FAQs for Undergraduate Students

Before seeing an advisor, please consult the following Frequently Asked Questions.

Q1: I am planning to major in the biological sciences. What biology course should I take, and when?

If you are interested in declaring a biology, biochemistry, biophysics, or neuroscience major you should take in your first year: General Chemistry I & II + chemistry lab, along with either math or Physics I & II + physics labs. You are also encouraged fall semester to take First Year Seminar, BIOL UN1908 (see Q9).

Then take Intro Bio, BIOL UN2005-UN2006 in your sophomore year. This is recommended even if you have a 5 on the AP biology test.  

Students who feel they are less prepared for intro bio can also take Foundations in Biology (BIOL UN1004) in the spring semester of their first year.

Q2: I am premed. Do I take the same courses as a bio major in my first two years?


Q3: I feel that I am less prepared to take Intro Bio than my classmates. How can I prepare?

Foundations of Biology (UN1004) is a 2-credit course, intended to be taken in the Spring before Intro Bio. It is intended especially for students who did not have AP Biology (or a similarly rigorous HS biology course) or who have not had Biology in a long time.

Q4: Why should I take chemistry right away?

Virtually all college biology courses (except First Year Seminar) use a lot of chemistry because chemistry is needed to understand current ideas about almost all aspects of biology. Biologists use chemistry as language, the way physicists use math.

If you feel you have mastered the information in general chemistry (for example, you took chemistry in high school & / or got a 5 on the AP chemistry test, etc.) you should take the chemistry placement test to see if you can start with higher level chemistry classes. If you place out of general chemistry, you may take Intro Biol UN2005 – 2006 your first year at Columbia.

Q5: Why take BIOL UN2005-UN2006 if I got a 5 in AP?

BIOL UN2005-UN2006 is not a repeat of AP bio.  It demands not only more detail but more thought and application of knowledge to problem-solving than the usual AP course. It is narrower but deeper than the usual introductory biology course. We have surveyed the students who completed UN2005-UN2006 after receiving a 5 on the AP. Most of them say it was well worth taking BIOLUN2005/6. You may review this exam from a previous year of UN2005 and compare your answers with the exam key. This will give you an idea of what makes UN2005/6 a unique Intro Bio sequence. If you still feel that you are sufficiently prepared, please consult a biology advisor who on rare occasion can give permission to place out of Intro Bio I and II. You will still be required to take 6 biology courses at Columbia if you place out of Intro Bio. 

If you are the rare student that places out of Intro Bio I and II, we do not advise taking a 3000 level biology course as a first year student. If you think you have an extraordinary grasp of biology, it is essential to get the approval of an advisor in the biology department before registering for a 3000-level biology course in your first year.

Q6: Will I get credit for my AP biology if I take intro bio?

Yes. If you got a 5 on the AP biology test, you get 3 points of credit toward graduation whether you take UN2005-UN2006 or not. But you don't get credit towards any biology related major or concentration. UN2005-UN2006 is considered sufficiently different from the average AP course to count as a separate class.

Q7: I have read the bulletin and the Q & A listed here, but I still have questions. Where do I go for advice?

Consult the bio dept. website for additional info on courses, major requirements, etc. If you still have questions, feel free to contact the appropriate advisor. You don't have to declare your major before you contact an advisor. 

Q8: Does AP credit count toward the science requirement?

No. AP credit counts toward the number of points required for graduation, but it does not count towards fulfillment of the science requirement. You can fulfill your Columbia science requirement by taking courses in other sciences (or math) or by taking biology courses at Columbia.

Q9: What is First Year Seminar?

BIOL UN1908, first year seminar in biology, is a one-point course taught in the fall term.  Its purpose is to introduce students to current areas of biological research. Research scientists from Columbia talk about their work at a level that first year students can understand. (Chemistry 2408 is a similar course in chemistry taught in the spring term.) All students interested in biology and related fields (biochemistry, neuroscience, etc.) are encouraged to take first year seminar. For more details see First Year Seminar

Q10. Will I get a chance to work in a real research laboratory?

Yes. Just about any student who wants to work in a research laboratory can do it. For a list of the projects in the department, see the web sites of individual Faculty. You can also arrange to do research in labs at the uptown campus or at other facilities in New York City. For more details on the options, and how to find a lab, see Finding UG Research.

Q11. I am not planning to be a doctor or science major, but I want to fulfill my science requirement by taking biology. What course(s) should I take?

Any 3-point BIOL course numbered 2000 or higher fulfills the sciences requirement. Unfortunately, most biology courses are not suitable for most nonscience majors. There is one biology course in the dept that is designed entirely for nonscientists: Bio UN1130, Genes and Development. We hope to add more in the near future.

Q1: I am a student in SEAS or CC. I need to take Biology UN2005 or UN2006 but it conflicts with another class I need (or want) to take. What can I do? 

Did you know that there are two sections of UN2005 (& UN2006)? The lectures are given twice a day, at 10:10 am (section 1) and at 4:10 pm (section 2). You can register for either section. Whichever section you are registered for, you can attend lectures at the 'other' time. Exams for both sections are usually given at 4:10, and arrangements are made if you have a class that conflicts with the afternoon exam time. Whichever lecture section you sign up for, be sure to register for -- and attend -- a recitation (UN2015). Recitations start the second week of classes.

If you need additional information, contact Dr. Mary Ann Price or Dr. Michelle Attner or see the UN2005/UN2401 web page which should direct you to a recent Course Works web site that includes recordings of last year's lectures, a sample exam, etc.

Q2: I took AP calculus in high school. How much math do I need to take to complete the biology major?

You need to complete the equivalent of two terms of college level calculus, or one term of calculus and one term of statistics. A course in computing/programming, or a bio course that includes a computing component, is not required, but is highly recommended. Completion of advanced math in high school may fulfill part or all of the calculus requirement.  For information on placement in math courses, and evaluation of your high school calculus, see http://www.math.columbia.edu/programs-math/undergraduate-program/calculus-classes/.    

Note that completion of AP calculus courses may fulfill some or all of the bio major requirements, but AP but may not fulfill premed admission requirements. 

Q3: I want to work in a research laboratory. How do I get started?

All the details are spelled out on the web page: "Finding UG Research." To see current faculty interests, click on faculty.

Q4: I have declared or may declare a biology-related major, but I'm not sure who my advisor is, or how to plan my program. What should I do?

Look at the Biology Undergraduate Welcome Page. The welcome page has an overview of how to find what you need. There are links there to advisors and to the majors’ page, which has lists the requirements for all the biology related majors.  

Feel free to consult the appropriate advisor (the choice depends on the major and your last name) whether you have declared or not. You don't have to be a bio major to ask a question (or get an answer!). 

Q6: How can I get (or apply for) honors in biological sciences at graduation? 

See Honors.

Q7: Which is easier, UN2005 or UN2401?

Neither -- they're both the same! The only difference is that UN2005 has required recitations and UN2401 has optional recitations. (That's why UN2005 is 4 pts and UN2401 is 3 pts.) The exams in the two courses and the grading scales for the exams are the same - the scale is set using the scores of the UN2005 (undergraduate) students. Therefore the exam scores needed to earn an A are exactly the same in each class.

If you have further questions about Intro Bio, you can email [email protected].

Q8: What is the best way to find out which biology courses are offered in the upcoming term(s)?

Go to Courses.

Q1: Why do I have to take chemistry before biology? 

In high school, you are usually expected to memorize the basic facts and principles. In college, you are expected to learn the facts in much more detail and you are also expected to understand the principles in much greater depth. On exams, you will be asked to apply the principles that you have learned to solve problems and to explain totally new situations. If you jump straight into Biology UN2005/UN2401 without a year of college chemistry to help you "rev up" you are likely to find biology overwhelming.

You may review this exam from a past year of UN2005 and review your answers with the exam key. This will give you an idea of what makes UN2005/6 a unique Intro Bio sequence.

It also pays to take chemistry first for another reason. Biologists use chemistry as language, the way physicists use math. You can explain physics without math, but it takes a lot longer and the explanations are not as satisfying, or you have to teach math as you go along. So, it is simpler to just do the math first and the physics after. Similarly, it makes more sense to do chemistry first and biology second. 

Q2: I am premed, and haven’t taken college-level bio before. What biology class should I take?

If you are a postbaccalaureate student or a student in SPS, you should take Bio. UN2401-UN2402. If you need to fulfill the lab requirement for medical school, you should take the lab Bio UN2501. You can take the lab either term. 

If you are a CC or GS undergraduate, you should take Bio UN2005-2006 instead of UN2401-UN2402 after General Chemistry I & II.

You do NOT have to take UN2501. There are many other ways to fulfill the lab requirement for the major, including 2 semesters of BIOL UN3500, SURF, or a project lab -- see the major requirements page for details.

Q3: I took introductory biology somewhere else. Should I start with UN2005/UN2401 or should I skip UN2005/6 (or UN2401/2) and start with a higher level (3000 level) course? 

Transfer students are required to start with UN2005/UN2401. Intro bio is required because most students in the past who skipped it found themselves struggling in upper level (3000 level) courses. If you repeat a year of intro bio, you should still receive transfer credit toward graduation for the year of intro you took elsewhere.  However, the previous intro will not count toward your bio or bio related major at CU. There are rare exceptions, but they must be approved in advance by an advisor from the biology department. However, in virtually all cases, you will need to take intro bio here. 

If you have more questions, feel free to email [email protected].

Q4: What is the difference between Bio UN2005 and Bio UN2401? 

The only difference is that UN2005 has required recitations and UN2401 has optional recitations. (That's why UN2005 is 4 pts and UN2401 is 3 pts.) The exams in the two courses and the grading scales for the exams are the same - the scale is set using the scores of the UN2005 (undergraduate) students. Therefore the exam scores needed to earn an A are exactly the same in each class.

If you have further questions about Intro Bio, you can email [email protected].