Guide for First-Year Students

Can I get Advanced Placement in Biology?

Advanced placement credit will be awarded for students who achieve the requisite scores on the AP Biology or IB Higher Level Biology exams. Biology 20 credit will be awarded for an AP Bio score of 4 or IB-HL Biology score of 6. Biology 21 credit will be provided with an AP Biology score of 5 or IB-HL Biology score of 7.

All biology majors will take the biology ‘gateway’ courses, Biology 201L and 202L, regardless of  AP BIO credit. These courses will introduce the three foundations of modern biology: molecular biology, genetics and evolution. The courses will take you deep into the topics, beyond AP Bio, and provide a foundation for other advanced courses in biology.

In addition, advanced placement is possible in chemistry, math and physics, depending on your exam scores and by the decision of the respective departments. Students who place out of the first year of chemistry or math will not have to retake those courses for the biology major. 

Note that although you can only use two AP credits to reduce the number of credits you need to take for graduation (from 34 to 32), any number of AP credits can be used for placement out of introductory courses. So, advanced placement in chemistry, math and physics will reduce the courses needed to complete the biology major, freeing you up to take more advanced courses or classes in other disciplines.

How do I get started in Biology Courses?

There are multiple options for beginning:

Option 1: Explore if biology is for you

Biology courses numbered <200 are often a great way for students to explore their interest or gain background in biology. For example, students can explore biology with firstyear seminars (89S courses) and Focus courses, or with 100-level lecture courses. However, courses 100-level and below do not count toward biology major requirements.

Option 2: Begin the Two-Course Gateway Sequence all majors must take

Biology 201L: Molecular Biology, requires Chem 21 (AP 5) or 101DL or 110DL* (offered Fall & Spring)
Biology 202L: Genetics and Evolution, no prerequisite (offered Fall & Spring)

Students may take these courses in any order. However, although Biology 202L has no formal prerequisites, it does build on basic molecular biology concepts and vocabulary learned in a prior biology course. Students who completed Biology 201L, AP Biology, or who otherwise have a strong preparation in biology typically perform better in Biology 202L than students without a prior biology course.

*Chemistry course pre-requisites are enforced at registration
Option 3: Start in a specific area of biology

Really excited to take a course about a specific area in biology such as plants or ecology? You can start with an elective. Explore the list of courses at the 200-level with seats available. We suggest paying careful attention to the recommended pre-reqs and following those guidelines. If you are unsure about your preparation, you can contact the instructor to see how your previous experience may or may not set you up for success. In the past, some first year students have enjoyed starting with:

Fall: Bio 209 (Ecology), Bio 261D (Race Genomics and Society), Bio 271(Marine Biology & Ecology)

Spring: Bio 205 (Marine Megafauna), Bio 207 (Organismal Evolution), Bio 209 (Ecology)

Frequently asked questions by first years:

I can’t take Biology 201L or 202L in the fall semester, am I behind? No, prospective Biology majors do not need to start these courses in the fall and often focus on getting on track with their math, chemistry, and foreign language requirements first. It is most common for Biology majors to start with Bio 201L or 202L in the spring of their first year or fall of their second year.

Students interested in health careers should expect to take Biology 201L and 202L. However, they typically start with Chemistry & Calculus in the fall and then enroll in in their first biology course in the spring of their first year or in the fall of their second year.  

When can I start research? It is typically a good idea to settle into your new academic home before jumping into research.  If you are excited to get started, we recommend using the first semester to connect with the Undergraduate Research Support (URS) Office and start networking to find a future research opportunity.

Can I do research related to medicine or something else specific? Yes, there are many options available to do research under the supervision or sponsorship of a faculty member faculty in the biology department and beyond. The faculty member may be in any Duke department, including Medical Center departments.

Can I get paid to do research? Yes, the URS office has information about how you can do work-study and get research experience at the same time. You cannot get paid and get credit for the same work.

How can I get credit for research? You can register for independent study and receive a grade and academic credit for your research. Most students will complete at least one or two semesters of independent study during their junior or senior year, although some students begin in their second or even their first year.

There is no limit on the number of semesters you can enroll in Independent Study, although only two semesters of approved independent study can be counted towards the Biology major. Independent Study will also satisfy one of the two laboratory course requirements for the major.

Many students will have their work published in the scientific literature and use their research as the basis for graduation with distinction. For more information, please visit independent study.

Connect with Biology in two ways:

  1. The Biology Majors Union email listserv is open to students at Duke with an interest in Biology. It's used both by the Biology Majors Union to spread the word about their events and activities, and for the Biology Undergraduate Studies Office to notify students about job opportunities, courses of interest, seminars, summer research programs, etc.

    To subscribe to the listserv (use your Duke email address):
    Send an email to Leave the subject line blank. For your message, type subscribe biomajors. Do not include any other text or a signature file. Or, you can visit the list's home page at <> and click to request to be added. Requests are approved manually so you won't be joined instantaneously. If you run into any problems subscribing yourself to the list, please contact Jill Foster, at
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    See what some of our current students are accomplishing and get information about courses and biology-related opportunities.