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What Should I do If I’m interested in the Natural Sciences?

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The Natural Sciences seek to describe, understand, and predict natural phenomena.  At Stanford, you can explore the Natural Sciences through departments such as Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, and Physics. Read on for tips about how to get started in the Natural Sciences!

Placement Tests & Diagnostics

Plan to take the placement tests and diagnostics in Chemistry, Math, and Physics before you arrive at Stanford. These are designed to help ensure that you are in the courses that best fit your academic background -- taking the placement tests and diagnostics cannot hurt you. Note that most placement tests and diagnostics are meant to be taken online during the month of August. For details about placement tests and diagnostics, consult the Approaching Stanford website.

Course Selection

Pay Attention to Scheduling

Many classes, especially the introductory sequences in the natural sciences, are only offered in certain quarters. Don't expect you can just plug physics or chemistry into your schedule whenever you like – make sure to pay close attention to the information in ExploreCourses about which terms each course is offered.

Chemistry and Biology

If you are considering majoring in chemistry, biology, or related majors, you should take general chemistry in your first year. General chemistry begins in the Autumn quarter with either CHEM 31A or CHEM 31M. Read information from the Chemistry Department about choosing your first chemistry class here.

Thinking ahead in biology: One 60-level course (BIO 60-62) is required for the Biology major and must be taken during your first or second year. Bio Foundations (BIO 81-86) and HumBio Core (HUMBIO 2A & 2B, 3A & 3B, 4A & 4B) courses are typically taken sophomore year.

Engineering and Physics

Most students interested in physics or physics-based engineering fields take introductory physics in their first year, often starting with PHYSICS 41 in Winter Quarter. Take the Physics placement diagnostic to receive guidance from the Physics Department about which physics sequence you should take and where you should start in the sequence.

Health-Related Fields

Students interested in health-related careers may find it helpful to consult the following page about Planning for Medical School. Curricular recommendations for preparation for medical school can be found here.


In most cases, if you are interested in the natural sciences, math, and/or engineering, you should plan to take math your first year. The math department offers excellent advice on choosing courses.

What about CME?

CME100-102-104 is generally considered an alternative for engineers to the MATH 51-52-53 sequence. Most engineering majors will accept either sequence, but consult the engineering handbook for departmental recommendations. Heads-up! It is very difficult to mix and match the two sequences, as they cover topics in different order.

More to Explore

Other courses to consider taking are Frosh-friendly coursesThinking Matters courses, and Introductory Seminars that are related to your interests.


Stanford is a wonderful place to do research with faculty! For more information on how to get started, check out our guide to getting started in research.

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