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Teaching Resource Information for Transfers to UM

The selection of introductory chemistry classes at the University of Michigan reflects the fact that students arrive with prior experience, ranging from a year of high school chemistry (with or without an Advanced Placement, AP, class) to transferring in having taken college level classes taken elsewhere. 

For the recent high school graduates, we offer two points of entry for introductory chemistry, depending on the background, confidence, and advisory results from an online self-assessment exam. For transfer students, there are four common points of entry. The program and location of these points are illustrated below. 

TRANSFER POINT 1 - UM General Chemistry (Chem 130)

Transfer Point 1 is the entry point for all incoming students who do not get placement advice to start in Organic Chemistry. CHEM 130 aims to bridge whatever background students bring to chemistry from their prior experience – most often their high school course – and the expectations that we have for an Introduction to Chemical Principles. 

In our experience, the biggest error made on the transfer term is having too much ambition in your course plan. Every institution has its own academic culture, and giving you time to make the adjustment has high value. The challenge of adjusting is related to (a) the expectations that learning about fundamental chemistry has happened (the difference between atoms, molecules, and ions; the use and trends in the periodic table), as well as (b) the high-energy academic environment of the overall U-M campus (which might be quite different from past experience elsewhere).

TRANSFER POINT 2 - UM First Semester Organic (Chem 210)

Transfer Point 2 is the most common one. Students will have taken a standard yearlong General Chemistry course at another institution and arrive at U-M intending to take Organic Chemistry.

In our experience, as stated for Transfer Point 1, the biggest error made on the transfer term is having too much ambition in your course plan. Every institution has its own academic culture, and giving you time to make the adjustment has high value. Electing to take the U-M Organic Chemistry courses immediately on the transfer term has proved to be a challenge for roughly 75% of those who attempt it. The challenge may have nothing to do with the General Chemistry subject matter, but rather the adjustment to the high energy and somewhat competitive (albeit friendly competitive) academic environment of the overall campus.

Transfer students are not the only ones who experience an academic challenge in our Organic Chemistry courses. As described in the first few essays at the study guide site, the intrinsic nature of an Organic Chemistry course tends to be quite different than past experiences in learning science.

Although we do not formally discourage transfer students from signing up to start CHEM 210 on their transfer term, we do quite strongly recommend that they think seriously about two things: (1) consider a lighter than average course load so that some adjustment time for being at U-M is built in, and (2) think seriously about the recommendations in the study guide essays about whether you need to adjust the way you approach learning in a science class based upon the differences described in the essays about CHEM 210.

On average, students who have taken this advice seriously have done OK, while those who did not were often among the first to withdraw from the term.

How much information from General Chemistry is actually needed in Organic Chemistry?

The answer is: remarkably little, but what is needed is important.

In the current textbook (Coppola, 2022, Books A/B for CHEM 210, Books C/D for CHEM 215), sections 1.2 and 1.4 outline the most important basics that we expect:

(1) fundamental make-up of atoms and the organization of the periodic table

(2) the structural and representational difference, e.g., between bromine atoms, bromide ion, and molecular bromine (hence the difference between covalent and ionic bonding)

(3) the power of the closed shell (noble gas) electron configuration as the driver for both ionic and covalent structures, particular with the main group elements

(4) a reasonable sense that actual chemical systems are made up of incredibly large collections of atoms and molecules mixed along with the molecules of solvents, and that drawing a simple equation between to things (A+B) is an wholly unrealistic shorthand for the complexity of what is happening in solution at any given moment

(5) an introductory sense that differences in relative stability that dictates the direction of a reaction can be expressed in terms of bonded and non-bonded interactions between atoms (part of what we call enthalpy) as well as statistical factors, such as the comparative number of particles that make up the starting and ending points (part of what we call entropy).

A deeper dive into a General Chemistry review that is relevant to Organic Chemistry is given in Appendix 01 (Book B) of the Coppola books.

TRANSFER POINT 3 - UM Second Semester Organic (Chem 215)

Transfer Point 3 is the most critically difficult Transfer Point and it is not recommended, and particularly not on the transfer term. 

Taking CHEM 215 (or, in reality, joining the middle of ANY organic course, anywhere) is a challenge even when taken by U-M students who did not take CHEM 210 the previous term. Organic Chemistry is not a codified bunch of factoids that is taught identically from school to school, so what and how the content was conveyed and tested can vary wildly. 

Our program at U-M is also quite idiosyncratic as most of the standard texts are too simplistic and never quite fit, so we have had homegrown books since the 1980s. The current text was written by Prof. Brian Coppola and introduced during the Fall 2021 (CHEM 210) and Winter 2022 (CHEM 215) semesters. The current text is also accompanied by a fairly elaborate "study guide" with students, including transfer students, in mind. The link to the study guide is below, and this is open-source (free) material. 

Here is the advice of the CHEM 210 and CHEM 215 team of faculty instructors, who collectively have well over 100 years of experience teaching at the University of Michigan, for students who did not take CHEM 210 in the term prior to taking CHEM 215 (particularly transfer students): 

(A) First, read the set of essays in the study guide.   

(B) Then, test yourself with the final exam from CHEM 210 (Book B, exam 4) to get a sense of how much you know. The average score on that exam is in the 70% range. 

(C) Use the result of that test as a guide to what you understand fairly well as opposed to material you absolutely must review prior to starting CHEM 215 

Sobering thought #1: the higher achieving students are walking into CHEM 215 with most of this under their belts. CHEM 210/215 is a yearlong course divided in two, so there is no restart... CHEM 215 just picks up where CHEM 210 left off, and it is assumed students understand and can apply all of the key concepts from CHEM 210). This is not to say that you cannot perform at a high level in CHEM 215 regardless of your background, but your background will determine the amount of catch-up work you need to do in order to succeed. 

Sobering thought #2: whether transferring in from a different institution, or having taken a break at U-M, students who take CHEM 215 with a gap of more than the 3-week Winter break after taking CHEM 210 have a huge adjustment to make to review/refresh the key concepts. Evidence of this is clear – for example, on the first exam in CHEM 215 (February 2022): those who had taken CHEM 210 during Fall 2021 scored a 74% average (mid B) on the first CHEM 215 exam, while those who transferred or had a break of any kind scored a 34% average  (which is actually a failing grade, and only one person out of 80 scored at the C- level, and that was the highest score).

TRANSFER POINT 4 - UM Chemistry Courses beyond General and Organic Chemistry

Transfer Point 4 probably has the least number of intrinsic challenges associated with it. Students who are coming to U-M with credit for both General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry have fulfilled the basic chemistry requirements for pre-health programs as well as the prerequisites for non-chemistry degree programs except Chemical Engineering. Transfer students who are intending to pursue one of the degrees offered by the U-M department of chemistry should seek out a departmental advisor (in addition to their general LSA advisor) as soon as possible to outline a plan of study.