Biology Major Requirements

**See the bottom of this page for A PDF version of the BIOLOGY Major Checklist**

UPDATE for the class of 2024: BIOL-330 and BIOL-331 can count toward the Cellular/Molecular Core requirement. This applies to the class of 2024 during the 2022-2023 academic year only. 


UPDATE for the classes of 2024, 2025, and 2026:  BIOL-221 can count toward the Cell/Molecular Core requirement.

Major Program

We recently updated our Learning Goals and our coursework to reflect the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the training of our majors. Please see this webpage for Sample Paths for the Biology Major. Note that the Biology Comprehensive Requirements requires synthesis of your knowledge and learning across the Biology curriculum, please keep your course materials for this important senior year exam. Pre-med students should consult the Health Professions webpages for details.


An explanation of our course numbering system can be found here: BIOL course numbers

The Biology major consists of six categories:

I. Two introductory biology courses (BIOL-181 and BIOL-191) taken in either order.

  • BIOL-181 is offered in the fall semester.
  • BIOL-191 is offered in both the fall and spring semesters.
  • Please note that BIOL-191 requires completion of, or concurrent enrollment in, CHEM-161/CHEM-165.
  • Placement Info for the Intro courses

II. Advanced courses in Biology (Four courses, three of which include labs)

a) Cellular/Molecular Core:  Cell Structure and Function (BIOL-291), Molecular Genetics (BIOL-370/371), or Developmental Biology (BIOL-221).

Update for the class of 2024: BIOL-330 and BIOL-331 can count toward the Cellular/Molecular Core requirement. This applies to the class of 2024 during the 2022-2023 academic year only.

Update for the classes of 2024, 2025, and 2026:  BIOL-221 can count toward the Cell/Molecular Core requirement.

b) Ecology & Evolution Core:  Ecology (BIOL-230) or Evolutionary Biology (BIOL-320/321).

It is highly recommended that you complete the two core courses prior to the end of your junior year, in order to have a strong background for Biology Comprehensive Exams, which usually take place in the first semester of your senior year.

c) Two Additional Advanced Courses

  • Courses must be above the BIOL-181/191 level
  • Special Topics (BIOL-290/390) and Honors Research (BIOL-498/499) courses do not fulfill this requirement.
  • ENST-310/BIOL-312 can be counted as an advanced elective course.

d) Three advanced laboratories taken in conjunction with courses taken to fulfill the Advanced Courses in Biology component of the major.

  • Stated another way, three of the four advanced courses that fall in Category II must be accompanied by a laboratory.
  • These may be taken in conjunction with the courses in the above categories (such as BIOL-371 Molecular Genetics with Laboratory, which includes a lab), or as a separate half-credit course (which applies only to BIOL-275H Ecology and Evolution Lab).
  • Courses must be above the BIOL-181/191 level
  • Special Topics (BIOL-290/390) and Honors Research (BIOL-498/499) do not fulfill this requirement.

III. One 400-level Seminar course or Honors thesis research course

Note: Special Topics courses do not count for this requirement.

IMPORTANT: At least three of the five advanced courses beyond BIOL-181/BIOL-191 (i.e., those that fall in Categories II and III, above) must be completed at Amherst College unless approved in advance by the Department.

IV. General Science Requirements (4 courses)

  • Two courses in chemistry (CHEM151/155 and CHEM161/165 or above)
  • 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 these CHEM and MATH/PHYS/STAT requirements by taking alternative upper-level courses in the area.
    • CHEM-151/155 and/or CHEM-161/165 are requisites for several Biology courses. Students are therefore encouraged to take CHEM151/155 in the fall of their first year, particularly students whose planned courses emphasize 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-117/124 is recommended for BIOL-351 and BIOL-400.

V. STEM Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Requirement

Biology Majors must take one science-oriented course that is approved by the department and that focuses on structural and systemic issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. (Note that the BIOL-150 course does not count toward the Biology advanced course requirement (Category II) above). 

Courses listed below are approved for the requirement.  To find those being offered in the current academic year, see the Related Courses at the bottom of our Courses webpage.

  • AMST-313/BLST-410/SWAG-409: Black Feminist Health Science Studies & the African Diaspora
  • AMST/BLST/SWAG-296: Black Women and Reproductive Justice in the African Diaspora
  • ANTH/HIST/SOC/SWAG-228: Feminist Approaches to COVID-19
  • ANTH-209: Feminism in Science and Medicine
  • ANTH-211: Feminist Science Studies
  • ANTH-245: Medical Anthropology
  • BIOL-150/CHEM-250: Being Human in STEM (HSTEM)
  • CHEM-260: Chemistry in Society
  • ECON-212: Public Economics: Environment, Health, and Inequality
  • ENST-270/SOCI-270: Food and the Environment: Towards Global Health, Justice, and Sustainable Development
  • HIST/SWAG-258: American Medical Injustice
  • PHIL-212: Public Health Ethics during COVID-19
  • SOCI-226/ENST-226: Unequal Footprints on the Earth: Understanding the Social Drivers of Ecological Crises and Environmental Inequality
  • SOCI-306/ENST-306: Pandemics and Society: The Socio-Ecological Construction of Infectious Diseases Throughout History 
  • SOCI-328/ENST-328: The Pandemic
  • SWAG-209/ANTH-209/SOCI-207: Intersectional Feminist Science Studies
  • SWAG-231: Race, Gender, and Embodiment in Biomedicine
  • Environmental Science & Policy 221 - Colloquium: Native American and Indigenous Studies and the Environment

VI. Biology Comprehensive Requirements

During senior year, Biology majors must complete two biology comprehensive requirements:

  1. Attendance at Department seminars (Mondays 4:00-5:00 p.m.) and
  2. Senior Comprehensive Examination administered by the Department in the senior year.

All Biology majors and prospective Biology majors are also encouraged to attend the Biology seminars, which are open to the public.

Policies & Notes

FGO / Pass-Fail Policy: Biology allows one course taken with a grade of ā€œPā€ (pass) to count towards the requirements for the BIOL major for courses that took place in any of the following terms: Spring 2020, Fall 2020, January 2021, or Spring 2021. Starting in Fall 2021, all courses counting toward the BIOL major must be taken for a letter grade, which includes biology courses as well as ancillary courses (e.g., chemistry, physics, and math).

Double Major Policy: A maximum of one Biology course may be counted towards the Biology major if it is also being used to meet the requirements of another major. Double counting more than one Biology course is not allowed unless the course in question is specifically required by both majors.

  • Seminar courses count as Biology major courses.
  • Non-majors courses: 104, 106, 108, 110, 114, and 131, and Special Topics courses do not count toward the major.
  • Honors students must still satisfy all core and lab requirements.
  • Majors are expected to take at least 3 of the 5 courses beyond BIOL-181/191 at Amherst College unless approved in advance by the Department. 
  • In order to count toward the major, all courses taken off-campus must be approved by petitioning the Department and cannot be approved by your Advisor alone.

Biology Major Checklist

To keep track of your progress towards the degree, please print out a copy of the appropriate checklist for your class year: