Mathematics Course Information for First Year Students

Welcome to Colby and to the Department of Mathematics! We’re glad you’ll be joining us!  This page collects information on courses for first-year students, especially Calculus.

Placement Procedure:

If you wish to take Calculus at Colby, after reading this page, please follow this link for information on placement and for a link to the form you are required to fill out prior to registering for Calculus.

General advice:

  • If you are planning to take a Calculus course at any point during your time at Colby, we recommend that you take it during your first semester here. Mathematics is cumulative and Calculus relies on what you learned in high school, so it’s best to start before you forget anything.
  • See below for information on our placement procedure. There is a form you are required to fill out if you want to take Calculus at Colby.
  • Beginning in Fall 2021 we have substantially improved our Calculus curriculum and renumbered all of our courses. For more information on how the new numbering system corresponds to the old system and for the birds-eye view of the Calculus curriculum, please see this page.
  • Statistics courses taught by the Department of Statistics and are generally not open to first-semester students. If you have questions about Statistics, please reach out to them.
  • For additional reasons to take a math course, check out our webpage!

Below you will find information on:

  • The Quantitative Reasoning (Q) requirement
  • Calculus courses at Colby
  • Non-calculus courses
  • Mathematics course requirements by major

The Quantitative Reasoning (Q) requirement

All first-year mathematics courses satisfy the “Quantitative Reasoning” distribution requirement. However, so do some courses in Philosophy, Computer Science, Statistics, and elsewhere. These courses are indicated by a “Q” in the course catalogue and can be searched for specifically using Curriculum Search on the Registrar’s webpage. Choose “Quantitative Reasoning” under “Area”.


Calculus courses at Colby

  • MA 119 & MA 120: Calculus with Pre-calculus I and II. This pair of courses together cover the same material as MA 125, but incorporates pre-calculus material. Together they satisfy the Quantitative Reasoning (Q) requirement and all other requirements satisfied by MA 125.  MA 119 by itself does not satisfy any requirement at the College, including the Q requirement. MA 119 is offered in the fall and MA 120 is offered in January. Admission is by application and is very limited.
  • MA125: Single-Variable Calculus. This is the beginning of the mainstream calculus sequence. It covers the same material as the AP Calculus “AB” course and as most high school calculus courses. As this is a college course, the emphasis is much less computational and more conceptual than in many high school courses. This course is not open to students who have successfully completed a course that covers derivatives and integrals, including those of trigonmetric and exponential functions. The next natural course to take after this one is MA 160.
  • MA 130: Single-Variable Calculus Revisited. This is a single-variable Calculus course for those that have taken Calculus but are not ready to proceed to MA 160. It covers much the same material as MA 125 but at a deeper level. It incorporates significant use of computers to do routine calculations and to develop understanding of the conceptual aspects of the course. The next natural course to take after this one is MA 160.
  • MA135: Honors Calculus I. This is the first course of the honors calculus sequence at Colby. It is an alternative to the MA 125/160 sequence, not a continuation. Here calculus is presented as a deductive mathematical theory, with emphasis on concepts, theorems, and their proofs. This is an ambitious choice and all students who enter this course have taken and done well in a full year of calculus in high school. Students continuing their study of mathematics normally choose Math 165 after this course. Many continuing students choose to take Math 253 in addition to Math 165 after this course.
  • MA160: Series and Multivariable Calculus. This course is the choice of students who have successfully learned single-variable Calculus (either in high school, MA 119/120, MA 125, or MA 130 and are mainly interested in the applications, rather than the intellectual foundations, of calculus. This course presumes that students know the basics of integration and differentiation and the fundamental transcendental functions (sine, cosine, exponential, and logarithm). Compared to high school courses, this course moves at a much faster pace. After a period of adjustment, most students find the faster pace worthwhile. Students continuing their study of mathematics normally choose 253, 262, or 274 after this course.

Non-calculus courses

  • The department does not currently offer non-Calculus courses that satisfy the Q requirement.
  • MA253 or MA274. These are both very ambitious choices for first-year students, but they do make sense for some incoming students. Almost always, however, MA 135 or MA 160 is the better choice. If you are considering either MA253 or MA274, please email the Department Chair or Calculus Coordinator to discuss. If you place into these courses you will have satisfied the Q requirement and all other Calculus requirements.

Mathematics and Statistics course requirements by major

Mathematics courses are required for many majors at Colby. If you are interested in a particular subject you should thoroughly read the section in the Colby Course Catalogue that details the requirements for a major or a minor in that subject. Below we reproduce some of the mathematics requirements for majors in various subjects. Read the information below in tandem with the course catalog, not as a substitute! Clicking on the name of the department opens that department’s catalogue entry in a new window.

Any major requirement of Mathematics 125 (formerly 121) is also satisfied by taking Mathematics 120, 125, 130, 135, or 160.

  • Biology.
    Basic Major requires Mathematics 125 or 135 or equivalent; one additional course chosen from 160, 165, 253, SC 212, or Computer Science 15X is also required. Certain specialized majors, especially Computational Biology, have different requirements; see Biology in the course catalogue.
  • Chemistry.
    Major requires calculus through 160 or 165. Any of the following combinations will satisfy the mathematics requirements for a Chemistry major: 125 or 130 and 160; 135 and 165; 135 and 160.
  • Computer Science.
    Major requires 200-level mathematics or statistics course (but some CS courses have other math prerequisites).
  • Data Science.
    Colby offers a minor in Data Science. Mathematics 160 or 165 is required. Mathematics 253 also fulfills a requirement.
  • Economics.
    Basic major requires Mathematics 125 or 135 or equivalent. In addition, MA 381/SC 382 will fulfill the requirement for EC 293. See Economics in the course catalogue for details about options for upper-level courses, as well as additional mathematics and statistics course requirements and recommendations, including those toward graduate school in Economics.
  • Engineering.
    Colby offers dual-degree programs with Columbia and Dartmouth. Exact requirements vary by the program, but Mathematics 160 or 165, Mathematics 262 are required and Mathematics 253 and 311 are recommended.
  • Geology.
    Mathematics 120, 125, 130, 135, 160 satisfy certain requirements of the major.
  • Mathematics.
    Mathematics 120, 125, 130, 135, or 160 is required to begin, with 253, 262, or 274 coming next. Occasionally, some students begin with 253 or 262. See the placement information for details.
  • Physics.
    Major requires four of the following courses: Mathematics 120, 125, 130 or 135; 160 or 165; 253; 262; 311; Computer Science 15X. See Physics in the course catalogue about additional electives, as well as further mathematics course recommendations toward graduate school in physics and astronomy.
  • Environmental Studies
    Certain majors in this department require Mathematics 120, 125, 130, 135, or 160 and recommend Mathematics 160, depending on the major.
  • Statistics.
    Calculus thru 160 or 165 is required to begin. Mathematics 253 and 381 are also required and Mathematics 274 is recommended.