Biology Major Requirements

**See the bottom of this page for PDF versions of the BIOLOGY Major Checklist for your class year**

UPDATE For the Class of 2023 and beyond: 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.


For updated courses that count for the requirement, please review category IV below for details.


Short-term update for Current Biology Majors (class of '21 and '22) to allow for Equity & Inclusion course exploration:


For the 2020-2021 academic year, current biology majors (Class of '21 or '22) can substitute a major course requirement (with the exception of BIOL-181, BIOL-191, and the two advanced core requirements or the three bio requirements, depending on their class year) with HSTEM (BIOL-250) or another similar science-oriented course that’s approved by the department and that focuses on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Specifically, the course can count as either: one of the four general science courses, or as one of the five advanced biology courses (BIOL-200 or above) including the three advanced laboratory courses (BIOL-200 or above) or the seminar course (BIOL 400 or above) requirement.


The following courses were approved for this purpose in the 2020-21 academic year:

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.

The Biology major consists of five 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 (Five Courses)

  • Three courses must be laboratories
  • One course must be at the 400 level (Seminar or Honors)
  • Please note the following: 
    • Courses must be above the BIOL-191 level
    • Special Topics (BIOL-299/399) do not fulfill this requirement.
    • At least three of the five advanced courses must be completed at Amherst College unless approved in advance by the Department.
  • Additional stipulations for the advanced courses below:
  •  One advanced course in each of the following two core areas of biology and both should be completed by the end of the junior year:

i) Cellular/Molecular Core:
Cell Structure and Function (BIOL-291) or Molecular Genetics (BIOL-370/371).

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

III. 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 requirements by taking alternative upper-level courses.
    • 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.

IV. stem diversity, equity, and inclusion REQUIREMENT (class of '23 and beyond)

For the Class of 2023 and beyond: 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.

Courses that are approved for the requirement:


V. 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. a 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 “P” (pass) to count towards the requirements for the BIOL major.  This course could have taken 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 bin/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. The two core courses should ideally be completed by the end of the junior year.
  • 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: