As a new student at Whitman College, you may have questions about registration, academic requirements and course loads. We hope this list of FAQs will help. However, if you still have questions feel free to call the Registrar's Office at 509-527-5983 or email If you have questions about New Student Orientation, please go to the orientation website.

What is a typical course load for an incoming student?

A typical first semester schedule usually is four classes (15-16 credits), but that varies depending upon individual needs. Students are encouraged to create a balanced schedule, taking into consideration course workload, extracurricular activities and involvement, outside responsibilities and time management. Full-time students must register for at least 12 credits and need to average 15 ½ credits per semester to graduate in four years.

What are distribution requirements? How do I fill them?

Distribution Requirements are designed to ensure a breadth of exposure to the fields of knowledge that make up a liberal arts curriculum. The Distribution Requirements are listed in the General Studies Program section of the College Catalog. There are six distribution areas, and you will be required to complete a specified number of credits and/or classes in each. We recommend that you select courses in two or three different distribution areas in your first year, to begin to satisfy these requirements.

What about credits that do not count toward distribution or major requirements. Do they count for anything?

Yes, they count toward the overall credits needed for your degree. Keep in mind that to graduate, you must complete no fewer than 124 credits. Roughly one-third of those are distribution credits, and another one-third are major requirement credits. That still leaves one-third (roughly 30 credits, depending on your major) that still need to be earned by taking other courses.

I'm concerned about my writing ability. Which classes could I take to improve my writing skills?

Rhetoric, Writing and Public Discourse 170 is structured to serve the needs of entering and advanced students. This class helps Whitman students strengthen their skills in order to best be academically successful.

Additionally, the 100-level English courses (177, 178, 179, 181, and 182) also include significant writing components. If you think you might declare an English major, or if you are interested in learning to write literary analysis essays at a more advanced level, you might consider English 290, which is open to first-year students in their second semester.

Before registration, all incoming students are asked to take part in a writing assessment. This will help you know whether RWPD 170 is a good course for you. Learn more about the writing assessment.

I am planning to pursue a career in the health professions and/or might be a biology or BBMB major. Should I register for a biology course?

Biology classes are not recommended for students their first semester. Biology 111 has a prerequisite of a semester of chemistry, so you should begin with chemistry and then perhaps take biology during your second semester or in the fall semester of your sophomore year. If you plan to declare a biology or BBMB major, you should enroll in Chemistry 125 or 140, and Mathematics 125 in your first semester.

The Chemistry Department requires placement tests to ensure you are placed in the correct course. Learn more about the tests.

There are two introductory biology classes, 111 and 112. Only Biology 111 is required for BBMB majors. For biology majors, either of these classes can be taken first, although the department recommends starting with Biology 111.  Learn more about health professors and the college's pre-health advising support.

I would like to participate in an off-campus studies program (study abroad) before I graduate. Are there classes I should take now to prepare me to go abroad?

It is beneficial to begin planning for a study abroad experience as early as possible, and you should let your adviser know you are planning to do so. For now, please consider the following as you plan for your first-year courses at Whitman:

  • Whitman students who study for a semester or academic year abroad generally do so in their junior year at Whitman.
  • Students should refer to the Advising by Major section of the Off-Campus Studies website for detailed planning tips on which courses to take your first and second year, depending on your major, if you think you might study off-campus.
  • Students considering a major in the fields of music, theatre, science, environmental studies or 3-2 engineering should consult directly with a faculty advisor in that major during their first semester for additional guidance on course planning prior to off-campus studies.
  • Ideally students should have at least two graded courses in their major on their Whitman academic record prior to applying for semester or year-long off-campus program.
  • Studying another language during the first two years at Whitman will give students a wider range of study abroad options to choose from that are linguistically and culturally immersive.
  • Most of Whitman's partner programs in French, German and Spanish-speaking countries require a minimum of two years of college-level language study, or the equivalent.
  • All but one of Whitman's partner programs in China, Japan and Taiwan require one year of college-level Japanese or Chinese, or the equivalent.
  • Students who cannot afford to take a full year or semester away from campus should consider the Crossroads program, which offers shorter, faculty-led group trips abroad during the summer.

Learn more about Off-Campus Studies online or call 509-527-4992.

I've studied a foreign language in high school and would like to continue studying it at Whitman. Can I register for a language class?

If you previously studied French, German or Spanish, you must take a placement test before enrolling in a course in that same language at Whitman. The results of that test will help determine the level of language course for which you should register. You may register for the beginning level of a foreign language class if you have not previously studied that language. There are no online placement tests for Chinese and Japanese. Learn more about choosing the right language course.

I studied calculus in high school and would like to continue studying it at Whitman. Should I register for Math 125 (Calculus I), Math 126 (Calculus II) or Math 225 (Calculus III)?

Students interested in taking college-level calculus are encouraged to take the calculus placement exam. Calculus classes at Whitman limit or do not allow the use of calculators on exams, so your placement exam will be most accurate if you do not use a calculator. Learn more and access the calculus placement exam.

I know that I will need to take a chemistry course for my major and I am planning to go to medical school. How do I know which introductory chemistry course is right for me?

The Chemistry Department has three tracks of introductory chemistry; which track you pursue depends on your interest and the other courses you have taken in the subject. Track 1 is for students who are considering a major outside of the sciences, and Tracks 2 and 3 are for students who are considering a major in biology, biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology (BBMB), chemistry, geology or pursuing a health career. The chemistry placement test is required for all students interested in either Track 2 or 3. One semester of an introductory course with lab from either Track 2 or 3 is recommended for students considering a geology major. Learn more and access the chemistry placement test.

If I am a transfer student, will I need to take General Studies 175-176, the First Year Seminars?

Transfer students with fewer than 58 credits will take GENS 175 but may receive equivalent credit for GENS 176 for a comparable course taken at another institution.

How do I take classes in spring semester in math, physics, foreign languages and other sequence courses?

Some classes appear to be sequences but they actually are one-semester classes. The way to find out is to check to see if one class is a prerequisite for the other. For foreign languages, take the placement test and then consult with the appropriate faculty.