminar, we would feel comfortable presenting. The class was structured such that I always felt comfortable stretching my mathematical and conceptual limits, and was therefore able to lay a much stronger foundation for moving on in math. Socially, suffice it to say that six of the eight people in my housing block for next year were in 28P with me. Eschewing hyperbole, this class is why you are coming to Swarthmore: it is a challenging, supportive, intense, relentless, rewarding, and wickedly fun experience.

Is this seminar just for math majors?

No! First of all, no first-years are math majors yet, because Swarthmore students don't declare a major until the spring of their second year. We want you to keep your options open.

This seminar is for anyone who likes math, is good at it, and wants to try the seminar style of learning in math. If you are thinking of a math major or minor as a possibility, then this is an excellent course to take because it better prepares you for the core upperlevel courses that majors and minors take. The Honors non-seminar versions of linear algebra (Math 28) and Multivariate Calculus (Math 35) are also excellent choices to prepare you for later math.

Fall registration and lotteries.

At Swarthmore, registration for courses has 2 steps: first you register by computer, then certain courses are lotteried or adjusted.

A lottery means that a course has an enrollment limit, and if more students register, some will be excluded. For example, first-year seminars are restricted to twelve students, and W courses (Writing courses) can be restricted to 15. In the fall, the math/stat classes that may be lotteried are Stat 1, Stat 11, Math 28S and Math 29. Math 29, Stat 1 and Stat 11 are offered every semester, so students will not have to wait long to get into them.

Math/Stat does something few other departments do. For most courses, if a section gets too big, instead of lotterying, we move students to less crowded sections that fit in their schedules, and sometimes we change how many sections we offer and/or when we offer them. In order to do this we need to collect information during registration that most other departments do not collect. The procedure is as follows.

  1. On Friday afternoon of Orientation Week, after you have consulted with your advisor, you will participate in the College's regular online registration. If you are thinking of taking a math or stat course, you must select it during this registration process. If you fail to select it during this electronic registration, we cannot guarantee you a slot.
  2. If you register for a math course that we did not recommend for you (or if we have not made a recommendation because you did not take one of the required placement tests), the registration program will not accept your choice.
  3. If you register for a course that has multiple sections, you will be directed at some point to a second online form just for that course. You will be asked questions about your availability for other sections of the same course.
  4. By Saturday morning at 9am, enrollments will be posted on MySwarthmore. You must check this information because we may have lotteried you out of a course or moved you to another section, perhaps a newly created section.
  5. If you are satisfied with your math enrollment (and all your other registrations), you are done with registration. If you are not satisfied, come to the in-person registration at 11am on Saturday. Also, seek out Prof. Grood between 9 and 11am.

Should you buy a graphics calculator?

No course in our Department requires a graphics or symbolic calculator. Our courses typically use computers for useful graphics or if there are tedious calculations. Still, calculators are welcome by many Swarthmore math/stat professors, other departments may make heavier use of them, and many Swarthmore math students use them. So if you already have one, bring it, but don't buy one to take a Swarthmore math/stat course.