Biology Majors & Minors

Planning Resources

Sophomore Plan of Study

Projected Courses

Individual Course Descriptions

Biology Course Major Check List

Biology Honors Major Check List

 

Course Major | Course Minor | Honors Major | Honors Minor

 

Biology Course Major

Acceptance criteria

a. Three courses (or advanced placement credit and two courses) in biology. Unless a student has AP Biology score of 5, IB Biology score of 6 or 7, or transfer credit, both BIOL 001 and BIOL 002 are required.
b. CHEM 010, or placement approved by the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department.
c. Swarthmore College credit for two courses in mathematics or statistics (not STAT 001 or MATH 003). Alternatively, these criteria can be satisfied by completion of MATH 025 or placement into MATH 026. The Biology Department strongly recommends a course in statistics for majors.
d. Students must have an average grade of C (2.00) or better in BIOL 001 and BIOL 002 (or if AP credit is given, in the first two biology courses taken at Swarthmore). In addition, the student must have an average grade of C (2.00) or better in all courses taken in the Biology Department, and an overall average grade of C (2.00) or better in the Division of Natural Sciences and Engineering at Swarthmore College (biology, physics and astronomy, chemistry and biochemistry, mathematics and statistics, engineering, and computer science). Unpublished grades in BIOL 001 for the first semester of the first year will be considered in the C average requirement; passing grades of CR are acceptable for other courses in the Division of Natural Sciences and Engineering and will not be used in the calculation of the average.
e. Students who have not completed the requirements for acceptance to the major will be deferred until the end of the fifth semester.  Students who have not completed all criteria for acceptance to the major by the end of the fifth semester will no longer have priority in lotteries based on their sophomore plan, and will need to re-apply for the major before the last day of classes in their junior year.

Requirements for the Biology major

f. Credit requirements: Students majoring in biology must complete a minimum of eight biology credits by the end of their senior year, two of which come from a two-credit seminar numbered 110-139.  Students may take a course or seminar in biology as CR/NC but are not encouraged to do so. BIOL 001SP and BIOL 002SP do not count toward these 8 credits.

i. No more than two credits in Biology 093 and/or Bio 094 may be used to satisfy the eight-credit requirement for a Biology major.
ii. At least five of these eight credits are to be taken at Swarthmore.

g. Distribution requirements: Students majoring in biology must pass at least one course in each of the following three groups: I. Cellular and Molecular Biology, II. Organismal Biology and III. Population Biology. The digit in the tens place of the course number signifies the group of the course (i.e., BIOL 120 is a Group II course and BIOL 014 is a Group I course).

i. Students majoring in biology may count no more than one course numbered 003-009 toward the eight required credits. Courses numbered 003-009 do not meet the Group distribution requirement.
ii. BIOL 093 (Directed Reading) and BIOL 094 (Independent Research) count as credits toward the biology major but cannot be used as distribution requirements. No more than two credits in BIOL 093, BIOL 094 or BIOL 093 and BIOL 094 in combination may be used to satisfy the eight-credit requirement for the biology major.
iii.CHEM 038 (Biochemistry) may be counted as a Group I course. If a student uses CHEM 038 for their Group I course they may not use it toward their NSE Quantitative Elective (see below).

h. Seminar requirement: All biology majors are required to take at least one two-credit seminar in Biology (with a number greater than 100). A seminar in biology is defined as an advanced offering that uses primary rather than secondary source materials and encourages active student participation in presentations and discussions. Note that all two-credit seminars have at least one intermediate level course (numbered 10-39) as a prerequisite; the particular prerequisites for seminars vary and should be considered during selection of intermediate level courses.  A seminar may be counted toward both the seminar requirement and the Group (I, II, or III) requirement; however, students must still take a minimum of 8 Biology credits to complete the major.

i. The seminar requirement must be met by a seminar taken at Swarthmore College.
ii. A student may, with permission of the faculty instructor, take a seminar without the laboratory component. A seminar without the laboratory component is listed as BIOL 093 credit on the transcript and does not meet the seminar requirement.

i. Quantitative NSE requirement. Students majoring in Biology must complete two courses from the following list of quantitative NSE courses: ASTR 016, CHEM 015 or above, CPSC 021 or above, ENGR 005 or above, MATH 026 or above, PHYS 003 or above (with the exception of PHYS 021 and 029), STAT 011 or above.

i. Courses used to meet the Math/Stat criterion for acceptance to the major (see criterion c above) may not be counted toward the quantitative NSE requirement.  Courses used to meet any other Biology major requirement may not be counted toward this requirement.
ii. While a student may test or place out of the Math criterion (c) by AP, IB, or math placement test for acceptance to the Biology major, both quantitative NSE courses necessary for completion of the major must be taken after matriculation into Swarthmore.
iii. If a student is using Chem 038 to satisfy their Group I requirement, it may not be used to satisfy this requirement.

j. Comprehensive examination: All Biology course majors must satisfy the general College requirement of passing a comprehensive examination given by the major department. In Biology, this comprehensive examination is the lecture series BIOL 097, Themes in Biology. BIOL 097 is offered only in the fall semester and is usually taken by students during the fall of their senior year. This course features a series of visiting speakers who assign readings and give lectures connected by an overarching theme that can be addressed from all subdisciplines of biology. It enables faculty and students to interact on an intellectually challenging project, allows students to think about a topic from all levels of biological organization and gives students the opportunity to meet and interact with a variety of distinguished biologists.

i. Students are required to take and complete the requirements of BIOL 097 but are not required to take the course for credit. BIOL 097 counts as one of the eight credits required for a major in biology.
ii. Biology Honors majors who are unsure if they will stand for honors should take and complete the requirements of BIOL 097 in case they decide to drop honors before the fall honors deadline.
iii.Evaluation of a student's performance for this comprehensive examination will be Pass/No Pass and will be based on the questions prepared by each individual and team for each lecture, participation in discussions, hosting a guest speaker and performance on the quizzes. For students enrolled in BIOL 097 for credit, Pass/No Pass on the comprehensive exam will be translated into Credit/No Credit for purposes of earning credit.
iv. Students who fail BIOL 097 fail the comprehensive exam and thus may not graduate. The department will evaluate all such failures and decide on the appropriate action. Students will be notified of failure by the first day of classes in the spring semester of their senior year.
v. If a student is given permission by the College to be away from campus during the fall semester of the senior year, the Biology Department faculty may give permission to the student to write a senior paper and enroll in BIOL 095, a Senior Project, to satisfy the College requirement of a comprehensive examination. Alternatively, the student may be given permission by the Biology faculty to enroll in Themes in Biology during the junior year if the student has planned in advance to be away during the fall semester of the senior year.

Biology Course Minor

Students who wish to minor in biology must complete six credits, at least four of which are to be taken at Swarthmore College. The GPA requirement to enter the minor is the same as for biology course majors: an average of 2.00 in BIOL 001 and BIOL 002, 2.00 in courses taken in the Biology Department, and 2.00 in all courses taken in the Division of Natural Sciences and Engineering. Both BIOL 001 and BIOL 002 are required (although one or both of these may be replaced by credit from an advanced placement examination after another biology course is completed; note that the department strongly encourages all students with AP credit to take at least one of the introductory courses). There are no requirements for courses outside the department. There is no distribution requirement within the department for the minor. Only one course numbered 003-009 can be counted toward the six credits required for the minor. Only one credit in BIOL 093 or BIOL 094 can be counted. CHEM 038 (Biochemistry) may be counted as one of the six biology credits. BIOL 097 may NOT be used as a biology credit for biology minors.


Biology Honors Major

Acceptance criteria

a. The acceptance criteria for an honors major in biology include all of the criteria for a biology course major (see above).
b. In addition, admission to the Honors Program in biology 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 Division 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. Applicants must also have a GPA of 3.00 in all biology courses. Unpublished grades in biology for the first semester of the first year will be considered in these requirements; passing grades of CR in other courses in the Division of Natural Sciences and Engineering are acceptable ; passing grades of CR are acceptable for other courses in the Division of Natural Sciences and Engineering and will not be included in the calculation of the average
c. Students who are accepted into the program must select a research project and mentor 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 the Final Honors Program Form is signed by the chairs of the participating departments.

Requirements for the Biology Honors Major

g. Credit requirements for honors: In addition to fulfilling the requirements to be accepted as biology honors major, the student majoring in biology must complete a minimum of eight biology credits. Students may take a course or seminar in biology as CR/NC but are not encouraged to do so. Students must earn a grade of B or better for all courses and seminars used for honors preparations. Honors students may not take Bio 097, Themes in Biology, for credit, but are welcome and encouraged to attend the seminars. BIOL 001SP and BIOL 002SP do not count towards these 8 credits

h. Quantitative NSE requirement. Biology Honors Majors must complete two courses from the following list of quantitative NSE courses: ASTR 016, CHEM 015 or above, CPSC 021 or above, ENGR 005 or above, MATH 026 or above, PHYS 003 or above (with the exception of PHYS 029), STAT 011 or above.

i. Courses used to meet the Math/Stat criterion for acceptance to the major may not also be counted toward the quantitative NSE requirement.  Courses used to meet any other Biology major requirement may not also be counted toward this requirement.
ii.While a student may test or place out of the Math criterion for acceptance to the major, both quantitative NSE courses must be taken after matriculation at Swarthmore.

i. Distribution requirements for honors: Students graduating with an honors major in biology must pass at least one course in each of the following three groups: I. Cellular and Molecular Biology, II. Organismal Biology, and III. Population Biology. The digit in the tens place of the course number signifies the group of the course (i.e., BIOL 120 is a Group II course and BIOL 014 is a Group I course).    

i. The Biology Department faculty strongly encourage honors students to fulfill their group distribution requirements with intermediate- or seminar-level courses. Our experience has been that students with coursework at these levels have a deeper and more complete understanding of biology. In addition, students who alter their plans and withdraw from the Honors Program have much more flexibility in scheduling if they have already planned to fulfill the department distribution requirement with intermediate- or seminar-level courses. To mitigate the scheduling constraints imposed by the Honors Program, however, the following rules also apply to honors students:
ii. An honors major who has taken both BIOL 001 and BIOL 002 at Swarthmore may use this pair of courses to satisfy any one of the distribution requirements.
iii. BIOL 001 may be counted as a Group I course, or BIOL 002 may be counted as a Group III course for purposes of the distribution requirement for honors majors.
iv. AP credit may not be used to satisfy the Biology distribution requirement.

j. Seminar requirement for honors: All honors biology majors are required to complete at least two 2-credit seminars (those with a number greater than 100), two of which will be used as honors preparations. A seminar in biology is defined as an advanced offering that uses primary rather than secondary source materials and encourages active student participation in presentation and discussion of materials. Note that all two-credit seminars have at least one prerequisite course from the intermediate level (numbered 010-039); the particular prerequisite(s) for each seminar should be considered during selection of intermediate level courses.

i. The two seminars used for honors preparations must be taken from different faculty members and must be taken at Swarthmore College.

k. Research (Thesis) requirement for honors: At least one, but not more than two, credits of thesis research (BIOL 180) are required. Thesis research will be graded by an External Examiner. The thesis research will be a substantial project carried out over 2 semesters, 2 summers, or 1 summer + 1 semester.    

i. The primary mentor for the thesis need not be a Swarthmore faculty member, but a Swarthmore faculty member must agree to be an on-campus mentor before arrangements for off-campus research are made.
ii. Students should plan on completing their field or laboratory research by the end of the fall semester of their senior year.
iii. The honors thesis has a page limit of 20 pages, with 1-inch margins for purposes of binding, 12 point font, and text double spaced except for Abstract. References, figures, figure legends and tables are not counted toward the page limit.

l. Senior Honors Study: Senior Honors Study (BIOL 199) is required for all honors majors in the spring semester of their senior year. This integrative/interactive program prepares each student to finalize and present his or her thesis work formally, in both oral and written forms. During the first few meetings of the semester, faculty members are available for consultation about data analysis. At mid-semester, students present posters of their projects to the faculty and other honors students for review. Comments on these posters from faculty and students will guide students in revising and polishing their written theses. SHS BIOL 199 is Credit/No Credit and evaluation is by biology faculty.

m. Review of work for honors: The Biology Department 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 thesis research is assessed at the beginning of the fall semester of the senior year. At these times, the department may ask a candidate to withdraw from the Honors Program. Withdrawal from the Honors Program must occur by December 1 of the student's senior year. At that time, the student who has withdrawn from the Honors Program is responsible for consulting with the department about satisfying the comprehensive requirement for the major.

n. Honors examinations: Students will take two written examinations in Biology, one based on each of their seminar preparations. The biology written examinations will be closed-book, 3-hour exams. The oral exams are normally one-on-one, but special honors majors that include one or more preparations in Biology may be examined by a panel of examiners. Oral examinations for seminar preparations are normally 45 minutes in length. The oral exams for thesis research are 60 minutes in length.

Honors Minor

Biology minors in the Honors Program do not need to satisfy the distribution requirements of the major or take chemistry or mathematics unless required to do so for a specific preparation. Honors minors do not participate in Senior Honors Study. Applicants to the Honors Program in biology must have a GPA of 3.00 in all courses taken in the Divisions of Natural Sciences and Engineering, a GPA of 3.00 in all biology courses taken at Swarthmore College, and a grade of B or better in all lecture courses and seminars used for the Honors Program.

The program in biology for an honors minor requires at least four credits and usually consists of BIOL 001 and BIOL 002, an intermediate level course (course number between 10 and 39) and a two-credit seminar (course number greater than 100).

Honors examinations: Students will take one written examination, based on their Biology honors seminar preparation. The biology written examination will be a closed-book, 3-hour exam. The oral exam is normally one-on-one. Oral examinations for seminar preparations are normally 45 minutes in length.

 

Group I - Cellular and Molecular Biology

BIOL 010 Genetics
BIOL 014 Cell Biology
BIOL 016 Microbiology
BIOL 017 Microbial Pathogenesis and the Immune Response
BIOL 019 Omics
CHEM 038 Biochemistry
BIOL 110 Human Genetics
BIOL 114 Symbiotic Interactions
BIOL 115 Plant Molecular Genetics
BIOL 116 Microbial Processes and Biotechnology
BIOL 119 Genomics & Systems Biology

Group II - Organismal Biology

BIOL 020 Animal Physiology
BIOL 022 Neurobiology
BIOL 024 Developmental Biology
BIOL 025 Plant Biology
BIOL 026 Invertebrate Zoology
BIOL 027 Systems Biology
BIOL 123 Learning and Memory
BIOL 124 Hormones & Behavior
BIOL 125 Frontiers in Developmental Biology
BIOL 126 Biomechanics

Group III - Population Biology

BIOL 030 Animal Behavior
BIOL 034 Evolution
BIOL 036 Ecology
BIOL 037 Conservation Biology
BIOL 039 Marine Biology
BIOL 131 Animal Communication
BIOL 135 Parasite Ecology
BIOL 136 Molecular Ecology and Evolution
BIOL 137 Biodiversity & Ecosystem Functioning

Additional offerings each year by visiting faculty; please check projected courses list.