Department of Biological Sciences
Frequently Asked Questions About Biology from GS
students & Transfer Students
Q1: What should I take
first, biology or chemistry?
Take general chemistry first. See Q3 for the rationale.
Q2: I am premed, and never took college level bio before. What
biology class should I take?
you are a postbaccalaureate student, or a continuing education student, you should take Bio.
F2401-F2402. If you need to fulfill
the lab requirement for medical school, you should take
lab Bio W2501. You can take the lab
term; we advise taking it
after you complete F2401.
If you are a CC or GS undergraduate, you should take Bio C2005-2006 instead of
F2401-2402. You do NOT have to take W2501. There are many other ways to fulfill
the lab requirement for the major -- see the
major requirements page for details.
Note that chemistry is a prerequisite for Bio C2005 or F2401,
you should take general chemistry first. (See Q3 for the rationale
See Q5 for details of C2005 vs. F2401. If you have a problem with
the number of points, and need to take the 'other class' for more or less
points (4 for C2005 vs 3 for F2401) please contact the DUS, Dr.
Mowshowitz, dbm2 at columbia.edu.
A3: There is a big difference between most college science courses
most high school science courses. In high school, you
are usually expected to memorize the basic facts and principles. In
college, you are expected to learn the facts in much more
detail and you are also expected to
understand the principles in much greater depth (this is usually the hard part). This means (in
practical terms) that on exams you are asked to apply the principles that
you have learned to solve problems and to explain
totally new situations. This is just as true of biology as it is of
physics and chemistry -- college biology is an experimental
science, not a descriptive science. If you jump straight into Biology
C2005/F2401 without a year of college chemistry to help you "rev
up" you are likely to find the biology overwhelming.
Q3: Why do I have to
take chemistry before biology?
It also pays to take chemistry first for another reason. Most students who
take biology need to take chemistry (eventually). If
you are going to take chemistry anyway, you might as well take it first so
that the molecular parts of bio will make more sense.
Biologists use chemistry as language, the way physicists use math. You can
explain physics without math, but it takes a lot
longer and the explanations are not as satisfying, or you have to teach
the math as you go along. So it is simpler to just do the
math first and the physics after. Similarly, it makes more sense to do the
chemistry first and the biology second.
A4: Transfer students are required to start with C2005/F2401. (For
the difference between the two courses see Q5.) Intro bio here is
required because most students in the past who skipped it found themselves
struggling in upper level (3000 level) courses. If you repeat a year of intro
bio, you will receive 3 points of transfer credit toward graduation for the year
of intro you took elsewhere. However, the previous intro will not count
toward your bio or bio related major at CU. There are exceptions, but they
must be approved in advance by an advisor from the biology department. If and
only if your intro course was at a rigorous institution, and included a heavy
dose of genetics and biochemistry, AND you did well (& remember it), you may be
able to skip
C2005. If you learned a lot
of cell biology & physiology, you may be able to skip
in virtually all cases, you will need to take intro bio here. Why? Because
C2005/C2006 goes deeper and demands more thought and application of knowledge
than the usual introductory college bio course (or AP course). The course covers
less topics than usual, but each topic is covered in great detail. There is more
stress on problem solving and less on memorization. To make the nature of
C2005/6 clearer, you can look at the old exams & other course material on the web page for the
course (F2401/C2005) or
look at the Learner's Manual (which consists mostly of old exam questions). A
recent edition of the Manual (aka Problem Book) should be available in the
science library. If you look at all the available material, and still believe
you should be able to skip C2005/6, you need to get written permission from an
advisor in the biology department. Only students who have taken an
unusually rigorous intro course elsewhere will be granted exceptions. If you
plan to ask for an exception, we suggest you register for either
C2005/F2401 or a 3000 level course and attend both courses for the first week of
class. Once you decide which course is the right
level, you can drop or add courses as necessary.
Q4: I took introductory
biology somewhere else. Should I start with C2005/F2401or should I skip C2005
and start with a higher level (3000 level) course?
A5: Short answer: Not much -- there is a single web site for both classes.
Q5: What is the difference between Bio C2005 and Bio
* (Note that all exams in both classes, except
the final, are given in the late afternoon or at night.) Students from either class may attend either set of
lectures; students can switch back and forth as their schedules change (or they
even go twice a day if they want. However, C2005
students must attend C2005 recitations and F2401 students may attend only
F2401 recitations. The recitation sections for C2005 are listed separately on
the directory of classes -- Students in C2005 must sign up for a section (called
C2015, no points) with the registrar. F2401 students do not sign up; times and
rooms for the optional F2401 sections will be posted after school starts. All
recitations start the second week of classes.
The lectures in Bio C2005 and F2401 are identical and the overall work load in the
two courses is the same. However the amount of time a student is required to
spend in class is different. This is because C2005 has required recitations (with weekly quizzes) and F2401 has
optional recitations (no quizzes). Because of the required
recitation, Bio C2005 is 4 points while Bio F2401 is 3 points. The same
similarities and differences apply to Bio C2006 vs. F2402.
F2401 has optional recitations because it is assumed that many adult students:
have less time available to attend recitations because
of jobs and family responsibilities,
(2) do not want to pay for the extra
(3) have had more practice at pacing
themselves and are less likely to allow themselves to fall behind.
The exams in the two courses and the grading
scales for the exams are the same - the scale is set using the
scores of the C2005 (undergraduate) students. Therefore the exam scores needed to earn an
A are exactly the same in each class. However
the percentage of A's in each class is often different because the composition
of the two classes is not the same.
Undergraduates in GS &CC should take C2005, and postbacs and special students must register for
If you need additional information, contact the instructors or see
web page which includes notes from last year's lectures, a sample exam, etc.
you have a problem with the number of points, and need to take the 'other class'
for more or less points (4 for C2005 or C2006 vs 3 for F2401 or F2402) please
contact the DUS, Dr. Mowshowitz, dbm2 at columbia.edu.
For an index of web pages with information for
undergraduates, go to
For FAQs for First Year Students and Prospective Students,