Honors Majors & Minors

Biology Honors Majors & Minors image

Admission to the Honors Program in Biology as either a major or a minor is based on academic record. Applicants to the Honors Program in Biology must have a grade point average (GPA) of 3.00 in all courses taken in the Natural Sciences and Engineering Division at Swarthmore College and must obtain a grade of B or better in all lecture courses and seminars used for the Honors Program. Unpublished grades in biology for the first semester of the freshman year will be considered in the B average requirement; passing grades of CR in other courses in the Division of Natural Sciences and Engineering are acceptable.

The course requirements for admission to the Honors Program in biology are the same as those required for a course major in biology.

Application - the Sophomore Plan of Study

During the second semester of their sophomore year, students must submit a Sophomore Plan of Study to the Registrar and indicate their desire to enter the Honors Program. The application should list the anticipated fields of study (see below) for Honors. Students who are accepted into the program must select a research project by the middle of the junior year. Final approval of the student's Honors program will occur during the fall semester of the senior year when a three-part Final Honors Program Form is signed by the Chairs of the participating departments. Part I of the form goes to the major department, part II to the minor department and part III to the student. The signed forms from the major and minor departments are due to the Registrar by October 1st of that semester.

The distribution requirement

Students in the Honors Major Program in Biology must take at least one course in each of the following three groups:

I. Cellular and Molecular Biology
II. Organismal Biology
III. Population Biology

Biology 001 may be counted as a Group 1 course, or Biology 002 may be counted as a Group 3 course for purposes of the distribution requirement for Honors Majors. In addition, an Honors Major who has taken both Bio 001 and Bio 002 can use them to satisfy any one of the group requirements. AP credit may not be used to satisfy the distribution requirement. Honors students do not participate in the senior comprehensive, Themes in Biology (Bio 097), for credit but they are invited to attend as these public lectures are open to all members of the campus community.

Honors Preparations for Majors

A total of three preparations is required for an Honors major in Biology:

Seminar preparations (4-6 credits total)

Two preparations are advanced seminar preparations, each consisting of a lecture course and an associated advanced seminar course graded by faculty members who teach the courses and seminars. The seminars must be taken from different faculty members and all seminars used as Honors preparations must be taken at Swarthmore College.  Seminars with optional laboratories may be taken with or without the laboratory and be counted as an honors preparation. Each seminar preparation will be graded by both a written and an oral examination, both of which are set and evaluated by an External Examiner.

A fourth preparation is taken in another department (other than Biology) chosen by the student; it is considered the Honors minor preparation. This preparation is evaluated by an External Examiner in accordance with the rules of that department.

Research (thesis) preparation (1-2 credits)

One preparation of research (thesis) will consist of a substantial research project that may be completed in 2 semesters of research OR in 1 summer + 1 semester of research. The project will be taken for one or two credits and will be graded by an External Examiner. The primary mentor for the thesis need not be a Swarthmore faculty member, but each honors student is required to have a faculty mentor from the Biology Department at the College to oversee the project and assist in final preparation of the thesis. The Honors thesis has a page limit of 20 pages, not counting references, figures, figure legends or tables.

Senior Honors Study (1 credit)

This integrative/interactive program is taken in the spring semester of the Honors major's senior year. It provides a forum in which each student can finalize and present his or her thesis work in oral and written forms. Students should begin their final semester with completed research. During the first few meetings of the semester, faculty members are available for consultation regarding data analysis and presentation. At mid-semester, students present posters of their projects to the faculty and other honors students. Comments on these posters by faculty and peers enable students to revise and polish their written theses. The Senior Honors Study grade (Credit/No Credit) are assigned by the Biology faculty.


Honors Preparations for Biology Minors

The program in Biology for an Honors Minor consists of one preparation in biology of not less than 4 credits (e.g., Bio 001 or Bio 002, a lecture course, and an associated two-credit seminar).

Biology minors in the Honors Program do not need to satisfy the distribution requirements of the major; they are also not required to take chemistry or mathematics courses unless these courses are prerequisites for a specific Honors preparation. Biology Honors minors do not participate in the Senior Honors Study. As described above. of this handbook, all applicants to the Honors Program in Biology must maintain a GPA of 3.00 in all courses taken in the Divisions of Natural Sciences and Engineering at Swarthmore College and must obtain a grade of B or better in all lecture courses and seminars used for the Honors Program.

Honors Examinations

Examiners will be given a spectrum of models of written exams or written assignments that they may choose to use. The biology written exam will be closed-book, last 3 hours, and be proctored. Computers may be used to write the answers to the questions. The written exams are given during exam week early in May. Hard copies of completed written exams are mailed to the External Examiners the day after the exams are taken.

The oral exams will normally take place during one weekend in May using a one-on-one-format, although there may be special circumstances in which the use of a panel exam is desirable and will be used. Oral examinations for seminar preparations are normally 45 minutes in length. The oral exams for thesis (research) work are 60 minutes in length. Examiners for the four preparations (3 in the major and 1 in the minor) will be expected to confer after all of the exams are given and agree on a grade for each candidate's performance.

Grading of Honors Materials

The academic work of Honors students enrolled in lecture courses and seminars is graded by Swarthmore faculty. Laboratory notebooks and final laboratory reports of Honors students may be submitted ungraded to the external examiners in order that they may evaluate the candidates' laboratory work.

The Department of Biology will review the academic work of all candidates for the external examination at the end of the junior year and in November of their senior year. Progress on their thesis research is assessed at the beginning of the fall semester of the senior year. At these times, the Department may ask a candidate not to continue in the Honors Program. Withdrawal from the Honors program must occur by December 1st of the student's senior year. At that time, the student is responsible for consulting with the department about satisfying the comprehensive requirement for the major.


Cell Biology Any Group I or II Course BIOL 114. Symbiotic Interactions
Microbiology BIOL 016. Microbiology*  OR
BIOL 017. Microbial Pathogenesis
BIOL 116.Microbial processes and Biotechnology
Human Genetics BIOL 010. Genetics BIOL 110. Human Genetics
Developmental Genetics BIOL 024. Developmental Biology BIOL 125. Frontiers in Developmental Biology
Learning and Memory BIOL 022. Neurobiology BIOL 123. Learning and Memory
Animal Behavior BIOL 030. Animal Behavior BIOL 131. Animal Communication
Animal Physiology BIOL 020. Animal Physiology
BIOL 022. Neurobiology
BIOL 124. Hormones and Behavior

Plant Biology

Genomics and Systems Biology

BIOL 025. Plant Biology

Any Group I or II Course

BIOL 115. Plant Molecular Genetics
BIOL 119. Genomics and Systems Biology
Conservation Biology BIOL 037. Conservation Biology BIOL 135. Parasite Ecology
Biomechanics Group II or III Course BIOL 126. Biomechanics
Evolution BIOL 034. Evolution BIOL 136. Molecular Ecology & Evolution
Plant Ecology/Diversity Any course numbered 26 or higher BIOL 137. Biodiversity & Ecosystem Functioning
Research project (required) Appropriate advanced seminars BIOL 199. Senior Honors Study
BIOL 180. Honors Research

# Intermediate level courses listed in this column may have prerequisite courses in other depts. 
** All seminars are two units and are taught as three hour seminars meeting once a week plus a lab component.    
* These courses are offered only in alternate years.