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 courses in other disciplines.

How do I get started in Biology Courses?

First‐year students can explore biology with first‐year seminars (Biology 89S and Focus courses); biology courses numbered < 200 do not count toward the biology major but are often a great way for students to explore their interest and gain background in biology. There are two introductory course sequences for the biology major:

Sequence 1. For any student: Two-Course Gateway Sequence

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 courses. Students who took 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
Sequence 2 (No longer available after Spring 2024)

Biology 203L: Molecular Biology, Genetics, and Evolution, requires Biology AP 5 or IB-HL 7, and Chem 21 (AP 5) or 101DL or 110DL*

Notes about Common Situations

Typically, there are few seats available for 1st year students in Biology 201L and 202L for the fall semester – that’s OK.  Prospective Biology majors do not need to take them in the fall and should focus on getting on track with their math, chemistry, and foreign language requirements. Most students planning to take a Gateway course will start as early the spring of the first year, or fall of their second year.

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 first‐year seminars (89S courses) and Focus courses, or with 100-level lecture courses. However, these courses do not count toward the biology major.

Prehealth students should expect to take Biology 201L and 202L. However, they typically start with Chemistry & Calculus in the fall, and would then enroll in in their first biology course in the spring of their first year or in the fall of their sophomore year. This is acceptable even for students who plan to major in biology. 

The Biomajors Listserv

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 (please 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 subscribe. Once submitted, there be a delay in getting added as requests are approved individually.

If you run into any problems subscribing yourself to the list, please contact Jill Foster, at

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Can I do research and independent study?

All biology majors are encouraged to pursue independent research in the biological sciences under the supervision or sponsorship of a faculty member. The faculty member may be in any Duke department, including Medical Center departments. 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. No credit can be awarded for paid work.

There is no limit on the number of semesters your can enroll in Independent Study, although only two semesters of independent study can be counted towards the major. Independent Study will also satisfy one of the two laboratory course requirements for the major, as well as the Small Group Learning Experience (SGLE) requirement for graduation. Additionally, Independent Study can be used to satisfy the Trinity requirement for a Research Course (R). Students may also request a Writing (W) code for an independent study with approval of their Research Supervisor and the Director of Undergraduate Studies. 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.