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 advanced 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 offers many Fellowships & Prizes for students at various steps of their Biology major. 

Please see Placement Information for information on placing out of intro courses

Introductory Courses

You will need two Intro chemistry courses (CHEM 151/155 and CHEM 161/165) and the two introductory Biology courses (BIOL-181 and BIOL-191) that lay the foundations for all advanced Biology courses.

BIOL-181 and BIOL-191 can be taken in either order during a student's first 3-4 semesters at Amherst. Students interested in exploring Biology as a major (or considering the pre-medical curriculum) should consider taking BIOL-181 in the fall semester of the first year, depending on their Math placement.

** Please see this important webpage for examples of Pathways through the Major **


Some important points:

  • MATH-111 (and MATH-105 & 106) and CHEM 151/155 should be completed in the student’s first year.
  • Note that BIOL-191 requires completion of CHEM 151/155 and either completion or co-enrollment in CHEM 161/165.
  • Students should consult their MATH and CHEMISTRY placements to determine their options.
    • Students placed into MATH-105 are encouraged to enroll in BIOL-181 in their first semester.
    • Students placed into MATH-111 should enroll in CHEM-151 their first semester, and begin their Biology coursework in their second or third semesters.
    • Students placed into MATH-121 or higher (e.g., MATH-211) are encouraged to co-enroll in BIOL-181 and CHEM-151/155.  Past data suggests that students co-enrolling in BIOL-181 and CHEM-151/155 are very successful taking two laboratory courses their first semester, earning high marks in both courses.
    • Students placed into CHEM-155 and planning to take BIOL-191 in their second or third semesters MUST enroll in CHEM-155 in their first semester (fall of their first year).  CHEM-155 is offered only in the fall, and students placed into CHEM-155 cannot enroll in CHEM-151.  Please see more information here about Chemistry placements.
    • Please refer to this webpage for info on 1/2 credit Intro lab courses
  • Students interested in a career in medicine should consult the health professions website for recommendations about completing pre-medical requirements.
  • ***Lots of questions that new students or transfer students have about majoring in biology are answered on our For Non-Majors and New Students webpage***

Additional Science Requisites

The Intro Chemistry courses, CHEM-151/CHEM-155 and CHEM-161/165 are required for the Biology major and for all Biology courses that address molecular and cellular mechanisms, including the introductory Biology course BIOL-191. Therefore, students whose planned courses emphasize molecular and cellular mechanisms should take CHEM-151/CHEM-155 in the fall of their first year and CHEM-161/165 in the spring of their first year.

Some advanced Biology courses have additional science pre-requisites, such as:

  • Biochemistry (BIOL-330 or 331), which requires Organic Chemistry (BIOL-330 requires CHEM-221; BIOL-331 requires CHEM-221 and CHEM-231)
  • Biophysics (BIOL-400) and Neurophysiology (BIOL-351) which require/recommend PHYS 116/123 and PHYS117/124.
  • Be sure to check course descriptions for further details that will help you plan ahead.