Major Explorations: Neuroscience

Welcome to Neuroscience

The neuroscience program attracts a diverse group of students who are drawn to the major due to an interest in understanding the nervous systems of animals, an interest in the physiological basis for mental illness and addiction, or just because they think the brain is fascinating.

Overview of the Neuroscience Major

Neuroscience Mammoth

The Neuroscience major was established in 1974 as one of the first majors in the country. Check out some pictures and history here:

The major consists of science courses in biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, and psychology, plus senior comprehensives, which in some years include attending neuroscience seminars.

Neuroscience majors may also choose to do a senior honors research project in the laboratory of a Neuroscience faculty member or affiliated Biology faculty member (and in some cases a faculty member from UMass).

Learn more about our Learning Goals, information on Study Abroad and thoughts on Animal Experimentation.

Requirements for the major

Enrolling in the major

Amherst College requires enrollment in a major before the start of Fall classes in the junior year. Prospective Neuroscience Majors should enroll sometime during their sophomore year and prior to the enrollment deadline of the college (typically the second to last week of the spring semester of sophomore year). Some time spent as a student in the first two neuroscience courses is recommended prior to declaring the major (e.g., part-way through or once completing NEUR-213 or NEUR-214, if taken first during the fall semester). 

Prospective majors should email the chair of the Neuroscience Program the following two documents:

  1. A one-page plan (a table is fine) with your future coursework in the neuroscience major (refer to major requirements and sample schedules). While the exact courses change from semester to semester, you should roughly lay out your plan for completing the course requirements for the major. You should note if you are planning to double major, study abroad, and whether you’re considering thesis work in your senior year.
  2. Email the current Chair of the Neuroscience Program (the program chair can be found on the Neuroscience Faculty & Staff webpage) to confirm your intention to enroll (including the above plan).
  3. FINAL STEP: Student self enrollment via Workday, please follow the instructions found here.

Important points about the major

  • MAJORING: To major in Neuroscience, it is necessary to get started with general science courses in your first year at Amherst (see these sample course schedules of recent Neuroscience majors). See Getting Started in the Major for more details.
  • INTRODUCTORY COURSES: All prospective Neuroscience majors must take Behavioral Neuroscience with Lab (NEUR-213) in the Spring of their sophomore year. In the Fall of either sophomore or junior year, all neuroscience majors must take Neurobiology (NEUR-214). Note: It is not possible to major in Neuroscience if these introductory courses are not completed before the spring semester of junior year.
  • HONORS THESIS: Neuroscience majors may undertake a Senior Honors Thesis.
  • STUDY ABROAD: Potential neuroscience majors may signup for a study abroad program prior* to their enrollment in the neuroscience major. Please note that it is critical to discuss your study abroad plans with both your current advisor and a neuroscience professor.  (*approved by the study abroad office; See the Study Abroad page)
  • DOUBLE MAJORING: Majoring in Neuroscience and another discipline is possible, but difficulties and problems sometimes arise. (see the Double majors page)
  • PRE-REGISTRATION: Majors must preregister for all courses they will use to satisfy requirements for the major, rather than to assume that they will be guaranteed entry into a course during the add/drop period if they did not preregister for it (e.g., you must preregister for NEUR-213, NEUR-214, etc.).
  • GRADES:  Any course in which a student has not received a letter grade better than "D" may not be counted towards the Neuroscience major.  Addendum for Spring 2020 - Students will have the FGO option available for all courses this semester (the option to convert a grade to a P at the end of the semester). Neuroscience will accept courses for the major with a P as long as this P results from a grade of C- or better in the class, consistent with our stipulation that all courses counting toward the major require a grade of C- or above. 
  • Refer also to our:  Learning Goals and Animal Experimentation webpages.

In addition to being a rewarding major, Neuroscience is one of the more academically demanding majors at Amherst College. Neuroscience has a large number of required courses, and among the largest number of required laboratory courses. We point this out not to discourage anyone from majoring, but so that students have a realistic view when considering enrolling and are aware that scheduling can be difficult.