If you are new to Cornell, welcome! This semester is sure to be different from any other. Starting your Cornell journey and exploring chemistry classes while managing pandemic-related stresses and challenges is no doubt daunting. Please know that CPA, your professors, your peers, and others around campus are here to support you in any way we can. You are not alone!
My first advice to prospective chemistry students is to take a deep breath and relax. It may feel that it is imperative to plan out your schedule three years out right this moment, or to write a 50-item, minute-by-minute list of exactly what to do when the enrollment window opens. I certainly was tempted. Please don’t stress out too much about this. I enrolled in my first chemistry class, CHEM 2150, purely on a whim after meeting some chemistry people at the Academic Open House. Not only was this after pre-enrollment, but the class was also full! I was told the chemistry undergraduate coordinator is very good at placing people on the waitlist. After a couple days of agony and constant monitoring of the Class Roster, this turned out absolutely true and I enrolled without a problem.
Another reason why not to stress too much about course planning and enrollment is that your plans at Cornell are very likely to change. I didn’t believe that myself. I was certain my goal was to attend graduate school for mathematics. After being a mathlete for seven years before coming to college, I couldn’t imagine majoring in anything else other than mathematics. Everything changed after I took my first organic chemistry course (CHEM 3590), and I’ve been working towards becoming an organic chemist ever since!
The most useful source of information for new chemistry students is the department website. It contains a lot of information from prospective curricula to career planning. You should pay particular attention to the representative course schedules, which delineate four very concrete, specific-down-to-the-exact-course plans for you to finish the major on time. Note that courses with lab components will be significantly more time-consuming than lecture courses. In addition to studying the material, you also need to do lab prep, be in lab at least three hours a week, and write lab reports. As a general rule of thumb, allocate at least 8-10 hours per week outside of class for chemistry courses. You might also want to look up the recommended sequences for other fields you may be interested in, as being on track for multiple majors the first semester will give you more options later on. Pay attention on the Class Roster to when a course is offered. Some courses are offered year-round, while others are only offered in the Spring or Fall.
I also recommend visiting the websites of chemistry professors who you might be interested in working with, or talk to professors in-person, especially if you are thinking about graduate school. This would give you an idea of the ongoing work in the department. However, don’t be pressured into securing a research position your first semester. In fact, I am not even sure if this is possible given the pandemic. There will be plenty of opportunities later on.
It is a common practice at Cornell that if the enrollment window opens at 7:00 AM, everyone hits the enrollment button first at 6:58 out of paranoia, just to see if the window has opened already, and then a second time the moment the clock changes to 7:00. Sometimes this works. Other times, both the enrollment window and the Class Roster crashes, and the crash may not be fixed until 7:10. In any case, you definitely should add all your required courses to your shopping cart in Student Center the day before and not wait until the second day to enroll. But don’t panic if you are unable to enroll in some courses. If this happens, sign up for the waitlist ASAP, and things will generally work out. Emailing the department undergraduate coordinator may also help.
As always, if you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to email us or schedule an appointment! We will respond ASAP and do our best to help you!
Christina Cong, ’21