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    Oberlin College
  Aug 20, 2017
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Course Catalog 2017-2018


Return to: College of Arts and Sciences, Degree Programs and Requirements

Kevin Woods, Associate Professor and Chair
Robert A. Bosch, Professor
Jack Calcut, Associate Professor
Susan Jane Colley, Andrew and Pauline Delaney Professor
Colin Dawson, Assistant Professor
Benjamin D. Linowitz, Assistant Professor
Christoph A. Marx, Assistant Professor
Lauren A. Thompson, Assistant Professor 
James A. Walsh, Professor
Jeffrey Alvin Witmer, Professor
Elizabeth Wilmer, Professor
Kevin Woods, Associate Professor
Robert M. Young, James F. Clark Professor 

Mathematics is both a technical and cultural field of study.  The Department’s curriculum has several objectives: (1) to introduce students to a central area of human thought; (2) to prepare students for graduate study in pure or applied mathematics, or in related fields, including statistics and operations research; (3) to support students studying fields that use mathematics, such as the physical, biological, social and information sciences; and (4) to provide liberal arts students with an introduction to the kinds of mathematical and quantitative thinking important in the contemporary world.

Students with any questions about course selection are strongly urged to consult the Department Chair or any member of the Mathematics Department. 

Advanced Placement.

Students who have taken a College Board Advanced Placement Program examination in Calculus, or an International Baccalaureate examination in Mathematics (Higher Level) will receive credit as follows:

  • Students scoring 4 or 5 on the BC Advanced Placement examination, or a 6 or 7 on the IB Mathematics HL, receive credit for two full academic courses, equivalent to MATH 133 and 134.
  • Students scoring 3 on the BC Advanced Placement examination with an AB sub-score of 4 or 5 receive credit for one full academic course, equivalent to MATH 133.
  • Students scoring 4 or 5 on the AB Advanced Placement examination, or a 5 on the IB Mathematics HL, receive credit for one full academic course, equivalent to MATH 133.

The Department discourages students from repeating courses for which they could have received credit for work prior to Oberlin.  Students who repeat coursework will have to relinquish AP or IB credit.

Students who have taken Calculus or more advanced mathematics for credit at another college or university should consult with the Registrar’s office and the Department Chair about transfer of credit and appropriate course placement.

Students who have studied advanced mathematics under any other circumstances should also consult with the Department Chair about course placement.

Initial Placement and Course Sequence Suggestions.

Students planning to major in mathematics or another field requiring calculus should enroll in an appropriate calculus class as soon as possible.

Calculus I: Readiness Exam required.  Oberlin offers two versions of Calculus I:  MATH 133 is the standard one-semester course, while the sequence MATH 131/132 integrates pre-calculus topics with the same calculus content over two semesters.  Student planning to enroll in MATH 133 or MATH 131 must take the Calculus Readiness Exam, which covers precalculus material and is the basis for course placement recommendations.  Readiness Exams are administered twice during orientation; they can also be taken online or by arrangement with the Mathematics Department.  After taking the Calculus Readiness Exam, students must see the Mathematics Department Administrative Assistant for consent to register in MATH 133 or MATH 131.

MATH 131 students who wish to continue with calculus should take its sequel, MATH 132.  The two-semester sequence MATH 131, 132 is equivalent to the single semester course, MATH 133.

Calculus II: students with credit for MATH 133 or MATH 131/MATH 132 do not need to take a placement exam; they can enroll directly in MATH 134 (Calculus II).

Courses beyond Calculus II:  students with credit for MATH 133 and MATH 134 do not need to take a placement exam; they can enroll directly in MATH 231 (Multivariable Calculus) or another 200-level course.

Students planning to major in Mathematics or Computer Science should consider taking MATH 220 (Discrete Mathematics) as soon as possible.

Students wishing to use a Mathematics course to satisfy their Quantitative and Formal Reasoning (QFR) or Curricular Exploration requirements, or to take an elective course in Mathematics, have several options.

  • Courses numbered below 100 have no prerequisites and are designed to be accessible to all Oberlin students, regardless of their prior mathematical experience.
  • MATH 133 (Calculus I) or MATH 131/132 (Calculus Ia/Ib) are introductory courses in calculus.
  • MATH 134 (Calculus II) or MATH 231 (Multivariable Calculus) allow students with credit for college-level mathematics to continue their study of calculus.  See above for placement advice.
  • MATH 220 (Discrete Mathematics) is an appropriate exploratory course for students who would like to learn more about the methodology and practice of mathematics and who have credit for MATH 133.


A major in mathematics consists of 9 full academic courses, which must include:

    A.  MATH 220, 231 and 232.
    B.  Four 300-level mathematics (MATH) and statistics (STAT) courses, which must include

          1.  MATH 301 and 327.
          2.  One modeling course from among MATH 331, 335, 338, 342, 343, 345 or 348, or STAT 336, 337, 339.

    C.  Two additional mathematics (MATH) or statistics (STAT) courses numbered 200 or above.

Note:  One or both of the courses in item C above can be replaced by a course or courses from the following list:

     i.   (a)  Computer Science courses CSCI 150, 151, 210, 241, 275.  Only one of these courses may count towards the mathematics major.

          (b)  Computer Science courses CSCI 280, 357, 365, 383.

    ii.  Physics and Astronomy courses ASTR 301, 302 and PHYS 212, 290, 310, 311, 312, 316, 340, 410, 411-12 (the module courses PHYS 411 and PHYS 412 together count as one course).

    iii.  Chemistry courses CHEM 339, 349.

    iv.  Economics courses ECON 342, 351, 353, 355.

The department frequently offers a 300-level seminar in addition to its regular offerings.  Students should check with the instructor to find out whether the seminar can be used to fulfill requirement B.2 above.   

Important Notes

Courses in which a student has earned a letter grade lower than a C– or P cannot be used to fulfill the requirements of the major.

Students planning to pursue graduate work in mathematics, or a closely related field, need to complete more than the minimum requirements for the mathematics major.  All students interested in graduate work in mathematics should plan their major carefully with the advice of a member of the Mathematics Department.

Students interested in graduate work in pure mathematics should complete at least a second algebra course (MATH 317, 328, 329) and a second analysis course (MATH 302, 356).  Moreover, MATH 350 and MATH 353 provide introductions to fundamental areas of pure mathematics.

Students interested in graduate studies in applied mathematics have several options.  In the area of Operations Research, students should complete MATH 331, 335, and 338.  Students with interests in probability and statistics should take MATH 335 and STAT 336 and 337.  The courses MATH 342, 343, 345, and 348 serve as introductions to fundamental areas of discrete applied mathematics.

The minimum requirement of 9 full courses is appropriate for students using mathematics as preparation for careers in fields such as secondary-school teaching, medicine, law, or business.  Students having related interests in chemistry, computer science, economics or physics should note that up to two courses from those listed after item C above can count towards the mathematics major.  This option supports our belief that mathematics majors should obtain substantial background in some field that uses mathematics.  Finally, interdisciplinary majors involving a coherent program of work in mathematics and a related field can be arranged through the College Individual Majors Committee to suit special student interests and needs.


A minor in mathematics consists of at least five full academic courses in mathematics (MATH) and statistics (STAT) numbered 200 and above, including at least two courses numbered 300 and above.


At the end of their junior year, students with outstanding records are invited to participate in the Mathematics Honors Program. For their senior year, honors students normally elect one full academic course of independent study each semester. This special study, which is supervised by a faculty advisor who works closely with the student, results in an Honors paper. Honors students also take a comprehensive written examination at the end of Winter Term and, at the end of the academic year, an oral examination on the material in their Honors paper. These examinations are conducted by an outside examiner. More detailed information on the Honors Program is available from the Department.

Winter Term

Most members of the Mathematics Department will be participating in Winter Term 2018 and are available to sponsor projects.  Normally, Winter Term projects do not entail the learning of material taught in any of our regularly offered courses.

Mathematical interests in the department include abstract algebra, algebraic geometry, combinatorics, cryptography, dynamical systems, mathematics and computation, differential equations, differential geometry, history of mathematics, mathematics education, non-Euclidean geometry, number theory, operations research, probability, real and complex analysis, topology, and statistics.

Avocational interests of Department members which could form the basis for a  Winter Term project include electronic composition and synthesis of music, games of strategy, and juggling. For further information regarding these possibilities, inquire in the Mathematics Department office.

John D. Baum Memorial Prize in Mathematics

Established by the Mathematics Department, this $200 prize is awarded annually to the Oberlin College student who has achieved the highest score on the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition.

Rebecca Cary Orr Memorial Prize in Mathematics

Established by the family and friends of Rebecca Cary Orr, this $3000 prize is awarded annually by the Mathematics Department on the basis of scholastic achievement and promise for future professional accomplishment.

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