Navigating Our Curriculum

This section will help you plan your courses in chemistry or biology (including a major if you so desire) and will help you be successful in your learning. Please consider this advice seriously.

Investigations Handbook

Investigations handbook (PDF). Your instructors will refer to parts of this handbook in both introductory and advanced courses in biology and chemistry. Grinnell College's Investigations is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License. Contact staff in the Science Division office with questions: 641-269-3172.


Listed below are sample schedules for students majoring in biology, chemistry, and biological chemistry. If you are looking for course descriptions, visit the College Catalog.


First-year fall — BIO 150 or CHM 129; MAT 131 (123)

First-year spring — BIO 150 or CHM 129; **MAT 133 (124)

Second-year fall — BIO 251; CHM 221++

Second-year spring — BIO 252; **CHM 222 or **MAT 209

Third and fourth-years — 5 electives* (can include summer research or classes). A maximum of four credits of advanced work in a related field may be applied toward the major. The following courses are on the approved list: ANT-221 or ANT-325; PSY-336; NRS-250.


First-year fall — CHM 129; MAT 131 (123)

First-year spring — CHM 210 (formerly CHM 130); MAT 133 (124)

Second-year fall — CHM 221++; PHY 131; (MAT 133)

Second-year spring — CHM 222; PHY132

Third-year fall — CHM 363

Third-year spring — Elective

Fourth-year fall — Elective

Fourth-year spring — Elective

Biological Chemistry

First-year fall — BIO 150 or CHM 129; MAT 131 (or 123)

First-year spring — BIO 150 or CHM 129; MAT 133 (124)

Second-year fall — BIO 251; CHM 221++

Second-year spring — BCM 262; CHM 222

Third-year fall — PHYs 131

Third-year spring — PHYs 132

Fourth-year fall — CHM 363

Fourth-year spring — Elective*

* Note that one advanced elective must be taken in the third or senior year.

** These courses are not required but are suggested.

++ Note that students with Chemistry AP/IB credit must take CHM 130 as a prerequisite to CHM 221.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you’re unsure about where you’re headed (biology, biological chemistry, or chemistry) you should take BIO 150, CHM 129, MAT 131, and MAT 133 in your first year. This will leave all options open to you. In the fall of your second year, you should enroll in BIO 251 and CHM 221. At this point (prior to the spring semester of your second year) you will need to decide if you intend to pursue the biology, biological chemistry, or chemistry major. You must declare a major (download form from the Registrar; GrinnellShare login required), and prepare a four-year plan before your fifth-semester registration.

Planning for off-campus study requires careful consideration. It is to your advantage to begin the planning process in your first year. If you are planning an off-campus experience you should plan to be away during your fifth, sixth, or seventh semester. Biological chemistry and chemistry majors should talk with their advisers about when physics and physical chemistry should be taken in relation to an off-campus experience. 

Independent research is a central part of all three majors. It is required for chemistry major, and strongly recommended for biology and biological chemistry majors.

To be considered for honors in biology, graduating seniors, in addition to meeting the College’s general requirements for honors (see Academic Catalog), must conduct an independent research project (either at Grinnell or elsewhere) and share their findings with fellow biologists in a departmental seminar. The award of honors is not based solely on grades and achievement in the classroom or lab. It signifies, in addition, an underlying commitment to the discipline as evidenced by participation in departmental affairs and activities (e.g., acting as a teaching assistant or mentor, or serving on the SEPC), including regular attendance at departmental seminars.

You can major in any of the three areas above (or any other at the College), but will want to take the following science courses before you take the MCATs (Medical College Admission Tests): BIO 150, BIO 251 and BIO 252, CHM 129, CHM 210 (formerly CHM 130), CHM 221 and CHM 222, PHY 131 and PHY 132, MAT 131 and MAT 133 (or MAT 123 and MAT 124). Students who wish to go on to medical school right after graduation should plan to take the MCATs in April of their third year. Since this limits their options in non-science courses, most students take the MCATs at the end of their senior year and spend a year following graduation gaining work experience in a medical or research setting. Grinnell’s Health Professions Advisory Committee can help you with these decisions.

If you are interested in becoming a teacher, you must contact the education department prior to preregistration in the first semester of your second year. To be certified to teach in a scientific discipline at the secondary level, you’ll have to take five (5) education courses in addition to major requirements. See the College Catalog for more specifics.

That’s OK. You’re here to explore your interests! Regardless of your potential career plans, it is to your advantage to discuss your interests with your adviser as soon as possible. Planning ahead isn’t like signing a contract — it will help you to keep your options open.

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