Frequently Asked Questions



1. As an incoming freshman, which introductory biology course series should I take?

  • Track 2 (BIOL 1101/1102) is the more standard two semester introduction to the major. Biology 1101 covers topics in cellular and molecular biology and genetics, and BIOL 1102 covers topics in ecology, evolution, and organismal biology. On the other hand, Track 1 (BIOL 1121/1123/1124) is a one semester lecture introduction to the major and is designed for students with a strong foundation in high school Biology and Chemistry. The BIOL 1121 lecture covers topics similar to those found in BIOL 1101, but in greater detail and at a quicker pace.


2. Can I get Advanced Placement (AP) credit for introductory biology courses?

  • The Biology department no longer awards credit for the College Board AP Test or the Higher Level International Baccalaureate Exam. However, the department does offer equivalency exams every fall for incoming freshmen and transfer students as a way to earn lecture credit for the introductory biology courses. Please see the Equivalency Exam page for more information on signing up for the exam.


3. Can I receive retroactive credit for introductory biology if I have already taken a higher level biology/chemistry course?

  • If you are planning on majoring/minoring in biology, you may apply for a waiver for BIOL 1121 if you satisfy the following conditions: (1) grades of B or better in at least two semesters of chemistry taken at Penn, (2) a grade of at least "B" in Chem 2510 - Principles of Biological Chemistry, and (3) has taken (or is currently enrolled in) Chem 2411 - Organic Chemistry I w/Lab. Please see the Rules and Restrictions page for more information on this waiver option.


4. How do I declare Biology as my major?

  • To declare the Biology major, you will need to log-in to Path@Penn, select Path forms, then choose "Declare/Update Field of Study". You will also need to fill out the Student Information form and Course Sequence worksheet and submit it to the following link. Students are encouraged to declare the major before the end of their sophomore year, but can do so at any point. However, it is recommended that you have completed the introductory biology, chemistry, math, and physics requirements of the major at this time. After declaring the major, students will be assigned to a major advisor. You will need to meet with your major advisor to get your declaration officially approved.


5. Do I need to pursue a concentration as a Biology major? Can I add/remove one later on?

  • Declaring a concentration is not required. Concentrations are meant to help you help you guide your course selection to one area of Biology. If you are unsure of whether you would like to pursue one or not, you can always start with the general major and use the concentration information to select your courses. As long as you can still complete the additional requirements of a concentration in time for graduation, you can add it as late as your senior year. On the other hand, if you initially decide to pursue a concentration, but later decide that you want to switch to another concentration, or just drop it altogether, you can do so on the same condition that you will be able to complete all the major requirements in time for graduation.


6. The course I'm trying to enroll in is closed. What can I do?

  • You can reach out to the faculty instructor(s) to request to be added to a wait-list. In the meantime, turn on course alerts and keep trying to register through regular course selection. Wait-lists are usually sorted through closer to the start of the semester. If the course is designated as permit-only, you will need to reach out to both the faculty instructor(s) and the Academic Office to determine whether you are eligible for a registration permit.


7. Can I take a course through LPS?

  • Unfortunately, unless you are in an LPS program, you cannot take many of the biology courses offered by LPS, nor will these courses count toward any biology major requirements. Courses exempt from this rule include BIOL 1101, 1102, 3054, and 4004. Registration permits for these courses are issued by LPS. While you can (and should) request the course during advanced registration, LPS often issues permits for non-LPS students closer to the start of the semester. Keep in mind that this rule is for biology courses only. If the corresponding department (Math, Phys, or Chem) allows you to take a course through LPS, you can count that course toward the biology major requirements.


8. I want to pursue a minor/second major. Can I count some courses toward both major requirements?

  • For students with minors and double majors, we require that at least five biology course units are used exclusively for the biology major. These five can still be used for general college requirements, but should not be used in other majors or minors.


9. I want to take a course in another department that fits my interests, but it is not listed as an approved course to satisfy any biology major requirements. Is there anything I can do?

  • If the course you are interested in has a strong basis in biology, you may make a request to your major advisor to count the course for the requirements. 


10. I'm trying to enroll in an independent study course, but I'm not seeing the course listed. What should I do?

  • Enrollment in independent study courses is by application only. Students in the major are emailed application instructions closer to the start of the semester (early August for the Fall and early December for the Spring). The application instructions are also posted in the Independent Study page.


11. I'm a junior going into my senior year. Is there anything I need to do to make sure I graduate on time?

  • Junior students are encouraged to meet with their major advisor or the Undergraduate Coordinator before the start of their senior year to ensure they are on track to complete all the major requirements on time for graduation.


12. I'm a senior and I conducted research during my undergrad. Am I eligible for Honors? If so, how do I get Honors?

  • If you have completed at least one semester of BIOL 3999, and have a major GPA of at least 3.25, you are eligible to apply for honors in Biology. Seniors are normally notified around mid-semester during their last semester before graduation that they can start applying for departmental honors. More details on the requirements to apply can be found in the Independent Study page.


If your question is not here, you can reach out to the Academic Office or schedule an appointment with the Undergraduate Coordinator.