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Frequently Asked Questions

Get answers to some of our most frequently asked questions below:

Q: When should I begin the Biology sequence?

A: You should begin the biology sequence with BIOL SCI 201 in the Spring quarter of your first year at Northwestern. The sequence then continues in the second year, with BIOL SCI 202 in the Fall.

Q: I am a pre-health undergraduate, should I pick up a biology major?   

A: Yes! Biology is the central science for medicine, and completion of the recommended pre-health curriculum constitutes completion of over 80% of the biology major. Further, several of our concentrations that constitute the remainder of major course work are tailored to enhance students’ knowledge of health oriented sub-disciplines such as Human Health and DiseaseMolecular NeurobiologyMolecular Genetics and Genomics, and Cell and Developmental Biology.    

Q: I have always been interested in Biology, but I am not pre-health. Should I choose a Biological Sciences major?

A: Yes! The best reason for choosing any major is your own interest in it! And, a biology major today prepares students for employment in a plethora of possible jobs, not just health related ones. 

Q: How do I declare a biology major? 

A: To declare a biology major: 

  1. Download the declaration form and fill out the student and major/minor information sections. Be sure to select a concentration within the major.
  2. Save the pdf named as: “<Your Last Name>_<Your Student ID>”.
  3. Submit the form to for department approval. You are welcome to request an advising appointment in advance of declaring. 
  4. The department approver will submit the completed and signed petition to the college for processing.  

Q: When should I declare the major?

A: Advantages of declaring our major as early as possible include having a Major Advisor and being able to register for up to two competitive-access classes during Preregistration. This advantage potentially begins when registering for the first course in our Core, BIOL SCI 201, for Spring of the 1st year. 

Q: How do I contact the biosci office? 

A: Please email us at, call us at 847 - 467- 2310, or visit us in Room 2-144, O.T. Hogan Hall, 2205 Tech Drive, Evanston, IL 60208.

Q: What courses are most competitive during registration/preregistration?

A: The sophomore year core classes (202/232, 203/233, 301+234) are particularly competitive due to laboratory timing issues, and majors are advised to register for them during Preregistration. 

Q: How often are courses offered?

A: Most 200 and 300 level courses are offered on a roughly annual basis.

Q: Is it possible to place out of BIOL_SCI 201? 

A: Yes. If you believe that your studies have prepared you well enough in biology that you don’t need 201, you may sit our placement exam; this exam can only be attempted once and is offered during the summer. Students typically sit the placement exam in the summer prior to their first year at Northwestern. Please note that we accept placement or course-crediting in other natural sciences, such as chemistry, physics, and math, on the basis of placement decisions made by those departments at Northwestern.  

This optional exam is recommended for students with a strong background in biology who think they could be ready for BIOL_SCI 202 Cell Biology. The exam covers core competencies in the molecular biology subject area and goes further than most high school AP/IB biology classes.

** Please note: the placement exam for academic year 2023-24 is now closed.

Q: The class I would like to take is full, what can I do? 

A: If a class is full, only the professor can decide to allow more students into the course. You can email the professor directly with your request, and, with their approval, our office can issue you a permission number to add the course to your schedule. This process is typically used for advanced students who need a course to graduate or move forward in a sequence of courses. Please remember to be polite in your request and briefly explain why you are making your request.  

Please note that room capacities impact class sizes. Our teaching laboratories have 24 seats and are never overloaded. We cannot allow more than 24 students in any laboratory section (BIOL_SCI 232, 233, 234).

Q: I've tried to enroll in a course on Caesar, but it says I haven't met the pre-requisites even though I know I have; what should I do and why is this happening? 

A: We offer students a variety of ways to meet pre-requisites, and unfortunately, Caesar is limited in how many 'alternatives' it can recognize to any given pre-requisite. Typically, impacted students have transfer credits or AP credits, or have taken alternative statistics courses like Psych 201. 

Please email with your student ID and the course/section number of the course in which you are attempting to enroll. After checking your student record and verifying the pre-requisite is met, the program assistant can issue you a permission number to override Caesar's objection to the 'missing pre-requisites'. This type of permission number will not override a full course and the program assistant cannot waive pre-requisites. 

Q: Why do I have a major advisor? 

A: Major advisors are assigned to undergraduates in biological sciences to give your academic career the benefit of expert guidance. Your major advisor will assist you with tailoring your major coursework to suit your Northwestern direction and career trajectory. Further, your major advisor will help you navigate your graduation requirements within the major. 

 Q: How do I identify my major advisor? 

A: When a biosci major first declares, we will send a welcome email with the name and contact information of their dedicated major advisor. You are welcome to email if you are unable to locate this information. 

Q: How can I meet with my major advisor? 

A: Currently, we are holding most advising appointments virtually over Zoom or phone. If you know the name and email of your major advisor, you may reach out to them directly and request the appointment. If you need help identifying your major advisor, please email and our program assistant will provide you with their name and contact information. 

Q: I want to do an independent research study; what is the process?  

A: Biological Sciences majors can receive special training, and/or initial laboratory experience, via Bio 398 registration. If an independent project is developed, a student may apply (after at least one quarter of 398) for 399 Independent Rresearch registration. Please see ourresearchpage for more information.  

 Q: How can I find a research lab? 

A: The Science Research Workshop can assist biological sciences majors in finding laboratories that may be accepting undergraduates for academic year research positions; biosci majors may also contact the Director of Biological Sciences. 

Q: How many concentrations can I fulfill?

A: Only one concentration per major can be recorded on a student's transcript (within any WCAS major). 

Q: Can I co-count classes among majors and minors?

A: Generally, "Related Classes" and "Core Classes" can be co-counted among different Majors and Minors, while Concentration and Elective Classes cannot be. (Simply as examples: courses in our 200 level series can be co-counted with another major, but our 300 level courses, above 301, cannot be.) 

Q: Can I apply SPS Classes to the major?

A: If an SPS class has the same course number as one of ours, other than having a -CN suffix, we accept it accordingly. No courses with a -DL suffix may be applied towards our major.

Q: How does a BioSci Major work for IPS students?

A: Students doing a joint ISP/Biological Sciences major must fulfill the three relevant Concentration classes, and all the ISP requirements per se.  

Q: Why doesn't the degree progress report on Caesar show that I've met a degree requirement when I took an appropriate course? 
A: Unfortunately, Caesar is limited in the number of ways it can automatically match degree requirements and completed coursework. We have a good deal of flexibility within our major that Caesar is not able to capture. During your time at NU, you may verify your progress towards degree requirements with our department by emailing, or with your major advisor. Once you are petitioning to graduate, you can work with the DUS to verify that you are meeting your degree requirements.  

Q: I took courses at another institution; how do I know what courses I can transfer into Northwestern and apply towards the major?

A: The guidelines for transferring courses depend on a variety of factors and are governed by both University policy and Weinberg college policy. The only additional Biological Sciences specific policy is that we do not accept transfer of any online courses; some very limited exceptions to this policy were made during the 2020-21 and 2021-22 academic years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Guidelines can be found here: Northwestern general policy is at the top of this page and Weinberg specific policies are outlined at the bottom of the page.

Q: What is the "Petitioning to Graduate" Process?

A: In Spring of the Junior year, a student submits to the Registrar a "Petition to Graduate". This is the legal document that precedes graduation and supersedes any previous Degree Progress Reports. Students file this at the Frevvo website, for all Majors and Minors they wish to accomplish (up to three Majors or Minors in total are allowed).  For a given Major like Biological Sciences, the student must indicate a "Catalog Year" on the Petition for which they wish to follow the Catalog requirements.
Frevvo then sends a notification to a Petition Approver (one of several faculty per major, usually not the same as the Adviser). Any substitutions of courses approved are noted in a particular section of the Petition. (See 'Typical Substitutions', below.)   

Q: How does Catalog year impact graduation?

A: A student may use any Catalog that was in existence while that student was at NU, but must then graduate under all the requirements of that particular Catalog year as they pertain to the major. Students pursuing more than 1 major/minor may select different catalog years for each; however, only 1 catalog may be used per major/minor. 

Q: Can I change my Petition to Graduate later?

A: A student who has submitted a Petition to Graduate, can later submit a new, replacement Petition at FREVVO. If the Concentration or Catalog year is changed, the student must also re-submit a Declaration of Major form to the Biological Sciences office, since Declaration and Petition must match. (It is desirable for a revised Declaration to be submitted and processed at least a week before a revised Petition, to avoid confusion at the Registrar's.) 

Q: I would like to improve my course performance, where can I find help?  

A: Northwestern has dedicated resources to support academic success for all students; visit the portal to learn about and access those resources. One of those helpful resources is Drop-in Peer Tutoring. The Writing Place is also an excellent source of academic support; students can receive assistance on a variety of different types of writing and services are not limited to writing for English courses. 

 Q: I feel overwhelmed by life, is there someone at Northwestern who can help me? 

A: Yes! Northwestern’s primary mental health service at Northwestern is called CAPS with offices on both the Evanston and Chicago campuses. CAPS provides a set of core services, including clinical services, educational workshops, and consultation with faculty, staff, and parents. There is no charge for CAPS services. All full-time matriculated students who go to CAPS will receive a personalized care plan tailored to their specific needs 

Q: Where can find information about how the university is responding to the COVID19 pandemic? 

A: Please visit the university’s page dedicated to sharing information about Northwestern’s pandemic response.