Requirements: Biology

Natural Sciences Division


The Biology Curriculum

The biology curriculum structures learning based on the scientific process of discovery: observation, interpretation, experimentation, analysis and the formation of new hypotheses. Through exploration of recent developments in the broad range of biological fields, students examine details in the context of basic principles. Students experience the dynamic nature of biological science by participating in laboratory work and research projects that form the backbone of the program. The curricular design offers many choices to students, allowing non-majors to explore any one field of biology in depth or to examine biology in the context of human issues having sociological, economic and political importance, such as health care, biotechnology and the environment.

Introductory and foundation courses are offered at the 100-level. These consist of BIOL 109Y-110Y, the year long introductory lab sequence and BIOL 115 and 116, Energy and Information in Living Systems.

Upper-level courses are offered at the 200 and 300 levels. Courses at the 200 level are designed for sophomores and juniors who have completed at least part of the introductory-level curriculum. Reading assignments include textbooks, primary literature and other advanced sources. Courses at the 300 level are designed for juniors and seniors who have completed the entire introductory-level curriculum and at least one 200-level course. Primary literature and other advanced sources form a substantial portion of the reading, and extensive student-directed work is expected. In addition, senior Biology and Molecular Biology majors must take a 400-level senior seminar, as part of their Senior Capstone in Biology.

In addition to the biology major, major programs in biochemistry and in molecular biology are available. These programs combine work in biology and chemistry to prepare students for graduate work or employment entailing research on the molecular basis of biological systems. Information on course requirements for these major programs is detailed in the biochemistry and molecular biology section.

Non-majors can choose innovative topical courses that approach biological issues in a human context (BIOL 105, 106, 107). These courses are designed for students with minimal backgrounds in biology. The foundation courses — BIOL 115 and 116 — allow more in-depth study. Several courses also serve the interdisciplinary concentration in environmental studies.

For students considering medical, dental, nursing or veterinary postgraduate programs, there is usually a requirement of a minimum of two semesters of biology with the corresponding laboratory work. BIOL 115 and 116 plus the laboratory sequence BIOL 109Y-110Y satisfy this requirement.

Students can involve themselves in the department through the Biology Student Advisory Group, which meets with the chair and faculty members, or as employees ranging from laboratory teaching assistants to research assistants.

Majors are encouraged to participate in the department through research with faculty members and by their active role in hiring faculty, suggesting curriculum changes, inviting and hosting seminar speakers and planning social events.

Requirements for the Major

  • BIOL 109Y–110Y, to be completed by end of sophomore year
  • BIOL 115 and 116 (or specific exemption by AP or IB), must be completed within the first four semesters 
    • Advanced courses may be taken after completion of BIOL 115 and 116 so students can begin advanced lecture courses while completing BIOL 109Y–110Y
  • Six upper-division lecture courses, including at least one 300-level course and one 400-level course. MATH 258 and CHEM 256 can each count as one of the six required upper-division courses
  • Four upper-division laboratory courses (0.5 unit of credit in [BIOL 385, 386] or [BIOL 497, 498] can serve as one 0.25-unit laboratory course requirement)
  • One year of Introductory Chemistry lecture (or equivalent)

In order to fulfill the diversification requirements for upper-level courses, biology majors will need to take at least one upper-level lecture course in each of the following three categories to graduate:

  • Environmental biology: BIOL 228, 241, 253, 261, 311, 328 and 352
  • Organismal biology/physiology: BIOL 211, 233, 238, 243, 245, 323, 336 and 358
  • Cellular and molecular biology: BIOL 238, 255, 263, 266, 315, 321, 323, 333, 345, 375 and CHEM 256

We strongly encourage majors to take at least one year of mathematics and physics. Students planning graduate studies in any area of biology should also include organic chemistry. We encourage majors to seek opportunities for independent research with faculty members, through Research in Biology (BIOL 385) honors research and the Summer Science Scholars Program.

Senior Capstone

The Senior Capstone for all biology majors consists of a detailed analysis of a research field, focusing on a critique of a particular research article. In addition, all majors must attend a specified number of guest lectures in the Biology Seminar Series and take a standardized assessment exam. Seniors must also enroll in BIOL 475 Senior Seminar in Biology. Guidelines for the current academic year are available on the department website.

Advanced Courses 

Many courses and labs are offered in alternating years, so care should be taken in planning the major to suit individual goals. The following list indicates which courses are normally taught on alternating-year schedules. Please note that the schedule can vary from these guidelines; students should consult the department chair or course instructor if particular courses are needed.

Courses that may be offered in alternating years (or less frequently) include: BIOL 211, 233, 234, 241, 245, 246, 253, 255, 256, 266, 267, 311, 315, 321, 323, 328, 333, 336, 345, 352, 353, 358, 359 and 375.


The Honors Program in biology is an exciting opportunity for students to perform research in collaboration with a faculty member of the Department of Biology. Prior to enrollment in senior honors, students are expected to complete at least one semester of Research in Biology (BIOL 385), although two semesters are recommended, and participate in the Summer Science Scholars Program. Students must have an overall GPA of at least 3.33 and a GPA of 3.33 in biology.

Requirements for the Minor

The biology minor requires a minimum of two and three quarter (2.75) units of credit earned in the major curriculum to include the following:

  • BIOL 109Y–110Y
  • BIOL 115 and 116
  • Two upper-level lectures (1.0 units) and at least one upper-level lab (0.25 units). Two semesters of BIOL 385 would satisfy the upper-level laboratory requirement, and one year of Individual Study (BIOL 393, 394) would satisfy one upper-level lecture course requirement in the minor. MATH 258 and CHEM 256 count as upper level lecture courses.

Transfer Credit Policy

Students studying off campus may count one upper-level lecture/discussion course and one upper-level lab course toward the major; the specific courses must be approved by the department chair. Transfer students must consult with the registrar and a program co-director to assess appropriate course equivalency credit.

Cross listed Courses

The following courses are cross-listed in the biology department to satisfy natural-sciences diversification:

ENVS 112 Introduction to Environmental Studies
MATH 258 Mathematical Biology

MATH 258 Mathematical Biology and CHEM 256 Biochemistry can serve as upper-division lecture courses in the biology major.