Get ready to meet a million premeds.

One of the more popular majors at Barnard, the biology department is great. The intro sequence can be intimidating, but once you get to some of the smaller elective lectures, you’ll remember why you wanted to do this major. Or, if you’re like former Bwogger Betsy, that intro sequence will change your life. Many possibilities await in Altschul’s hallowed halls!


  • Intro sequence:
    • Introduction to Organismal and Evolutionary Biology (with lab) & Introduction to Cell and Molecular Biology (with lab): This is your foundation of biology that the rest of your courses are going to rest on. You go through everything from physiology, a little bit of immunology, plant biology, ecology… you name it they have it, except for computational biology. 
    • Molecular and Mendelian Genetics: I’m a cell and molecular bio major (more on that in a second) so I use genetics all the time, but even in a non-cell bio setting, genetics is pretty much as foundational as the main intro lecture classes. 
    • BONUS for computational bio majors:
      • One introductory coding class that can be any of the following:
        • Introduction to Computer Science and Programming in Java
        • Introduction to Computational Thinking and Data Science
        • Introduction to Computing for Engineers and Applied Scientists (taught in Python)
      • One introductory statistics class that can be any of the following:
        • Statistical Thinking for Data Science with Python Labs
        • Introduction to Statistics
        • Applied Statistical Computing
        • Statistics and Experimental Design
        • Introduction to Statistics for Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
  • Chemistry requirements:
    • One semester of General Chemistry (with lab) at either school
    • One semester of Organic Chemistry (with lab) at either school
  • Approved electives in your chosen track. Tracks include:
    • Cell & Molecular Bio
      • Take 4 classes under this category + 1 from another category
    • Computational Bio
      • Take 4 classes under the CB-Computing + 1 from the CB-Biology track
    • Physiological & Organismal Bio
      • Take 4 classes under this category + 1 from another category
    • Ecological & Evolutionary Biology
      • Take 4 classes under this category + 1 from another category
    • General Biology
      • Take 5 bio electives, with at least one each from the Cell & Molecular, Physiological & Organismal, and Ecological & Evolutionary biology categories
  • 3 semesters of lab classes. You can either take 3 separate lab classes (like Microbiology lab, Coding in Biology, MATLAB for scientists, etc) or do what I did and take one lab class and then a semester of Guided Research & Seminar. 
    • NB: Some lab classes, like Coding in Biology, also count for an elective lecture, so make sure you’re counting it towards what you want it to count for (a lab or a lecture)
  • Semester capstone experience (aka a thesis). Can be one semester of writing a review-like thesis that you don’t have to do lab work for, or two semesters of writing a thesis based on your original research.

Notes on the classes:

  • The intro sequence is way tougher than it looks, at least for me, but it IS doable. If you’re weak in one area of biology (like I was in ecology) then those few weeks will be pretty hard. But if you take the intro bio sequence your first year then it’ll teach you what a classic college lecture is like, which is very helpful. I cannot stress going to office hours and STARTING STUDYING EARLY when test season comes around.
  • The way genetics worked, at least in my year, was that basically half of it was doing a lot of probability based problem sets and then the other half was classical biology lectures on how it works in cells. Again, office hours, especially in the first half, where you can basically do the problems together. It’s great.

Note on biological research:

  • Doing lab work and original research is very common among biology majors, and is required for classes like Guided Research & Seminar and for writing a yearlong thesis. We’ve compiled tips for how to get an advisor and a lab here. The bio department also has a resource page here.

Department communications:

  • Melissa Flores is your best bet:

Declaring the major: 

  • When you’re ready, submit a major declaration form. As of spring 2022, you can request a specific major advisor, but if you don’t do that, they’ll assign you one. 
    • NB: It’s nice to ask the professor you intend to request before you request them. That way they can tell you if they already have the maximum number of advisees or not, and it just sets you both up for success. 

Last-minute tips:

  • After you escape the intro sequence, the Barnard biology major rules. I definitely considered changing my major a few times but once I got into the electives I had a great time. Don’t give up! The people are SO nice and accommodating.
  • You do not have to be premed to be a bio major!! There are plenty of things you can do with a bio major that’s not going to med school. There’s research, science journalism, industry, and more.
  • Premeds beware: it’s recommended that you take four semesters of chemistry, not just two. Sorry! That cushy paycheck later on will make up for it.
  • But if you’re not premed, the bio major gives you SOOOO much room to explore other departments. I’ve taken a ton of humanities courses! I’ve found that the major really allows you to get that ~liberal arts education~ without just drowning in lecture material all day. Take advantage!
  • If you look closely, you’ll see that you can take biology classes across the street too. I think they’re a mixed bag and that you’re probably better off sticking at Barnard if you can, but there are classes like Virology that you can’t take at Barnard.

Altschul tables via Bwog Archives