Duke studentsFirst Year

Your first year at Duke should be a time of exploration and discovery, not a time to rush through as many requirements as possible. Students usually complete curriculum requirements through a combination of courses in their prospective majors and courses that genuinely appeal to the breadth of their interests. In your first semester, we encourage you to pick at least one class as if you had no requirements to fulfill—this choice often takes students down paths that they'd not previously considered but which lead to exciting connections to faculty, research opportunities and careers.

Got questions? Before you arrive, you can contact the Academic Advising Center at (919) 684-6217 or advising.duke.edu. Once you're at Duke, your college advisor and the rest of your advising network are here to help.

Course placement

The biology department offers two gateway courses, BIOLOGY 201L (molecular biology) and BIOLOGY 202L (genetics and evolution), which can be taken in any order. Biology majors and prehealth students will need to take both courses eventually, but neither must be taken in your first semester. Most students, even those interested in majoring in biology, lay the groundwork for biology by taking chemistry and math courses in the fall and waiting until the spring or following fall to take a biology gateway course. BIOLOGY 201L requires a 4 or 5 on the AP Chemistry exam or the completion of CHEM 101DL.

While your AP score cannot place you out of BIOLOGY 201L or 202L, a score of 4 or 5 on the AP Biology exam and a strong science background will enable you to take other courses. Courses numbered from 201 to 209 are entry-level courses that count toward the biology major. Those numbered less than 200—including first-year seminars (BIOLOGY 89S)—do not count toward the major but are great for exploring an interest in biology.

View the biology guidelines for first-year students »

BIOLOGY 201L and 202L are required for admission to schools in the health professions. For more information, visit the Office of Health Professions Advising website.

The chemistry department provides placement recommendations based on high school background, math SAT score and score on the chemistry AP exam or its equivalent (if taken). Once you determine your recommended course via the placement guidelines, click to read the details such as catalog description, registration information for both lectures and labs and availability of option to drop to a lower level if you encounter difficulty. Also note the requirements that the course fulfills, such as general education, major, minor and prehealth.

View the chemistry placement guidelines»

A series of chemistry courses is required for admission to medical and dental schools. For more information, visit the Office of Health Professions Advising website.

Students interested in in computer science typically choose COMPSCI 101 as their first course. If you scored a 4 or 5 on the AP Computer Science A exam, you can place into COMPSCI 201.

Students without AP placement but with extensive experience in computer science can talk to the director of undergraduate studies about whether taking COMPSCI 201 as the first course is appropriate. It is often possible for students with extensive experience to start in COMPSCI 201 without AP placement.

Occasionally, students with deep and extraordinary experience can place out of COMPSCI 201. This requires a conversation with the director of undergraduate studies, completion of a large programming project in Java and demonstration of understanding aspects of algorithm analysis that typically are beyond what students cover in most high school courses.

View the computer science premajor guidelines »

There are two economics courses that incoming first-year students may be eligible to take at Duke. ECON 101 covers introductory concepts in both microeconomics and macroeconomics, and ECON 201D covers intermediate microeconomics, assuming some background in economics and calculus. In order to start in ECON 201D, you need to have scored a 4 or 5 on both the AP Microeconomics and AP Macroeconomics exams. Additionally, you must have demonstrated the requisite math knowledge with a 5 on the AP Calculus AB exam or a 3 or better on the calculus BC test.

View the FAQs related to first-year economics placement »

You do not have to begin your foreign language in your first year, although many Duke students choose to do so. If you want to continue with a language that you've studied in the past, taking language in the first year will keep your skills fresh. Some study abroad programs require language proficiency, and starting early eases scheduling pressures.

Trinity requires all students to complete three semesters of a single language other than English (“foreign language”), or complete one advanced course (300-level), whichever comes first. Your Blue Book describes this requirement in more detail. If you’ve never studied a language before, you register for the beginning level (typically, 101). If you have already studied a language and wish to continue at Duke, we encourage you to do so.  

We recognize that students arrive to Duke with a variety of experiences with languages other than English, and Duke language programs strive to accommodate that diversity, offering program-specific guidelines on their websites to help you self-place accordingly. You can use prior high school coursework, placement scores such as AP or SAT II and out-of-classroom experience with a language in order to choose the right level to begin. Some programs also offer placement tests to assist you, and you can usually change course levels in the first week of the semester, provided there is room in the course you’d like to join.

View the list of languages offered at Duke and links to program websites »
Read frequently asked questions about placement for foreign languages »
Read common questions about language study at Duke in general »
View example course plans »

Most but not all foreign language courses are taught each semester. Language courses offered through Asian and Middle Eastern studies (Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean) as well as Greek and Latin can have the first half of the language level offered in the fall, with the second half taught in the spring. If you are considering one of these languages, be careful to check when courses are taught.

The mathematics department has carefully assessed the relationship between high school test scores and success in Duke courses, and its placement recommendations are based on that assessment. Your recommended placement in a math course at Duke is contingent upon your level of calculus experience (none, one year, multivariable) and your applicable test scores (AP, SAT, IB, etc.). Scoring 5 on the AP Calculus AB exam can earn you credit for MATH 21. Scoring a 21 on the BC can earn you credit for MATH 21 and 22.

View the math placement guidelines »
View the math enrollment policies »
Visit the Facebook page on math placement »

In addition to the math major itself, some majors at Duke (e.g. biology, biophysics, chemistry, computer science, economics, neuroscience,statistics, physics and psychology) require math and other quantitative reasoning courses. Likewise, prehealth students are typically expected to have some background in calculus, either because they will later take calculus-based physics or because a medical school requires it. More information is available on the prehealth website. Importantly, if you do not have credit for one of these required courses, successful completion of a higher-level math course cannot be assumed to satisfy that requirement; you should get written permission from the DUS in the department of the major in question before skipping such a course.

Keep in mind that, apart from major or prehealth requirements, Duke doesn't require you to take a math course. One of your two required Quantitative Studies (code QS) courses must be in either computer science, math or statistical science, and there is a variety of courses from which to choose. If you are unsure and math is not critical to courses in your major, it is fine to opt out of math for your first fall semester.

For placement purposes, we are using equivalences as follows:
SAT 520 = ACT 22
SAT 680 = ACT 30
SAT 700 = ACT 32
SAT 800 = ACT 36

So, for example, the guidelines in the "No AP credit" section at the top of the math page might be edited as:
don't enroll this Fall
SAT math < 520, ACT math < 22
Math 105L
SAT math 520-670, ACT math 22-29
Math 111L
SAT math 680-800, ACT math 30-36


Students interested in neuroscience should start with NEUROSCI 101 (cross-listed as PSY 106), Biological Basis of Behavior, which is offered every semester. Neuroscience has opened a small lecture (Section 02) just for first-year students.

To join the first-year-only section, sign up for Discussion Section 07, which will also place you in Lecture Section 02. This smaller class might also fill for the fall semester, but you will not be behind if you take the class in the spring. You should not take a 200-level neuroscience course without first taking NEUROSCI 101.

Several neuroscience courses in first-year Focus clusters (numbered 116FS-01, 123FS-01, 153FS-01, 155FS-01 and 193FS-01) count as electives for the major in neuroscience. Focus courses can count for a maximum of one credit toward the major and do not satisfy the NEUROSCI 101 requirement.

View neuroscience major and minor requirements »

Neuroscience majors must fulfill co-requisites in biology, chemistry (or chemistry and computer programming), math and physics. Some of these requirements can be met with AP scores.

Interested students can contact the director of undergraduate studies for neuroscience, Professor Christina Williams, with any questions about neuroscience classes, co-requisites for the major or studying neuroscience in general.

Duke offers three sequences of introductory calculus-based physics courses. All course sequences have a required laboratory and recitation. Each sequence covers similar topics but with different emphases for different groups: PHYSICS 161L, 162L for potential physics or biophysics majors; PHYSICS 151L, 152L, 153L for engineering students and PHYSICS 141L, 142L for other students, including those interested in life sciences and prehealth. The 141L course requires MATH 21/111L as a prerequisite, and MATH 22/112L is recommended, while 161L requires both math prerequisites.

Placement out of introductory physics courses can be achieved with a 4 or 5 on the AP Physics C: Mechanics exam (PHYSICS 141L and 151L) or the AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism exam (PHYSICS 142L and 152L). However, if you plan to pursue a physics or biophysics major, the physics department recommends that you take the 161L, 162L sequence, which is better preparation for upper-level physics courses than the AP Physics C curriculum. Potential physics or biophysics majors should meet with the physics director of undergraduate studies as soon as possible to discuss which physics courses to take.

If you have a strong background in math and are considering math-focused majors such as economics, computer science, math and statistical science, you may prefer to enroll in Physics 161L, 162L, rather than 141L, 142L. The 161L, 162L sequence uses math at a more challenging level and will cover interesting connections between physics and math. The Office of Health Professions Advising offers advice for prehealth students on the prehealth website.

View the physics placement guidelines »

If you are curious about physics and want to take a fun and rewarding science course, consider the 100-level courses for non-majors, such as PHYSICS 131S: Big Questions in Physics and PHYSICS 136: Acoustics and Music.

For the most common introductory statistics courses—STA 101 and STA 102—you can register freely based on your academic interest. STA 101 focuses on statistics applications in the social sciences, while STA 102 emphasizes the life sciences and is appropriate for premed students. These courses no longer require a placement exam.

STA 111, introductory statistics for economics majors, requires previous calculus experience, which can come via AP credit for MATH 21. STA 30 is an introductory course primarily for students who have scored less than 650 on the SAT math exam. Registration for this course is by permission only. Interested students must meet with the director of undergraduate studies and take a short placement quiz. 

Duke offers statistics courses that focus on applications in biology, economics and other areas. If you are going to major in statistics, then taking a statistics course in your first semester is fine. If you are taking it as a general course, you might delay this to your second semester or later, so that you can take a course that fits with your major.

View statistics course descriptions »

The Office of Health Professions Advising recommends that prehealth students take a statistics course at Duke. STA 101 and 102 will always fulfill this requirement, but other courses may as well.

Read the about statistics courses for prehealth students »

To determine your placement for many classes at Dukeparticularly science, math, economics and language classesDuke considers coursework and examinations completed prior to matriculation. There are three types of pre-college work that we recognize:

  • Advanced Placement exams (AP)
  • International Placement exams (IPC)
  • Prematriculation courses (PMC)

All AP, IPC and PMC course equivalents that we award you will be listed on your academic history on ACES and on your Duke transcript. These credits can fulfill prerequisites or place you out of lower-level courses, depending on the major and program. In addition, the Office of the University Registrar will count up to two AP, IPC or PMC credits toward your 34 credits required for graduation, reducing the number of credits you need to graduate to 32. AP, IPC and PMC credits do not carry curriculum codes and cannot be used to fulfill Area of Knowledge, Mode of Inquiry, seminar or small-group-learning requirements.

Read more about placement via AP, IPC and PMC »
View the chart of AP course equivalents and placement by department »
View information related to prehealth courses »

AP, IPC and PMC course equivalents are reviewed and awarded by the Office of the University Registrar. Be sure to have your official information (scores, grades, transcript, etc.) sent to them for review. Duke’s CEEB number for submitting AP scores is 5156.

View instructions for having AP scores sent to Duke »