FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FROM FIRST YEAR STUDENTS & Prospective Students)  Last Update 08/24/2021

Q1: I am planning to major in the biological sciences (biology, biochemistry, etc.) What biology course should I take, and when? Answer

Q2. I am planning to be premed. Do I take the same courses as a bio major in my first 2 years? Ans: Yes! 

Q3: I am really interested in biology. Why should I take chemistry first? Answer

Q4: 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? Answer

Q5: I got a 5 in AP Biology and I am leaning toward molecular biology or medicine. What should I do? Answer

Q6: Will I get credit for my AP biology if I take the introductory biology course? Answer

Q7:If I skip UN2005-UN2006, and go right to a 3000 level course, how does that affect the requirements for the major? Answer

Q8: I have read the bulletin and the Q & A given here, but I still have questions. Where do I go for advice? Answer

Q9: Does AP credit count toward the science requirement? Answer

Q10:What is First Year Seminar? Answer

Q11. Will I get a chance to work in a real research laboratory? Answer

For a summary of resources that are available, see 'How to Find What you Need.'

 

Questions and Answers:

Q1: I am planning to major in the biological sciences. What biology course should I take, and when?

A1:  Whatever introductory biology class you decide to take, you should take chemistry now, including lab, in your first year. You can take introductory biology at the same time, although most students wait until their second year. You are encouraged to take First Year Seminar, BIOL UN1908, now, in your first semester. (See Q10.) There are two major introductory biology classes in the fall semester, EEEB UN2001 (environmental & evolutionary emphasis) and BIOL UN2005 (molecular bio & biotech emphasis). Majors in the biological sciences may start with either class. UN2001 may be taken in the first or second year, while UN2005 is generally taken in the second year because it has a prerequisite of 1 year of college chemistry. (See questions below for more details.)

Our general recommendations are as follows: 

If you are primarily interested in molecular biology, biochemistry, or biophysics, take chemistry (including lab) now, in your first year, and take BIOL UN2005-UN2006 in your sophomore year. (This is generally recommended even if you have a 5 on the bio AP. See question 5.)

If you are primarily interested in environmental science, take chemistry now, and then either (1) take EEEB UN2001 this fall along with chemistry or (2) let the biology wait until your sophomore year. For additional information on environmental biology, see the department of  E3B (Ecological, Evolutionary, & Environmental Biology).   

If you are planning to major in neurosciences and behavior, chemistry is recommended (not required) but you are urged to take chemistry and/or psychology in your first year and BIOL UN2005/2006 in the second.

If you absolutely cannot face chemistry now, then you should start with EEEB UN2001 in your first term and take chemistry later.

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Q3: Why should I take chemistry right away?

A3: 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. You can explain physics without math, or biology without chemistry, but it takes a lot longer and the explanations are not as satisfying. So we either have to teach chemistry as we go along, or ask students to take chemistry before biology. EEEB UN2001 uses the first approach ("teach it as we go") so students can take biology right away without waiting a year. BIOL UN2005 uses the second approach ("chemistry first") on the grounds that almost everyone is going to take chemistry anyway (eventually), so you might as well take it first. 

If you achieved an AP5 in chemistry, you may consider taking BIOL UN2005 in your first year. Otherwise, if you jump straight into Biology UN2005 without a year of college chemistry, you are likely to find the chemical details overwhelming.  Return to Questions

 

Q4: 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?

A4: All biology courses (except 3201y) count toward the science requirement.  Unfortunately, most are not suitable for most nonscience majors.  There is one biology course in the dept that is designed entirely for nonscientists: Bio UN1130y, Genes and Development. We hope to add more in the near future. EEEB W2001 (Environmental Biology I) is suitable for some nonscientists and can be used for the science requirement with prior approval of the instructor.


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Q5: I got a 5 in AP bio and I am leaning toward molecular biology or medicine. What should I do?

A5: You should take chemistry as a first year student; either general chemistry, 2nd term general chemistry (intensive) or intensive organic chemistry for first year students. Consult , the Chemistry department for placement. (See question 3 for the rationale.) You are encouraged to take first year seminar in biology in your first semester (see question 10), and to take BIOL UN2005/6 in your sophomore year. If you are eager to get started on biology right away, you can take EEEB UN2001 in your first year, and continue with BIOL UN2006 in your first or second year. (Only extraordinarily well prepared students should take UN2005 in their first year. See below.)

Why take BIOL UN2005-UN2006 if you 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  BIOL UN2005/6. You may review this exam from a past year of UN2005 and review your answers with the exam key. This will give you an idea of what makes UN2005/6 a unique Intro Bio sequence.

When to take BIOL UN2005-UN2006?
    Most CC * SEAS students take BIOL UN2005-UN2006 in their sophomore or junior year.
    If you are planning to major in biology, biochemistry, etc. it is best to take BIOL UN2005-UN2006 in your sophomore year. If you take it as a junior it is difficult to fit in all the upper level biology courses needed for the major.
    If you have a sufficiently strong background in biology & chemistry, you can take BIOL UN2005-UN2006 (along with chemistry) in your first year -- but you have to get permission from one of the instructors. (No special permission required for EEB UN2001.) Most first year students find BIOL UN2005-UN2006 is too demanding for a student without a year of previous college experience. You may review this exam from a past year of UN2005 and review your answers with the exam key. This will give you an idea of what makes UN2005/6 a unique Intro Bio sequence.

What if I skip BIOL UN2005 &/or UN2006?
    If you are sufficiently well prepared, you can skip BIOL UN2005/EEBUN2001 and start with UN2006 or a 3000-level biology course as a second year student. If you are not sure whether you should take intro bio or not, consult the instructors of UN2005. You may review this exam from a past year of UN2005 and review your answers with the exam key. This will give you an idea of what makes UN2005/6 a unique Intro Bio sequence. (See question 7 for how this changes the requirements for the major.)
 We do not advise taking a 3000 level biology course as a first year student. You should not even think about this, unless you have had an extraordinary preparation in high school. Even if you are sure you have the necessary preparation, 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. Return to Questions

 

Q6: Will I get credit for my AP biology if I take intro bio over again?

A6: Yes. If you got a 5 on the bio AP 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. You may review this exam from a past year of UN2005 and review your answers with the exam key. This will give you an idea of what makes UN2005/6 a unique Intro Bio sequence.
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Q7:If I skip intro bio, and go right to a 3000 level course, how does that affect the requirements for the major?

A7: You have to take the same total number of 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. If you already know the material in UN2005 &/or UN2006 you do not have to take UN2005/6, and you will have the opportunity to take more advanced classes. If you want to start with a 3000 level course, we do not recommend doing it in your first year. Wait until your 2nd year.  Return to Questions

 

Q8: I have read the bulletin and the Q & A listed here, but I still have questions. Where do I go for advice?

A8: 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.  Return to Questions

 

Q9:Does AP credit count toward the science requirement?

A9: 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. See answer to Q1 for details on biology courses for science majors and answer to Q4 for details on courses for nonscientists. (Note: If you had a good AP course in any science, the courses for nonscientists in that field may be too elementary.) Return to Questions

 

Q10: What is First Year Seminar?

A10: Bio 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 and other institutions in the N.Y. area 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 .
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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 How you can do Research.

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