Welcome! We are excited that you are considering a major in the Department of Biological Sciences at Pitt. All 5 of our majors offer opportunities for developing critical thinking, curiosity, and problem solving; skills that can prepare students for a wide variety of graduate schools and careers. We encourage you to explore our website and reach out with any questions you have about our majors or opportunities within our Department.
The Department of Biological Sciences hosts 5 majors that offer students the chance to choose flexibility in course scheduling or deep focus in their studies. Details, requirements, and sample schedules for each can be found below.
The Biological Sciences major offers the freedom to choose great breadth or deep focus in an area of specialization. Students can choose from over 40 lecture and lab elective courses to build their own individualized path.
The Microbiology major immerses students in the study of micro-organisms including bacteria, fungi, algae, slime molds, protozoa, and viruses. In addition to required coursework, students have the opportunity to focus their studies through the choice of 2 elective lectures and 1 elective lab.|
The Molecular Biology majors focus on the study of the molecules that make up organisms, the forces that operate among these molecules, the chemical changes involved in the dynamic processes of life, and the genetic control of these processes. Students can specialize in either Biochemistry of Cell & Developmental Biology.
The Ecology & Evolution major encourages students to explore fundamental questions of how species live and interact in nature and the evolutionary origins of species. Students can focus their study through their choice of two elective courses including one required field course.
The Bioinformatics/Computational Biology major is an interdisciplinary major that builds a solid foundation in chemistry, biology, computer science, mathematics, and statistics. Students gain practical experience and focus their interests by choosing 4 elective courses.
Hands-on experiences deepen a students' relationship with their field of study as well as the other members of their community. The Department of Biological Sciences offers a number of Experiential Learning opportunites that students can do for credit to strengthen their skill sets and get real life experience in some potential career fields.
Undergraduate Research: Biology students participate in Undergraduate Research in labs across the entire city of Pittsburgh: on academic campuses, in hospitals and research institutes, the opportunities abound. Students can get a taste of research in our authentic research first year labs or get involved in independent research projects through on-campus matching programs such as First Experiences in Research or by simply reaching out to mentors of interest. Research can be done for credit and/or as part of the Life Sciences Research Certificate or Departmental Honors.
Undergraduate Teaching Assistants (UTA): Over half of biology undergraduates participate in the UTA program, working closely with faculty to strengthen their understanding of course material and develop their communication, collaboration, and organizational skills.
Undergraduate Peer Advising: Each semester a group of third and fourth year Peer Advisors host office hours and other events to share advice and build community across the Department of Biological Sciences. These Peer Advisors build relationships with faculty, staff, and students, gain leadership and mentoring experience, and fine tune their written communication skills by sharing their experiences on our PittBioBlog.
Building a Solid Foundation
How do I best prepare for college? Unfortunately there is no one answer to this question. Students come to Pitt from a wide range of schools with a wide range of opportunities and each student brings in their own unique history. While we cannot offer generic advice for acing your first year, we do have a few tips that may help guide you:
- Be active! Most college courses are moving away from straight lecture and memorization toward active learning and application of material to new scenarios. Many of our students say that they were unfamiliar with the flipped classrooms, classroom response systems, and case studies and had to relearn learning. Start now with moving away from memorization.
- Keep up with your second language. All Pitt students are required to complete two terms of a second language other than English. These courses are often 5 credits, meet 5 days/week, and take a good bit of time, which can be hard to fit in while pursuing a science major with some extracurriculars on the side. Students who complete three years (each with a grade of 'B' or higher) of a high school foreign language are exempt from this requirement.
- To AP or not to AP? It is possible to 'AP-out' of some classes at Pitt - and even to 'AP-into' some honors versions of classes (https://oafa.pitt.edu/apply/ap-ib-credit/). Doing well in AP courses can certainly help make a lighter first year or possibly allow students to be more prepared and confident in their first year classes. Are there any down sides to AP courses? Jumping straight into second year courses can be difficult while also making the transition to college. And some graduate programs do not accept AP credit. If you are considering this path, we recommend that you look at our advice on first year scheduling (see below) or talk with a biology advisor who can provide you with a more personalized analysis of your situation.
A Strong First Year
A strong first semester and year can set a student up for a successful college career. So how does one go about planning a course schedule that will allow you to succeed academically while also getting used to a new living environment, a schedule with a lot of free time, and a huge diversity of extracurricular opportunities pulling you in different directions? Good question. We have a few ideas to help students transition in their first semester. While the biology majors are all academically rigorous, it is possible to build slowly and the spread your classes wisely for maximum academic success.
We always recommend that students get their general chemistry sequence started their first semester (CHEM 0110). The 2 required chemistry sequences (1 year general chemistry and 1 year organic chemistry) are pretty fixed in their position and we do not recommend pushing them back as many of your biology courses will either require these classes or heavily depend on their content. It is a good idea to take 2 science/math courses your first semester if possible. Your second science/math course should depend on your background and previous training:
- Add BIOSC 0150: If you recently took AP Bio and did fairly well in the course and on the exam, are fully committed to putting in the in and outside of class time (~2 hours/day), are confident in your time management skills, are not spread too thin with clubs and other activities, and are passionate about science.
- Add BIOSC 0100: If it has been 3-4 years since your took Bio and you did ok, but are not confident in your level of preparedness, would like to work on your time management skills, would like to get involved in some clubs and other activities and test the waters of a biology major, would like to have a confidence-boosting (higher GPA first semester) to set you up for success with CHEM 0120 and BIOSC 0150 next semester and the rest of your college career.
- Add MATH 0220: If you recently took calculus in high school and did fairly well, would like a semester to build your time management skills while taking two majors-level science/math courses, would like to test the waters of a biology major without over-committing, would like to have a confidence-boosting (higher GPA) first semester to set you up for success with CHEM 0120 and BIOSC 0150 next semester and the rest of your college career.
Check out some more sample schedules here: https://www.biology.pitt.edu/node/3801
Students considering a major in the Department of Biological Sciences will begin their Pitt career as a student in the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences. During this exploratory phase, students are formally advised in the Dietrich Advising Center as they transition to campus, try out new clubs and experiences, and begin their coursework.
Before students can declare any of the Biology majors, they must complete both BIOSC 0160: Foundations of Biology II and CHEM 0120: General Chemistry 2 with grades of 'C' or better. After declaring a major in Biology, students are formally advised in the Biology Advising Office. All students (declared, undeclared, prospective) are welcome to visit the Biology Advising Office and talk with a Biology Advisor about their college plans, extracurriculars, or careers. Please stop by or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All prospective students are encouraged to reach out to the Office of Admissions for more information about the application process.