Rules and Restrictions

General Rules and Restrictions

1. For a Biology major with a second major, at least five Biology course units must be used only for the Biology major. These courses may be counted toward general college requirements, but they may not be counted toward the student's other major or minors.

2. Students may count only one of the following toward the additional elective courses: NRSC 1110  or BIOL 1999. 

3. Students may count 1.0 cu of BIOL 3999 for the major. A Biology faculty member must oversee any BIOL 3999 and is responsible for approving the initial proposal and the final paper. In addition, students may count 1.0 cu of BIOL 4999 toward the major, provided all of the other courses for the "four additional courses" are Biology Department courses. If a student wishes to count courses from outside the department toward the "four additional courses" requirement, then the student may only count one semester of independent study toward the major and can count the other semester as a College general elective.

*As of July 2024, there are no restrictions on the additional elective courses a student can take if they decide to apply two credits of independent research (BIOL 3999/4999) to the elective requirements.

4. BIOL 2510 may be counted toward the requirement for the additional electives or toward the math requirement, but not toward both. If the math requirement is fulfilled by other courses, BIOL 2510 can still be used as one of the "four additional courses" but none of the courses listed in item #2 can be used towards the "four additional courses" requirement. Beginning in Fall 2024, students cannot take both BIOL 2510 and STAT 1110.

5. All juniors should meet with their advisors during the Spring semester prior to registering for Fall classes. Between junior and senior year, students' worksheets will be updated and rising seniors will be notified of their remaining requirements for the major.

6. All requirements must be met by actual course credit; exemptions or waivers from other departments do not satisfy the requirements for the Biology major or minor.  Students who receive a waiver for introductory biology or any of the introductory labs must still fulfill the credit requirements of the major.

7. Unless the student’s home school is Penn LPS, students are generally not allowed to take Biology courses through LPS. Additionally, students are not allowed to count LPS biology courses toward the biology major requirements. The only biology courses offered through LPS that are exceptions to this rule are BIOL 1101, 1102, 3054, and 4004. However, you are allowed count other extra-departmental courses (MATH, CHEM, PHYS) taken through LPS toward the major requirements.

8. A minimum 2.0 grade point average for all courses taken to satisfy the major is required in order to graduate as a Biology major. (You may have a "C-" or "D" in one or more courses, but your overall average in     the major must be at least 2.0).


Independent Study

Only one credit unit of independent study is allowed per semester.

An independent study student is normally expected to devote 10-20 hours/week to the project, including reading, actual research time, discussion with mentors, and preparation of the required paper.

Students may not receive independent study credit for paid work (such as a work-study job). You may, however, carry out a separate project for independent study credit in the same laboratory where you are working for pay. In such cases, the distinction between paid work and independent study research should be spelled out clearly in the Biol 399 application form, and students should devote approximately 10-20 hours/week of unpaid work to their independent study project.

Independent study credit is not given for research done at institutions other than the University of Pennsylvania.

Faculty sponsors and co-sponsors must agree that the student can use all data generated during the project in preparation of the required research paper. Independent study students cannot work on projects in which data will be withheld due to commercial agreements or other barrier to free dissemination of research information. Projects with a predominately clinical focus may not be appropriate for independent research.

Students are allowed to count one independent research credit from a second department as Biol 399/499. Final research paper must be submitted to the department.



Departmental Waiver

If a student satisfies the following conditions, they may apply for a waiver for BIOL 1121.

  • grades of B or better in at least two semesters of chemistry taken at Penn, and
  • a grade of at least "B" in Chem 2510 - Principles of Biological Chemistry and
  • has taken (or is currently enrolled in) Chem 2411 - Organic Chemistry I

Once the waiver is issued, student is expected to follow Track 1 of the major. This includes taking the BIOL 1123 and 1124 labs. In addition to all other Track 1 major requirements, students with a waiver must take an additional course at the 2000-level or above. This course cannot be used to satisfy any other major requirements, as it will be used to replace the BIOL 1121 actual credit requirement. If a student seeks a waiver for one or two of the labs, they will also need to satisfy this waiver with actual credit (general rule 6).

The same policies apply for those with a waiver who intend to pursue a Biology minor.

Please note: The waiver issued is intended for biology majors. If you do not intend to major or minor in Biology, please check with your corresponding department on the validity of our waiver.

External WaiversExemptions or waivers from other departments cannot be used to satisfy Biology major requirements if there is no credit associated with the exemption/waiver.


Transfer Credit

If you have taken Biology courses at another university or college before being a student at Penn, you may request to transfer your previous coursework through the College XCAT website, which can be accessed under "Academic Planning & Registration". 

College coursework taken while a student is in high school will not be accepted as transfer credit.

Please note: Transfer students are required to take at least 8 course units of the biology major here at Penn. Students will be allowed to count, at most, 8 transfer credits toward the biology major.   


Credit Away

After matriculating at Penn, biology courses taken during the summer or at other institutions during the semester are considered Credit Away unless they are field courses or Study Abroad (see below).

Students can submit requests for departmental review on the XCAT system through PATH@Penn. Requests should at least include a course description and syllabus that includes lecture/lab hours, textbook(s) used, and topics covered.

As of Fall 2023, unless there are extraordinary circumstances, requests for credit away will only be approved for introductory courses and laboratories. 2000- and 3000-level course requests will be generally denied unless the course is a unique biology course not offered at Penn and is appropriate for the biology major.

Courses offered by a community or junior college will not be approved.


Study Abroad

Students interested in doing a semester abroad should complete the introductory biology requirement and all required math, physics and chemistry courses by the end of their sophomore year. Students would be able to enroll in advanced Biology courses when they return to Penn for their senior year. Majors should discuss their program plans with the Undergraduate Coordinator or their major advisor as soon as they start to consider the possibility of studying abroad. 


Field Courses

For students who are interested in taking summer field courses, we suggest that you select one of the field courses offered by one of the recommended field stations. This list includes university field stations in the Appalachians and Rocky Mountains, marine field stations on the East Coast, California, and Bermuda, and field stations at a variety of other sites throughout the United States. If you wish to count one or two of these field courses toward your major, you should follow the usual procedures for obtaining transfer credit via XCAT.