Skip to main content

FAQs: Summer Credit for Organic Chemistry Taken Elsewhere

Our lab instructor, Mrs. Halley works with the Organic Chemistry II students in the lab.


Q:  Can I take an organic chemistry course over the summer and receive Swarthmore credit?

A:  Yes, but not all courses qualify, and the amount of credit transferred may vary (see below).

Q:  What is the administrative procedure?

Requests for Off Campus Study Credits are handled by the OCS Office.

Requests for Transfer Credits are handled by the Registrar's Office.

Please read these directions carefully, and follow them.  The process is initiated by the student, and begins with a request for pre-estimation of credit.

Q:  Can the chemistry department suggest a particular course at a particular institution?

A: We do not keep a database of appropriate courses at different colleges or universities.  Also, the quality of a given course can change over time.  However, for students looking to take a course in the Philadelphia area, the summer organic chemistry courses at the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, and Bryn Mawr College have generally been appropriate in the past.  Somewhat further away, the University of Maryland has also offered appropriate summer courses.

Q:  How do I go about selecting a course?

A:  The process is entirely initiated by you.  You will need to contact the chemistry department at the college or university you are considering for the summer course.  You should ask for syllabi and other information about the appropriate courses.  Please note that at many institutions, lecture and lab courses are separate.  You need to obtain information about both.  The specific types of information generally required are listed below (next question). 

Once you have obtained the necessary documents, follow the procedure described on the Registrar’s web page for requesting pre-estimation of credit. 

Please note that courses taken at community colleges are not considered suitable for medical school applications.  See:

Q:  What information and documents do I need to collect for the pre-estimation of credit?

A:  Information generally required for pre-estimation:

  • Lecture syllabus, listing topics covered and textbook used (and chapters covered).
  • Lecture class meeting schedule (i.e., information about the number and length of class meetings). (This information is often, but not always, included in the syllabus).
  • Lab syllabus, listing titles of experiments.
  • Lab meeting schedule (i.e., information about the number and length of lab meetings). (This information is often, but not always, included in the syllabus).

Please note that institutions will often give you syllabi for the academic year courses, and then claim that the summer courses are equivalent.  Syllabi for the academic year course will not suffice!  Despite what the institutions claim, the summer courses are NOT the same as the summer courses, and so we must insist on seeing syllabi and schedules specifically for the summer courses.  For the purposes of pre-approval, syllabi and schedules from the previous year can be used, if ones for the current year are not yet available.  However, once the course is complete, you will also need to present the materials corresponding to the version of the course you actually took.  REMINDER: You make sure to take the course, with lab, that the institution's premedical students would take.

Q:  What are the criteria for whether a summer organic course is suitable?

A:  The criteria fall into two overall categories:

  1. Overall rigor.
    1. The course should be a rigorous one that is suitable for science majors.
    2. The course must include a laboratory component (which might or might not be considered a separate course by the offering institution . . . but which must be taken in either case).
    3. The course should use a generally recognized textbook and cover the generally expected topics.  Generally this would mean at least 80% of the topics covered in the corresponding course at Swarthmore College.
    4. For a second semester organic chemistry course (corresponding to CHEM 032 at Swarthmore), no more than 20% of the course should be devoted to topics already covered in CHEM 022.
    5. The laboratory component should consist of exercises that are comparable to those at Swarthmore College in sophistication and complexity, and should include the use of spectroscopy.
  2. Contact hours.
    1. The lecture course must include at least 80% as many classroom hours as the corresponding course at Swarthmore.  Recitation sessions, even if required, are not included in this calculation, nor is the time for a scheduled final exam.  At Swarthmore College, CHEM 022 has 41 or 42 (depending on when MLK Jr Day) falls) 50-minute classes, for a total of 2050-2100 minutes (34-35 hours).  CHEM 032 has 39 50-minute classes, for a total of 1950 minutes (32.5 hours) of lecture.  Therefore, qualifying summer courses should have at least 27.3 hours (1640 minutes) of lecture time for a first semester course, and at least 26 hours (1560minutes) for a second semester course.
    2. The laboratory component must include at least 80% as many scheduled hours as the corresponding lab at Swarthmore.  Lab lecture time is included in this calculation.  CHEM 022 has 45.5 scheduled lab hours, and CHEM 032 has 42.  Therefore, to qualify for transfer credit, a summer course must have at least 36.4 hours (first semester) or 33.6 hours (second semester) of scheduled laboratory time.

Q:  How many credits will likely be transferred?

A:  Summer courses meeting all of the criteria above will generally qualify for a full transfer credit (for lecture and lab together).  Courses meeting only some of the criteria will either qualify for transfer of less than a full credit, or for no credit at all.

Q:  What is the impact of receiving less than a full credit (or no credit at all) for a summer organic chemistry course?

A:  Lack of a full credit transferred generally does not affect medical school applications.  From the perspective of medical schools, the transcript from the institution where you took the summer course is the record of your work, and whether or not the credit is transferred to your Swarthmore College transcript is immaterial.

Courses that are transferred as a full credit automatically satisfy prerequisites.  For instance, a summer course transferred as equivalent to a full credit of CHEM 022 automatically serves as the prerequisite for CHEM 032, and a full transfer credit of CHEM 032 automatically serves as the prerequisite for biochemistry.  Courses that do NOT qualify for a full transfer credit are SOMETIMES adequate as a prerequisite, at the discretion of the professor teaching the course for which the prerequisite is needed.

Likewise, courses which transfer as a full credit automatically are able to fulfill cognate requirements in other majors (e.g., Neuroscience).  However, transferred summer credits do NOT satisfy College NSEP requirements, even if the courses have lab components.

Courses which do not qualify for a full transfer credit CANNOT be used to satisfy requirements for majors or minors housed in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.  Please note, however, that even for fully qualifying transfer courses, there is a limit to the number of non-Swarthmore credits that can be applied to satisfy requirements for majors and minors in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Q:  What happens after the summer course has been completed?

A:  Once you return to campus, it will need to be confirmed that the course(s) you took is/are as represented in the pre-estimation process.  You will need to submit copies of the syllabi and schedules actually used (including both lecture and lab) via the Registrar’s transfer credit portal.

Q:  Can I take Chem 032 at Swarthmore if I take the equivalent of Chem 022 someplace else?

A:  Yes, if the summer course you take receives a full transfer credit.  However, we caution students against taking this route, for the following reason.  Even courses that receive a full transfer credit that we designate as equivalent to CHEM 022 typically do NOT actually cover all the material in CHEM 022.  In particular, these courses often do not cover aromaticity and conjugated systems (the last two weeks of CHEM 022), and they also typically cover NMR spectroscopy in considerably less detail than we do here at Swarthmore.  As a result, students who have taken Organic I elsewhere are typically at a disadvantage in CHEM 032, unless they carefully and thoroughly study the material they have missed in advance of taking CHEM 032.

Q:  If I am taking organic chemistry purely or mainly to satisfy medical school admission requirements, what should I know about taking organic chemistry over the summer?

A:  The transcript from the institution where you took the course is the official record of your work, whether or not the credit is transferred to Swarthmore.  Therefore, whether or not you transfer the credit to Swarthmore actually has no impact on your eligibility for medical school.  (Likewise, if you do choose to transfer the credit, it makes no difference for medical school applications whether a full transfer credit or only a fraction of a transfer credit is awarded by Swarthmore).  You only need to transfer the credit(s) if you wish to count the credit(s) toward your graduation requirements at Swarthmore, or use the credit(s) as a prerequisite for other Swarthmore courses.  Furthermore, as explained above, even courses that do not qualify for transfer credit can sometimes satisfy prerequisites, by prior arrangement with and at the discretion of the instructor.