Information for New Students

Welcome to the Biology Department at Amherst College

The information on this page is for first-year students interested in Biology, much has been excerpted from Biology's About the Major page. For other department pages for new students, please click here.

Explore subpages here:

Non-Majors Courses

Students interested in the insights of biology but whose area of specialization is likely to lie outside biology:

Please consider the following courses that do not have prerequisites: BIOL-104, 106, 108, 110, and 114. Each of these courses focuses on a particular topic within biology and is intended for students who do not plan to major in biology.

Introductory Courses

Students interested in a possible major in biology:

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 (see below and also see our webpage on sample paths for the Bio Major for examples pathways through these important intro courses). 

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 interested in a career in medicine should consult the health professions website for recommendations about completing pre-medical requirements.

**Here is an important FAQ webpage for first year students interested in majoring in biology.**

AP Credit for Advanced Placement

Students with a Biology AP score of 5 and a very strong Biology background who want to consider placing out of either introductory Biology course must obtain permission from the Biology Department. The student should meet with a Biology Faculty member involved with the course they want to place out of, or an advanced course for which that intro course is a pre-requisite. Students placing out of BIOL-181 must substitute a course from the Organismal Core; students placing out of BIOL-191 must substitute a course from the Cellular/Molecular Core. Note that placing out will not reduce the number of courses required for the major. Students placing out of BIOL-181 or BIOL-191 are still required to take a minimum of 7 Biology courses (one intro and 6 advanced courses, including one intro lab and 3 advanced lab courses). In the exceptional case of a student having placed out of both intro courses, they must take a minimum of 4 advanced laboratory courses.

 The permission form should be submitted to the Department ADC, Karen Racz.

Additional Science Requisites

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”, which requires Organic Chemistry (BIOL-330 requires CHEM-221; BIOL-331 requires CHEM-221 and CHEM-223)
  • “Biophysics” (BIOL-400) and “Neurophysiology” (BIOL-351) which require/recommend PHYS 116/123 and PHYS117/124.
  • Check course descriptions for further details that will help you plan ahead.

Please see our Major page for additional requirements for Biology majors.