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Interdepartmental Undergraduate Program

Iowa State University is a major center for research and education in the biological sciences. With over 200 faculty in the life sciences, students have the opportunity to learn from some of the nation’s leaders in biological research and teaching and to participate in innovative, meaningful research projects that explore frontiers of biology. Few other universities have such a wealth of faculty expertise available to undergraduate students, making Iowa State’s Biology Program the logical choice for those who want to participate in a thriving academic community.

The faculties of the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology and the Department of Genetics, Development, and Cell Biology jointly offer the undergraduate biology major. This high quality academic program has the flexibility to accommodate a range of career goals while taking advantage of the university’s strengths in science and technology. A bachelor’s degree in biology provides excellent preparation for graduate study in biological disciplines ranging from the molecular to the ecological levels, and for entrance into various professional schools, such as human medicine, physical therapy, or veterinary medicine. The major is well suited for those who plan to teach biology, who wish to enter government or industrial employment in health or environmental professions, or who prefer educational breadth as an end in itself. By working with our professional and faculty advisers, it is possible to design a unique program of study that will meet student needs and objectives.

Students with special interests and aptitudes should consider combining biology with a minor or a second major in another subject, such as chemistry, environmental studies, journalism, mathematics, music, statistics, or many other subjects offered by the university.

Customizing a degree

Biology encompasses an amazing diversity of disciplines and scales of study ranging from molecules to the biosphere.  The Biology major offers a rich variety of coursework addressing most of the areas of biology.  The major’s curriculum requirements offer tremendous flexibility in creating an individualized program of study to facilitate achievement of a student’s career goals, while simultaneously assuring some exposure to all areas of biology and providing complementary knowledge from supporting courses in chemistry, physics, and math/statistics.

While flexibility is the hallmark of the Biology major, the breadth of the field can also be challenging.  Thus, in an effort to provide more guidance to students who desire such, the major also provides five advising tracks, or areas of specialization, for students who wish to focus on subfields of biology or who have specific career goals in mind.  Course plans for each area of specialization are listed on the Biology web site.  The areas are:

Pre-medical and Human Health Professions--This area emphasizes preparation for further study in medical school or allied human health professions such as dentistry, optometry, genetic counseling, physical therapy, occupational therapy, physician assistant, nursing, chiropractic, and others.  It also will prepare students for a broad range of careers in the biological sciences.  Students are urged to determine the specific entrance requirements for the professional schools where they might study and to plan a program of study accordingly, in addition to following the basic plan.

Pre-veterinary--An eventual degree in Veterinary Medicine can lead to a wide variety of careers, including private clinical practice in small animal medicine or agricultural animal production.  But, pre-veterinary students can also prepare themselves for careers in animal research, public health, laboratory animal medicine, food safety, regulatory medicine, and education.  Specific requirements for entrance to the Iowa State Veterinary College or other schools should be consulted as programs of study are planned, in addition to following the basic plan.

Molecular and Cellular Biology--Students specializing in this field will explore the structure, function, and interactions of the molecules and sub-cellular features that make up living cells.  This area is particularly designed for those who plan to pursue a career in research in molecular or cell biology or in related areas such as biochemistry, genetics, microbiology, developmental biology, human medicine, or veterinary medicine.  Many students in this area will choose to go on to graduate school. 

Ecology and Conservation Biology--Ecologists examine the interactions and relationships that living organisms have with each other and their environment.  Conservation biologists study the nature and status of Earth's biodiversity with the aim of protecting species, their habitats, and ecosystems from excessive rates of extinction and loss.  Students who choose this specialization may go on to work for a non-profit environmental group; an environmental consulting firm; a local, state, or federal agency; or other related organizations.  Many students in this area will choose to go on to graduate school.

Evolution and Biodiversity--This area provides students with a sound understanding of evolutionary principles and the biological patterns that result from evolutionary change. Students have the opportunity to explore, in depth, the biodiversity found within a wide range of groups of organisms.  Students who choose this specialization may go on to work for a non-profit environmental group; an environmental consulting firm; a local, state, or federal agency; or other related organizations.  Many students in this area will choose to go on to graduate school.

Other opportunities

Teacher licensure--Biology majors seeking licensure to teach biology in secondary schools must meet requirements of the Teacher Education Program as well as those of the Biology Program. In addition, they must apply formally for admission to the teacher education program. See the section on Teacher Education for a list of licensure areas, degree requirements, and other information about this program.

Undergraduate research--Students who have interests in biological research are encouraged to become involved in the research projects of faculty members on campus. Those doing so may receive credit for the experience in BIOL 499 Undergraduate Research Experience.  Making the effort to find a suitable research mentor and engaging in research work can be one of the most valuable experiences of an undergraduate education.  Internship experiences are often available at other universities, zoos, museums, governmental and non-governmental entities focused on environmental issues, and industrial or government laboratories.  Students participating in such projects may receive internship credit in BIOL 494 Biology Internship.

Field trip courses – The Biology Program offers two field trip courses: BIOL 393 (North American Field Trips in Biology) and BIOL 394 (International Field Trips in Biology).  In recent years field trip opportunities to the Boundary Waters area of Minnesota, Honduras, and Spain have been available. These courses involve a pre-trip seminar followed by one-week to one-month long field trip at a time when academic year classes are not in session.  The classes are low enrollment and allow extensive interaction between instructors and students in locations of biological interest.

International experience--Because major discoveries in science often result from global efforts, biology majors are encouraged to include an international or study abroad component in their degree programs. This can be done by participating in international field trips originating from the ISU campus in BIOL 394 International Field Trips in Biology. In addition, many students choose to study abroad, attending a university in another country for up to a year as an exchange student. Minors in a foreign language can also add an international emphasis to a degree in biology.

Courses offered at other locations

In addition to biological science courses taught on campus, students may take courses at various remote locations and arrange to have the credits count toward the advanced courses required in the biology major.  Attending a summer field station adds an important component to an undergraduate program of study.

Gulf Coast Research Laboratory--The Gulf Coast Research Laboratory is affiliated with the University of Southern Mississippi. Iowa State students may register for marine biology courses and transfer credit to their degree programs under the number BIOL 480 Studies in Marine Biology. Written permission of the Biology Program Director is required for this arrangement.

Summer Biological Field Stations--Courses taken at summer field stations may be transferred to Iowa State University as credit in BIOL 481 Summer Field Studies. Such stations are found throughout the country and often offer courses that emphasize the adaptation of plants and animals to unique environments. See for links to Iowa Lakeside Laboratory and other field stations in different biomes, e.g., marine/coastal, Great Lakes, taiga, deciduous forests, deserts, Rocky Mts., etc.

Organization for Tropical Studies--Iowa State students may register for courses in tropical biology taught in Costa Rica by the Organization for Tropical Studies. Credit is transferred to Iowa State as BIOL 482 Tropical Biology. For further information, contact the Biology Student Services Office in 103 Bessey Hall.

Undergraduate Study

Biology majors start their studies in the biological sciences by taking a two-semester long Principles of Biology course sequence:

BIOL 211Principles of Biology I3
BIOL 211LPrinciples of Biology Laboratory I1
BIOL 212Principles of Biology II3
BIOL 212LPrinciples of Biology Laboratory II1

During the first year, students also take BIOL 110 Introduction to Biology and BIOL 111 Opportunities in Biology, which are half semester courses designed to introduce the student to the discipline of biology and opportunities for careers in biology. Students transferring into the Biology major take BIOL 112 in place of BIOL 110.

Students then explore, in any order depending on their interests, four upper-level core courses including: concepts of ecology in BIOL 312; the principles of genetics in BIOL 313 and BIOL 313L; cell and molecular biology in BIOL 314; and evolutionary biology in BIOL 315. Biology majors must take an additional 21 credits of advanced biological science courses at the 300 level, or above, from an approved list of courses.  Many of these courses have as prerequisites BIOL 211/L and BIOL212/L, so students do not need to complete the four upper-level core courses before taking advanced courses.  Of these advanced courses , at least 9 credits must be taken as BIOL courses, and a minimum of two BIOL laboratory or field courses must also be included.

Biology majors should carefully consider their selection of upper-level courses to allow them to emphasize one, or more, of the sub-disciplines of Biology relevant to their post-baccalaureate objectives.  Most biology courses numbered 300 or above can be used to satisfy the additional credit requirement. Some courses taught in other departments can also be applied to the biology major. Advanced students should consider including 500 level courses in their programs. The Biology Program’s web site has a complete listing of acceptable upper-level life science courses.

Biology majors must demonstrate competency in their understanding of the biological sciences. Thus, grades of C- or better in all biological science courses applied to the major are required. Furthermore, in order to graduate, a student must have a cumulative average in the major of at least 2.00.

General requirements

Students may earn the B.S. degree in Biology from either the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences or from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.  Students in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences must fulfill the foreign language and general education requirements for that college.  Students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences must meet the general education requirements for that college.  Contact the Student Services Office for details regarding differences in general education and course requirements that are specific to these colleges.

Supporting course requirements-- Understanding biology requires a basic understanding of the physical sciences and mathematics. Consequently, a minimum number of credits in general chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, and physics is required. See the Biology Program Web Site for specific supporting science requirements.

The Math requirement is competency based. After demonstrating competency in algebra and trigonometry, biology majors must take two semesters of calculus; or two semesters of Statistics; or one semester of calculus and one semester of Statistics chosen from a list of approved courses available on the Biology Program Web Site and in the Biology Program Office.

Given the important role of communications in the modern sciences, biology majors must demonstrate communication competency by earning a minimum of C in ENGL 250 Written, Oral, Visual, and Electronic Composition or equivalent composition courses and in one advanced writing course numbered ENGL 302 through ENGL 316, or JL MC 347, or SP CM 212. (Students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences are required to earn a C or better in ENGL 150, as well.)

Curriculum in Biology

Administered by the Departments of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology; and Genetics, Development and Cell Biology. Students should consult the Biology Student Services Office, 103 Bessey (or for the appropriate course selections for professional or graduate school preparation.

Total Degree Requirement: 120 cr.

Only 65 cr. from a two-year institution may apply which may include up to 16 technical cr.; 9 P-NP cr. of free electives; 2.00 minimum GPA.

Biology: 23.5 cr.

All graded courses minimum C-; 2.00 GPA average required.

BIOL 110Introduction to Biology1
BIOL 111Opportunities in Biology0.5
BIOL 211Principles of Biology I3
BIOL 211LPrinciples of Biology Laboratory I1
BIOL 212Principles of Biology II3
BIOL 212LPrinciples of Biology Laboratory II1
BIOL 312Ecology4
BIOL 313Principles of Genetics3
BIOL 313LGenetics Laboratory1
BIOL 314Principles of Molecular Cell Biology3
BIOL 315Biological Evolution3
Total Credits23.5
Advanced Biology: 21 cr.

All graded courses minimum C-; 2.00 GPA average required.  See the Biology Program web site for list of approved Advanced Biology courses, or consult an adviser in the Biology Student Services office, 103 Bessey Hall.

Two Advanced BIOL courses with lab or field components (from approved list)
Biology advanced courses (from approved list)9
Additional approved biology advanced courses12
Total Credits21
Mathematical Sciences 7 cr.

Students in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences must have a Math and Statistics.

MATH 160 or 181 or 165 and STAT 101 or 104
MATH 181
MATH 182
Calculus and Mathematical Modeling for the Life Sciences I
and Calculus and Mathematical Modeling for the Life Sciences II
MATH 165
MATH 166
Calculus I
and Calculus II
STAT 101 or 104 and STAT 3014-7
Physical Sciences
General Chemistry: 5 cr. minimum
CHEM 163
College Chemistry
and Laboratory in College Chemistry
CHEM 177
General Chemistry I
and Laboratory in General Chemistry I
CHEM 178
General Chemistry II
and Laboratory in College Chemistry II
Organic Chemistry: 4 cr. minimum
CHEM 231
Elementary Organic Chemistry
and Laboratory in Elementary Organic Chemistry
CHEM 331
Organic Chemistry I
and Laboratory in Organic Chemistry I
Biochemistry: 3 cr.
BBMB 316Principles of Biochemistry3
BBMB 404Biochemistry I3
BBMB 420Mammalian Biochemistry3
Physics: 5 cr. minimum
PHYS 115
Physics for the Life Sciences
and Laboratory in Physics for the Life Sciences
PHYS 111
PHYS 112
General Physics
and General Physics
International Perspective: 3 cr.
U.S. Diversity: 3 cr.
Communication/Information Literacy

Students must earn a C or better in ENGL 250 and the advanced communication course. Additionally, students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences must earn a C or better in ENGL 150.

ENGL 150Critical Thinking and Communication3
ENGL 250Written, Oral, Visual, and Electronic Composition3
LIB 160Information Literacy1
SP CM 212Fundamentals of Public Speaking3
or ENGL 312 Biological Communication
Total Credits10
Humanities and Social Sciences

Chosen from approved lists.

LAS - Biology
Note: Students must have completed 3 years of a single world language or take 4-8 credits of university level world language.
Humanities 12
Social Sciences9
Total Credits21
Humanities and Social Sciences

Chosen from approved lists.

CALS - Biology
Note: Students in CALS - Biology must take an approved speech course and an approved Math and Statistics course.
Social Sciences3
Total Credits9


ENGL 150 or 2503BIOL 1110.5All Summers: Consider internship, study abroad, field stations, research, clinical observation 
BIOL 1101BIOL 2123 
LIB 1601BIOL 212L1 
BIOL 2113Chemistry *4 
BIOL 211L1Social Science3 
CHEM 163/L or 177/L*5Math/Stat Choice*4 
 17 15.5 0
ENGL 250, elective or Foreign Language3-4BIOL 3133All Summers: Consider internship, study abroad, field stations, research, clinical observation 
BIOL 3124BIOL 313L1 
Chemistry or Biochemistry*3-4Biochemistry*3 
Advanced Biology3Foreign Language/Elective4 
 Advanced Biology w/Lab4 
 13-15 15 0
BIOL 3143BIOL 3153All Summers: Consider internship, study abroad, field stations, research, clinical observation 
PHYS 111 or 115X5PHYS 112* or electives5 
Advanced Biology w/Lab4Advanced Biology3 
US Diversity/Social Science3Int. Persp./Humanity3 
 15 14 0
Advanced Biology3Advanced Biology4 
Written Communication/Speech3Humanity3 
Social Science3Elective or Minor4 
Humanity3Math/Stat choice*4 
Elective or Minor4  
 16 15

Students must have 120 credits minimum to graduate.

This is only a suggested outline plan. Students may choose or be forced to deviate from this plan to satisfy unmet requirements, for scheduling reasons, or to add a minor or double major. We strongly suggest student involvement in internships, study abroad, summer field stations, Iowa Lakeside Lab, Field Trips in Biology or research opportunities at ISU. These will; enhance your program of study but may add credits or time to your degree plan.

Students are required to take 21 credits in advance biology of which 9 credits must be from the Biology Program, (BIOL), and 2 advanced BIOL courses must have a lab or field component.


Students should meet with a Biology Program advisor to determine the proper plans for chemistry, math and physics before selecting those options above.

Graduate Study

Biology is an undergraduate major only. Persons interested in graduate study in the biological sciences should apply directly to one of the life science graduate programs at Iowa State University. Interdepartmental graduate offerings in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology; Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Genetics; Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology; Neuroscience; Plant Biology; Toxicology; Immunobiology; and Environmental Science are also available. (See Index.)

A non-thesis master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies (biological sciences) has been established particularly for those who wish to have a more diversified program of advanced study than that generally permitted by specific departments and programs.