Chemistry Abroad

By Amy Williams, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Considering the large number of chemistry students in my year that went abroad, I thought a few things I learnt about studying this subject in particular may be useful. A lot of the points do refer to chemistry but can be applicable to other subject areas, especially other sciences, and also they mainly refer to my host uni, UNC Chapel Hill.

  • 12 credits – to be a full time student at UNC you need to take a total of 12 credits, meaning around 4 classes. You can overload, but considering the level and subject, it’s not something that’s recommended.
  • Lab classes – these are typically 2 credits, unless you take a research project, so you’ll need to find a 4 credit hour class to make up for this. Lab classes also fill up quickly, 550L is a requirement at UNC for graduating seniors, and so taking it in the spring can be difficult, as it’s quite competitive to get into. Also, lab classes in an actual lab (ie. Not a computer lab) require goggles, not the protective glasses you wear in Manchester labs. You can find a pair in the student stores.
  • Before classes start – find the room! At UNC, the map suggests the chemistry buildings are all separate, but in reality, they are all joined together, and it can be very confusing to find them, so before classes start make sure you know where you’re going! Don’t be afraid to ask someone for help either!
  • Textbooks – you will need to get the textbook. Amazon has a rental system in the US, and may be cheaper than the option you find in the student store, so look around. Renting is better than buying for studying abroad.
  • Research project – I didn’t manage to get a research project, and it’s not the end of the world. There was a two week project in the lab class I took, which required a presentation, so I did get some new experience from it. If you do wish to get a position in a lab, I’d recommend emailing your CV to professors you wish to work with before you get to UNC. Here they prefer a student works in their lab for 2 semesters before undertaking a research project, but they also do take into consideration the fact that you’re only here for a year. On that note, if you manage to get a position in a lab, you’ll be expected to work there in the fall (autumn) semester, so another reason why overloading isn’t a great idea!
  • Final exams – it feels a bit weird taking an exam that isn’t in a massive sports hall surrounded by people from other courses. Final exams are typically three hours long, but you can still leave when you’re finished. The system here is a bit similar to A level/GCSE in that you answer the question in the space provided – you can still use rough paper though. What does this mean if you answer the question wrong at first? You can do the exams in pencil, but if you’re worried about doing this, just ask.
  • Midterms – I actually like having midterms, although they can be at any point in the term, so midterm is a bit misleading. Essentially, it means the final exam isn’t 100 % which means less stress, but also, you have to study as you go along in the term, so by the time finals roll around, you already have done a lot of your studying, so again, less stress.
  • No one else takes this many chemistry classes – yeah, people do think that you’re a bit odd taking four chemistry classes. Most people only take two or three, and then use the other to fulfil their general education classes. Don’t worry too much, the course load is similar to that at Manchester.
  • I can’t take the course I want – classes may fill up before you can sign up for them. So have a backup plan, and a backup for your backup plan. Also email the instructor, the course size is based on the number of seats available in the room, and they may have an idea of whether people will be dropping the course.


Apologies for the large amount of text and no pictures, but I hope this helps, and let me know if you have any other questions!


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