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Home » Undergraduate Program » Strategies and Suggestions for Completing the Biology Major

Strategies and Suggestions for Completing the Biology Major

Suggestions for completing the math requirement for the major

  1. Begin taking math in your first semester, and continue taking math in subsequent semesters until you have completed at least one semester of calculus.
    • If you are a freshman, you will take a math placement test before your first college semester, and the results of that test determine the first math course you should take at Rutgers. Some students test into a remedial (non-credit) math course (either 640:041 or 640:042), some students test into the next level math course which is a pre-calculus course (640:113 or 640:115), and still others test into the highest level math course which is a calculus course (640:121 or 640:130).
    • If you are a transfer student, most likely you have already taken a college math course. By checking your evaluation of transfer credits (which you will receive from Rutgers via email) you can determine the Rutgers equivalent of your previous math course and can thus take the next course in the sequence. For example, if you have already taken a pre-calculus course (some colleges call it college algebra), you will be ready for calculus.
  2. Biology majors can choose which calculus course to take.
    • If you have a strong interest and aptitude in math you can choose to take the higher-level math sequence, which is Precalculus College Math (640:115) followed by Unified Calculus I (640:121). For your information, Unified Calculus I is the prerequisite for Unified Calculus II (640:122) should you wish to further your education in this area.
    • Alternatively, you can choose to take the lower-level math sequence, which is Precalculus for Business, Economics, and Biology (640:113) followed by Calculus for Business, Economics, and Life Sciences (640:130). Be aware that this sequence will not enable you to take upper-level calculus courses.
    • You should bear in mind two factors when deciding which calculus course to take. 1) The higher-level calculus course (640:121) looks impressive on your transcript when it comes time to apply to graduate school, medical school, or any other professional school. 2) However, be honest with yourself concerning your math aptitude, and consider whether it would be better to take the lower-level calculus course (640:130) and do well instead of taking the higher-level calculus course and do poorly.

Suggestions for completing the chemistry requirements for the major

Freshmen should plan on taking Chemical Principles in either their freshman or sophomore years. Several factors affect this scheduling:

  1. You should not take Chemical Principles I until you have fulfilled any math deficiency and are concurrently taking either a pre-calculus course or a calculus course. Chemical Principles I involves considerable problem solving, and you should make sure you have the necessary math skills before registering. In addition, as mentioned above, the catalog description for Chemical Principles indicates that calculus must be taken no later than concurrently with Chemical Principles I.
  2. Many freshmen find it difficult to take General Biology I & II and also Chemical Principles I & II during their freshman year while they are trying to adjust to college. Therefore, one strategy to protect one’s transcript is to take General Biology during one’s freshman year and Chemical Principles during the sophomore year.

Be aware that two biology electives (Molecular Biology and General Physiology) require Organic Chemistry. Consequently, delaying Chemical Principles means that you will delay Organic Chemistry and thus you will delay taking Molecular Biology and General Physiology. It is for this reason that you are urged to take Chemical Principles no later than your sophomore year to increase the chances of graduating in four years with the courses that suit your plans.

Taking chemistry or physics during one or more summers is an option for helping you graduate according to your plan. As mentioned above, if you delay taking Chemical Principles you run the risk of adding an additional year to your college career. Or it may mean that you will end up taking a heavy load of biology, chemistry, and physics courses during your senior year. Because Chemical Principles I & II, Organic Chemistry I & II, and General Physics I & II have traditionally been offered during the summer, you may wish to use one or more summers to take some of those courses in order to reduce the pressure during the academic year. However, note that these demanding courses are offered in a four-week period in the summer, meaning that you can expect an intensive experience.

Suggestions for completing the physics requirement for the major

  1. The Physics Department recommends that you take a pre-calculus (or college algebra) course prior to General Physics I. Even though the catalog and Schedule of Classes list no prerequisite for General Physics, the Physics Department urges students certainly to resolve any math deficiency and ideally to take a pre-calculus course before enrolling in General Physics.
  2. Students who prefer to take a calculus-based physics course instead of General Physics may substitute Elements of Physics I & II (750:131-132) & Labs (750: 133-134). Be aware that Unified Calculus I & II must be taken concurrently with Elements of Physics.
  3. Ideally, take General Physics prior to, or concurrently with, General Physiology. Certain topics in General Physiology will be easier to understand if you have had, or are currently taking, physics.

Suggestions for completing the biology requirement for the major

  1. To minimize the chance of scheduling conflicts in your senior year, try to complete as many core requirements sooner rather than later. Because most undergraduate biology courses do not require chemistry, once you complete General Biology I & II you will be eligible to take many biology electives. This will free up your schedule in your junior or senior year when you will have had sufficient chemistry to take Molecular Biology and General Physiology.
  2. Try to plan your schedule so that you take General Physiology concurrently with Organic Chemistry II. Not only is this a good match of courses, but it means you will take General Physiology before you take Molecular Biology – which is another good strategy. If you follow this plan, consider taking General Physics concurrently with Organic Chemistry because this will provide a helpful background for General Physiology in the Spring semester.
  3. Biology majors are able to take two semesters of Special Problems in Biology (120:491, 492) to fulfill two of the four biology electives. Special Problems in Biology is an independent study course in which you work in the lab of a faculty member of your choice. In the majority of cases, a student contacts a faculty member with whom he or she has taken an upper-level course and asks if it would be possible to work in that faculty member’s lab on a research project. The faculty member may or may not be taking on Special Problems students that semester, and if so, he/she may require that you have had certain courses, have particular skills, and/or be willing to accept the requirements for the particular project. These courses are listed as “By arrangement” (BA) because if the faculty member agrees to have you work in the lab, then you and the faculty member agree on the number of credits, (the rule of thumb is for every credit for which you register, you should spend an average of 3 hours per week in the lab), the hours which you are available to work, and the nature of the outcome (e.g., a paper, a lab report, or simply your ability to try your best in the arranged time).
  4. Some biology graduate courses (500 level) may be taken as electives by advanced undergraduate students provided they have a minimum grade-point average of 3.0, have completed the necessary prerequisites, and have the permission of the instructor. Such courses can be used to fulfill as many of the biology electives as you wish.

Three sample schedules can be found here.