Major Explorations: Biology

Welcome to Biology

We offer a rich curriculum into specialized fields such as evolution, microbiology, neurobiology, genome biology. Our courses have hands-on laboratory and field components so that each student learns and practices the art of interrogating biological processes.

The Biology curriculum is designed to meet the needs of students preparing for postgraduate work in biology or allied careers, as well as to provide the insights of biology to other students whose area of specialization lies outside biology.

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. The department also has Fellowships and Prizes available to students at various steps of their Biology major.

Brief info and links for aspects of the major are below:

Enrolling in the major

Amherst College requires enrollment in a major before the start of fall classes in the junior year. Prospective majors should email the chair of the Biology department and refer to the following steps:

  1. Your email should include the relevent Biology and science courses that you've taken to date.
  2. Your email should mention that you have completed the steps in Workday to declare your major (called Program of Study in Workday).
  3. The current Chair of the Biology department will then confirm your enrollment.
  4. The Registrar's Office will confirm your major declaration and update your advisor in Workday.

Courses for Non-Major Students

Information for non-majors interested in Biology can be found on our For Non-Majors and New Students webpage.

Note that 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 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 foundational Introductory courses and upper-level requirements across broad fields of biology. For the specific details, please see the Getting Started in the Major webpage and the Biology Major Requirements. The Pathways through the Major shows examples of how to enter into the major.

Comprehensive Requirements

The Biology Department senior comprehensive requirements involve attendence at Biology Seminars during the senior year and successful completion of the Biology Comprehensive Exam. Note that the comprehensive exam involves integration of your learning across the Biology curriculum, please always keep all your materials from your previous biology courses.

For specific details, see the submenu webpage: Biology Comprehensive Requirements

Half-Credit Lab Courses associated with BIOL-181/BIOL-191 Courses

IMPORTANT: Combining half-courses within a semester is only for bringing a student to a full course load (i.e., taking two intro STEM labs cannot be added after the fact just to earn an additional course to graduation).

Biology, Chemistry, and Physics & Astronomy will match all of the following half courses in any combination EXCEPT in the first semester of the first year: BIOL-181L, BIOL-191L, CHEM-151L/155L, CHEM-161L/165L, CHEM-221L, CHEM-231L, PHYS-116L, PHYS-117L, PHYS-123L, PHYS-124L and PHYS-125L as well as ASTR-200L and any half courses offered by departments that permit them to be matched with Biology and Chemistry half course labs.

For students registering for BIOL-181 or BIOL-191 in Fall, the Biology Department recommends enrolling in four courses for a total of 4.5 or 5.0 course credits (for example BIOL-181 or 191 and three other non-lab courses (1.5+1+1+1=4.5) or BIOL-181/191 and CHEM-221 and two other courses (1.5+1.5+1+1=5). This will allow an Intro lab course in the spring to be taken with just two additional course (1.5+1+1=3.5) or two lab courses with just one additional course (1.5+1.5+1=4), but note that the Fall half course must not have already been matched to another course.

For example, students who enroll in BIOL-181 or 191 and CHEM-221 have the option of taking only one additional course. Please note that these options should be recommended by the advisor and the Class Dean; students are encouraged to seek out Biology professors for conversations about this option. Important, students may only use four (4) 1/2 credit courses to count towards graduation.

Please review the Registrar Policy carefully:

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 three courses of thesis research in their senior year (BIOL-498 in the fall and BIOL-498D in the spring), usually with the double course in the spring (designated as BIOL-498D) in addition to the other requirements for the major, except that Honors candidates may take four rather than five advanced Biology courses, subject to the laboratory and subject area constraints.

For details, please see the submenu webpage: Biology Honors Program

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.

Placement and Study Away & Off-Campus Credit

Students with a Biology AP score of 5 (or equivalent) who wish to place out of either Introductory Biology course must first seek permission from the Biology Department. Placing out will not reduce the number of courses required for the major. Please see the webpage: Placement Info

if you'd like petition the faculty for elective credit for an off-campus outside course (e.g., study away or a 5-College course), please see the webpage: Study Away & Off-Campus Credit