Biology majors at Amherst study introductory Biology, Chemistry,and Math, Statistics, and/or Physics, and then have a wide choice of upper-level Biology courses to fulfill the major. Many Biology majors choose to do a senior honors research project culminating in a thesis and graduation with departmental honors in Biology.

Amherst graduates who majored in Biology usually go on to graduate or professional school, and have careers in such fields as medicine, research, teaching, or the business world.

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Courses for Non-Major Students

BIOL 104, 106, 108, 110 and 114 each focus on a particular topic within biology and are specifically intended for students who do not major in biology. These courses will not normally count towards the Biology major and do not meet the admission requirements for medical school. The two semesters of introductory biology--BIOL 181 and 191--may also be taken by non-majors who wish a broad introduction to the life sciences.

Major Program

The Biology major consists of three categories:

  1. Two introductory biology courses (BIOL 181and 191);

  2. Two courses in chemistry (CHEM 151 or 155 and CHEM 161 or above) and two courses in mathematics, statistics, and/or physics at the level of Math 111, Stats 111, and Phys 116 or above. Students with Advanced Placement scores may satisfy the requirement by taking upper-level courses;

  3. Five additional advanced courses in biology, not including Special Topics or courses numbered below BIOL 181, subject to four constraints.  First, at least three must be laboratory courses (indicated below).  Second, Biology majors who do not complete an Honors thesis must take an advanced seminar course (indicated by BIOL course numbers in the 400s).  Third, the five courses must include at least one course in each of the following three areas (Bins indicated below). Lastly, two of these courses must be completed by the end of the junior year, preferably in different Bins.
    • Bin I: Molecular and cellular mechanisms of life processes:
                BIOL 291:  Cell Structure and Function (LAB)
                BIOL 301:  Molecular Neurobiology (LAB)
                BIOL 310:  Structural Biochemistry
                BIOL 330:  Biochemical Principles
                BIOL 331:  Biochemistry (LAB)
                BIOL 370: Molecular Genetics
                BIOL 371:  Molecular Genetics (LAB) (formely BIOL 251)
                BIOL 400:  Biophysics
    • Bin II: Integrative processes that show the relationship between molecular mechanisms and macroscopic phenomena:
                BIOL 201:  Introduction to Field Biology: Disease Ecology (LAB)
                BIOL 213:  Plant Form, Function and Diversity (LAB)
                BIOL 221:  Developmental Biology (LAB)
                BIOL 241:  Genetic Analysis of Biological Processes (LAB)
                BIOL 260:  Animal Physiology
                BIOL 270:  Microbiology
                BIOL 271:  Microbiology (LAB)
                BIOL 350:  Neurophysiology   
                BIOL 351:  Neurophysiology (LAB) 
                BIOL 372:  Immunology
                BIOL 380:  Genome Biology
                BIOL 381:  Genome Biology with LAB
    • Bin III: Evolutionary explanations of biological phenomena:          
                BIOL 211 : Plants as Models in Organismal Biology (LAB)
                BIOL 230:  Ecology
                BIOL 280:  Animal Behavior
                BIOL 281:  Animal Behavior with LAB
                BIOL 320:  Evolutionary Biology
                BIOL 321:  Evolutionary Biology with LAB

All Biology majors will take a Senior Comprehensive Examination administered by the Department in the fall of their senior year.


All Biology majors are strongly encouraged to attend Departmental seminars Mondays 4:00-5:00 PM.  Attendance is required for senior majors.

BIOL-181 is offered in the fall semester, and BIOL-191 is offered in both the fall and spring semesters. Enrollment in BIOL 191 will require completing or concurrent registration in Chem-161.

Students with a Biology AP score of 5 who wish to place out of either course must first seek permission from the Biology Department.  Students who have placed out must substitute an advanced course in the appropriate "Bin" during their time at Amherst.  Students placing out of BIOL 181 must substitute a course from our "Bin III" category 3c (evolutionary explanations); students placing out of BIOL-191 must substitute a course from "Bin I" category 3a (molecular and cellular mechanisms).  Thus, students placing out of BIOL 181 or BIOL 191 must take the other introductory lab course + 3 advanced lab courses (4 lab courses total).  In the exceptional case of a student having placed out of both intro courses, he/she must take 4 advanced lab courses.  

CHEM 151 and/or CHEM 161 are requisites for several Biology courses. Students are therefore encouraged to take CHEM 151 or 155 in the fall of their first year, particularly students whose planned courses emphasize integrative processes or cellular and molecular mechanisms. Students preparing for graduate study in life sciences should consider taking CHEM 221 and 231, PHYS 117, and a course in statistics in addition to the minimum requirements for the Biology major. Note that CHEM 221 and 231 are requisites for BIOL 331, and that prior completion of PHYS 117 or 124 is recommended for BIOL 351.

Please note: Courses taken as pass/fail cannot be counted toward the major.  This includes biology courses as well as ancillary courses (i.e., chemistry, physics, and math).  Also, a Biology course cannot be counted towards the Biology major if it is also being used to meet the requirements of another major, unless the course in question is required by both majors. Majors are also expected to take at least 3 of the 5 courses beyond BIOL-181/191 at Amherst College unless approved in advance by the Department. Two advanced courses must be completed by the end of the junior year, preferably in different Bins.

Departmental Honors Program

Honors work in Biology is an opportunity to do original laboratory or field research and to write a thesis based on this research. The topic of thesis research is chosen in consultation with a member of the Biology Department who agrees to supervise the Honors work. Honors candidates take BIOL 498 and 499D in addition to the other requirements for the major, except that Honors candidates may take four rather than five courses in addition to BIOL 181 and 191, subject to the laboratory and subject area constraints. 

Courses for Premedical Students

Students not majoring in Biology may fulfill the two-course minimum premedical requirement in Biology by taking two laboratory courses numbered 181 or above in Biology. Students interested in health professions other than allopathic medicine should consult a member of the Health Professions Committee regarding specific requirements and visit the Amherst Health Professions web page.

If you have questions about the Biology major, please e-mail

Major Checklist

To keep track of your progress towards the degree, please print out a copy of our checklist:

Placement & Off-Campus Credit

If you would like to inquire about placement in advanced courses, or if you'd like petition the faculty for elective credit for an outside course (e.g. study abroad or a 5 college course), please see the Guidelines.