Starting Biology in the College

Initial placement in the appropriate level of Biology is essential to student success in science, neuroscience, pre-med and many other fields. For the majority of students who take Biology in their first year, the choice is to start with either BIOL 1121 or BIOL 1101 and should follow one of the two recommended Biology sequence tracks below.

Incoming First-Year and Transfer students may receive credit for the lecture portion of one introductory course (BIOL 1101, 1102, or 1121) by passing the Departmental placement exam for that course. These exams are offered annually at the start of the Fall semester and are open only to incoming First-Year and Transfer students. You must contact the Biology Undergraduate Coordinator to be registered for an exam.

  • The Department of Biology does not offer advanced placement credit based on external exams. See the Biology Department's website for additional information including internal placement exams.

Track 1

Recommended for students with AP, IB, or other advanced biology courses and high school chemistry. Introductory level:

  • BIOL 1121: Introduction to Biology: The Molecular Biology of Life (lecture and recitation, 1.0 c.u.)
  • BIOL 1123: Introductory Molecular Biology Lab (lab only, 0.5 c.u.)
  • BIOL 1124: Introductory Organismal Biology Lab (lab with one hour lecture, 0.5 c.u.)

Track 1 is a one semester introduction to the major and is designed for students with a strong foundation in high school Biology and Chemistry. It is generally recommended for students who have earned either a 4 or 5 on the AP Biology exam and who have also taken at least one course of high school Chemistry. The BIOL 1121 lecture covers topics similar to those found in BIOL 1101, but in greater detail and at a quicker pace. Majors are advised to complete BIOL 1121 lecture with BIOL 1123 lab.

NOTE: BIOL 1121 and 1123 should be taken concurrently.

Track 2

Recommended for students with one year of high school biology. Introductory level:

  • BIOL 1101: Introduction to Biology A (lecture and lab,1.5 c.u.)
  • BIOL 1102: Introduction to Biology B (lecture and lab, 1.5 c.u.)

Track 2 is the more standard two semester introduction to the major. Biology 1101 covers topics in cellular and molecular biology and genetics, and BIOL 1102 covers topics in ecology, evolution, and organismal biology. 

For more information and guidance on choosing the right Biology course and other STEM courses based on placement, high school background and current interests, see our Entering the STEM Fields at Penn interactive tool or PDF infographic (accessible).