First Year Students and Prospective Students FAQ

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 Q10).

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 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 1.5 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 past 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 feel that you are sufficiently prepared, please consult a biology advisor to get permission to place out of Intro Bio I and II.

If you do place 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: If I skip intro bio, and go right to 3000 level courses, how does that affect the requirements for the major?

You still need to take the same total number of biology courses toward any bio related major, whether you start with UN2005 or not. If you skip any of the courses because you have already covered the material, you must take an equivalent number of more advanced courses.

Q8: 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. web site  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. 

Q9: 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.

Q10: 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

Q11. 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 Undergraduate Research.

Q12. 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.

Business Office

Department of Biological Sciences
500 Fairchild Center
Mail Code 2401
Columbia University
1212 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10027

Academic Office

Department of Biological Sciences
600 Fairchild Center
Mail Code 2402
Columbia University
1212 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10027
[email protected]
212 854-4581