The Department of Biology seeks students interested in learning about the wonders of biology, whether that is in the behavior of molecules, the workings of cells, the interactions between cells or organisms in a community, or the changes that occur to populations over evolutionary time.
Read (below) about the majors offered by the department. Research opportunities exist for students to pursue projects under the mentoring of faculty. Typical first-year course work and credit for AP classes are described below. Other questions can be answered from our FAQs or by contacting the department.
The Department of Biology offers four majors. Students begin with enrolling in Foundations of Biology in the first year and are provisionally designated as Biology Majors. During the fall term of the second year, students can redeclare as a Biology major or newly declare as one of the other majors offered by the Department of Biology.
- The Major in Biology is designed to educate students in both the breadth of subject matter encompassed by the biological sciences and the rapidly advancing knowledge at the forefront of this discipline. Students can choose to concentrate their studies in Biochemistry, Molecular& Cellular Biology or in Ecology, Evolution & Behavior.
- The Biology of Global Health Major is designed to educate students in basic sciences while also integrating perspectives from policy, economics, ethics, law and sociology.
- The Major in Environmental Biology is designed to provide students with a foundation in population, whole organism, evolutionary and environmental biology as well as in chemistry and mathematics.
- The Major in Neurobiology is designed to educate students in the foundations of biology and neurobiology while providing opportunities for advanced study on a range of disciplines ranging from cell and molecular neuroscience to cognitive science and psychology as well as the interfaces of these disciplines.
- The Department of Biology accepts credit from one of the following: AP Biology Exam, AP Environmental Sciences Exam, or IB Higher-level Biology.
- Students who received a score of 5 on the AP Biology Exam or on the AP Environmental Sciences Exam (but not both) will receive 2 credits to count towards the major.
- Students who received a score of 4 on the AP Biology Exam or on the AP Environmental Sciences Exam (but not both) will receive 1 credit to count towards the major.
Students with a score of 6 or 7 on the IB Higher-level Biology Exam (but not Standard-level Biology) will receive 2 credits of upper division elective that will count towards the 44 credits of biology courses.
Courses in the first year
Normally, the first year includes biology, chemistry, mathematics and one general education course (for example, a foreign language) in the fall term and two general education courses in the spring term.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I enroll in Foundations of Biology? My high school course was accelerated and I think I’m prepared.
Yes, you should enroll in Foundations of Biology; it is a requirement for all students majoring or minoring in Biology. The various accelerated programs are uneven and, for most students, do not prepare them well enough for the upper division courses in our department. Thus, Foundations of Biology is required for all students. Beginning in the 2019-2020 academic year both Foundations I and II will be offered in both semesters and you may take them in either order.
Can I enroll in 5 courses during my first semester? I think I can handle it.
We recommend that you take 4 courses and BIOL-101 in the fall, not 5 courses. Foundations of Biology and General Chemistry are 5-cr each once the labs and recitations are included; Two gen ed or language courses bring you to 6 more credits, and you are at 16-credits. This is a full load (note that a humanities major might have 5 courses, but they are generally all 3-cr, adding up to 15-cr). This course load combined with starting college life away from home is generally enough. We want you to be able to get strong grades that first term.
What is the First-year Seminar in Biology?
The First-year Seminar in Biology (BIOL-101, fall semester) is designed for first year students and its aim is to provide an introduction to the faculty of the Department of Biology, to discuss ways to improve studying, note-taking and test-taking to provide basic career building skills, and to reflect upon what it means to be a Biologist. Credits for taking the Seminar are counted towards the departmental requirements for the major. This Seminar is required of first year students and is optional for transfer students.
What does AP or IB credit in Biology mean?
If you earned a score of 5 on the Biology or Environmental Sciences Advanced Placement exam, you will be credited with 2 credits towards the major. If you earned a score of 4 on the Biology or Environmental Sciences Advanced Placement exam, you will be credited with 1 credit towards the major. A score of 6 or 7 on the Higher-level Biology IB exam is treated the same as a score of 5 on the AP exam in Biology.
Where can I go for more information?
The College Bulletin describes the requirements for majors and minors for all departments, check the section describing courses offered by the Department of Biology. The College Dean’s Office can provide assistance in determining if requirements have been met, for planning your studies, etc. The Biology Department web site and your faculty advisor can help with questions about the major or course work.
I am interested in minoring in biology, and have several questions:
- Are Foundation of Biology I and II required for the minor? Yes. You’ll need 5 courses and at least 19 credits. So, in addition to Foundations of Biology I and II (2 courses, 10-cr), you’ll need 3 more courses.
- Does BIOL-101 (the First-year Seminar) count towards the minor? No.
- Will the 1 or 2 credits awarded for AP scores of 4 and 5, respectively, also count for the minor? Yes, in the same way that it does for majors: 2 credits applied to the 19 credits required for an AP score of 5, and 1 credit applied to the 19 credits required credits for a score of 4. AP credit does not satisfy the Foundations of Biology requirement.
- Can minors use the “one-credit” option? Yes
- Can minors include courses taken during study abroad? Yes, but they must be approved by the Committee on Undergraduate Students and Studies and the Dean’s office.
For more information on the Biology minor, click here.
If I am interested in medical school, should I enroll in both Organic Chemistry and Physics?
Yes, medical schools mandate that their incoming students have taken both Organic Chemistry and Physics, both with laboratory. Note, however, that some medical schools now require Biochemistry in place of Organic II, so plan carefully and consult with your advisor, your dean, and the pre-med advisor.
If I am interested in graduate school, what additional courses should I take?
The requirements for graduate school vary dramatically according to the program that you’re interested in, so consult with your faculty advisor for specifics. However, many molecular programs (e.g., in biochemistry or developmental biology) look for organic chemistry and physics while programs in ecology and evolution look for statistics.
I am a sophomore and would like to take Organic Chemistry, but maybe not this year. Can I wait and enroll in it next year?
Yes, you can take Organic as a junior, as long as you are not interested in taking Biochemistry in your second year (Organic Chemistry I is a pre-requisite for Biochemistry, BIOL-151). Additionally, some courses may require Biochemistry as a pre-requisite; so plan your program carefully.
I see that the Department offers concentrations in two areas. What is the purpose of these concentrations?
The concentrations are optional in the Biology major and are offered in Biochemistry, Molecular and Cellular Biology and in Ecology, Evolution and Behavior. The concentrations are intended for students who want to emphasize an interest in a particular area within biology. There are two criteria to fulfill for the concentration: five of the biology electives must be within the area (see the list of qualified courses), and the RISE project must be in the area of the concentration. See the web page describing Concentrations for more information.
Can I be a Biology major and still study abroad?
Yes, many students who major in Biology can spend one to two semesters abroad. Generally, students travel abroad in the 3rd (Junior) year. For study abroad, students should contact the Office of Global Education for information on specific places and requirements. There are many variables to consider, including:
- Are you fluent in a foreign language? You may be taking courses in the language of the country you travel to, so you should be fluent in that language if you plan to take biology courses abroad. Many students take non-science courses while abroad, working towards a major or a minor. Alternatively, you could plan to study biology in an English-speaking country.
- Do you want to take courses for the major while abroad? Any courses that you would like to apply to the major need to be approved. Send the prospective syllabi to the Committee on Undergraduate Students and Studies for review. Alternatively, you could defer taking courses in biology while abroad, and enroll in electives or courses that are required for other majors or minors.
- Do you want to do field or lab work while abroad? If so, contacts must be made with specific individuals early in your planning.
- Are you a pre-med student? Many students study abroad during the third year; if so, you may need to take the MCAT exam and Physics at an alternate time or place. Speak to both your faculty advisor and the pre-med advisor if you are considering this.
Are internships available?
The Department of Biology provides several avenues for research opportunities in addition to other types of internships.
- Students are able to do a research project, either performed in the laboratory, as a teaching opportunity, or as a literature analysis as a part of the RISE. The thesis project can be started earlier than the senior year, for example in the second or third year, and the tutorial credits can be applied toward the Biology major or college electives.
- The College provides funds to support students engaging in research. This program is called GUROP, for Georgetown University Research Opportunities Program, and is organized in the Provost’s office. Individuals using this program earn a special notation on their transcript and are eligible for a competition for summer support.
- Many investigators have funds available to support students during the summer or academic year. Students interested in this should discuss funding options with specific faculty members. The Department of Biology has information about other programs offered nearby (at the National Institutes of Health or the Smithsonian) or at distant locations. This information is available for review at any time. See your advisor for more information.