Enrollment Recommendations for New Students

Prospective math, science, and computer science majors will almost certainly need a math course their first semester at Cornell.  Students with an interest in economics are also advised to get an early start on their math requirement.

Math pre-enrollment is not necessary for new students who are more inclined toward the arts, languages, humanities, or social sciences. Math may be added, if needed, during the add/drop period following a conversation between student and faculty advisor. There are a number of alternatives to calculus from which to choose.

Calculus and Linear Algebra

There are several options for those who need calculus and/or linear algebra.

Students who expect to major in mathematics, economics, or a science for which a strong math background is recommended would do well to take MATH 1110, 1120, or 1220 and continue with MATH 2210-2220 or MATH 2230-2240.  These courses provide a strong foundation in mathematical theory and solid preparation for advanced math courses.  MATH 1220 and 2230-2240 are challenging (and fun!), digging into the theoretical underpinnings of calculus and linear algebra. They are also taught at a much higher level of sophistication than MATH 1120 and MATH 2210-2220, respectively. Students in these courses invest considerably more time on coursework, and are responsible for learning a significant amount of material independently. The decision to attempt them should be weighed against the many other demands on a student's time. If in doubt, pre-enroll in MATH 1120 or 2210 and speak with a math advisor during orientation before deciding whether to transfer into MATH 1220 or 2230 during add/drop.

In fields strongly related to the mathematical and physical sciences, such as astronomy, computer science, physics, and physical chemistry, some advisors recommend that their students take MATH 1910-1920-2930-2940. This sequence, which is required for engineering students, pays less attention to the theoretical background of topics covered and spends more time on applications, while still preparing the student for higher-level math courses. The courses in this sequence are also taken in the order they will be needed for undergraduate physics courses.

MATH 1110-1120 followed by MATH 2130 is a good choice for students who need to master the basic techniques of calculus but whose majors will not require a substantial amount of math. MATH 2130 is offered in the spring only.

MATH 1110 followed by MATH 2310 is an option for students who would benefit from some linear algebra but do not need a full year of calculus. MATH 2310 is a fall-only course that focuses on the practical applications of linear algebra rather than the theory. It is a useful course for students in information science, statistics, economics, and the life sciences who don’t expect to continue with more advanced math classes.

Students who are undecided about their future studies at Cornell, but think they may involve a substantial amount of math, can keep their options open by taking Calculus I (MATH 1110 or AP credit), Calculus II (MATH 1120, 1220, or AP credit), and Linear Algebra (MATH 2210). Linear Algebra is a pre-requisite for Multivariable Calculus (MATH 2220), which would be the next step for students who are still leaning in the direction of a math-related major and may wish to take more advanced mathematics.

Advanced Placement / Transfer Credit

Advanced placement credit can be used to place out of one or two semesters of calculus.  If your AP score is not yet available but you feel comfortable with your performance on the test, assume credit will be awarded and pre-enroll accordingly.  If you have taken college math courses as a high school student, they may be eligible for transfer credit and/or placement out of equivalent Cornell courses.

One Course at a Time, Please

Students are strongly discouraged from taking two courses in the calculus and linear algebra group at the same time, especially if one course is a prerequisite for the other. The temptation to double up in an effort to get ahead can often lead to poor grades in one or both courses and an unnecessarily stressful semester.  If you are concerned that you are falling behind, please speak with the director of undergraduate studies in math before attempting to double up on your math courses.

Preparing for the Mathematics Major or Minor

Students may be admitted to the math minor after successfully completing a semester each of multivariable calculus and linear algebra.  Additional prerequisites for the math major (but not the minor) are admission to the College of Arts and Sciences and a 3- or 4-credit computer programming course with a grade of C– or better.  Eligible courses include:  CS 1110, CS 1112, CS 1114, CS 1115, and CS 2110.  (AP or transfer credit accepted.)  Prospective math majors are strongly encouraged to take the programming course during their first year.