The zoology major is a gateway to the diverse areas of modern biology. The major can be tailored to prepare students for advanced study and careers in many different areas: health professions and public health; law; life sciences research in university, government, and industrial settings; education including museum, nature center, secondary school, and college teaching; biotechnology; and environmental studies.

Specialized preparation is offered in ecology, systematics, limnology, morphology, molecular biology, cellular biology, developmental biology, genetics, neurobiology, physiology, evolution, and behavior. Several possible areas, emphasizing different interests, are outlined in the requirements tab. They include ecology, evolution, and behavior; anatomy, physiology, and organismal biology; and cellular, molecular, and developmental biology. The department encourages undergraduate participation in research and offers summer research scholarships to outstanding students.

Goals of the Zoology Major

The zoology major emphasizes critical thinking and conceptual skills that come from an understanding of how scientific information is obtained and evaluated, and of how this information can be applied to societal issues. The major provides a solid foundation in genetic, cellular, physiological, ecological, and evolutionary principles, and in the related disciplines of chemistry, physics, and mathematics. As a result, the major fosters an understanding of biological complexity including the interrelationships among humans and natural systems.

The unique characteristics of the zoology major include:

  • broad-based, yet integrated training in wide-ranging areas of biology;
  • solid foundation of basic principles and processes in biology;
  • flexibility and advising needed to allow students to tailor the major to their specific goals;
  • wide range of opportunities for undergraduate involvement in independent research and senior thesis.

Declaring the Zoology Major

All students who are interested in pursuing the zoology major must schedule an appointment with a department advisor. No major declaration forms are required to declare zoology.

Note: Students in the College of Letters & Science (L&S) may be declared by a department advisor immediately. Students who are not currently in L&S need to either transfer into L&S or have permission from their school or college to pursue an additional major in zoology. Instructions for transferring into L&S are available on the L&S Student Academic Affairs website.

University General Education Requirements

All undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison are required to fulfill a minimum set of common university general education requirements to ensure that every graduate acquires the essential core of an undergraduate education. This core establishes a foundation for living a productive life, being a citizen of the world, appreciating aesthetic values, and engaging in lifelong learning in a continually changing world. Various schools and colleges will have requirements in addition to the requirements listed below. Consult your advisor for assistance, as needed. For additional information, see the university Undergraduate General Education Requirements section of the Guide.

General Education
  • Breadth—Humanities/Literature/Arts: 6 credits
  • Breadth—Natural Science: 4 to 6 credits, consisting of one 4- or 5-credit course with a laboratory component; or two courses providing a total of 6 credits
  • Breadth—Social Studies: 3 credits
  • Communication Part A & Part B *
  • Ethnic Studies *
  • Quantitative Reasoning Part A & Part B *

* The mortarboard symbol appears before the title of any course that fulfills one of the Communication Part A or Part B, Ethnic Studies, or Quantitative Reasoning Part A or Part B requirements.

College of Letters & Science Breadth and Degree Requirements: Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)

Students pursuing a bachelor of arts degree in the College of Letters & Science must complete all of the requirements below. The College of Letters & Science allows this major to be paired with either a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of science curriculum. View a comparison of the degree requirements here.

Bachelor of Arts degree requirements

Mathematics Fulfilled with completion of University General Education requirements Quantitative Reasoning a (QR A) and Quantitative Reasoning b (QR B) coursework. Please note that some majors may require students to complete additional math coursework beyond the B.A. mathematics requirement.
Foreign Language
  • Complete the fourth unit of a foreign language; OR
  • Complete the third unit of a foreign language and the second unit of an additional foreign language

Note: A unit is one year of high school work or one semester/term of college work.
L&S Breadth
  • Humanities, 12 credits: 6 of the 12 credits must be in literature
  • Social Sciences, 12 credits
  • Natural Sciences, 12 credits: must include one 3+ credit course in the biological sciences; must include one 3+ credit course in the physical sciences
Liberal Arts and Science Coursework 108 credits
Depth of Intermediate/Advanced work 60 intermediate or advanced credits
Major Declare and complete at least one (1) major
Total Credits 120 credits
UW-Madison Experience 30 credits in residence, overall
30 credits in residence after the 90th credit
Minimum GPAs 2.000 in all coursework at UW–Madison
2.000 in intermediate/advanced coursework at UW–Madison

Non–L&S students pursuing an L&S major

Non–L&S students who have permission from their school/college to pursue an additional major within L&S only need to fulfill the major requirements and do not need to complete the L&S breadth and degree requirements above.

Requirements for the Major

Math, Chemistry & Physics

Math—complete one:5-6
and Trigonometry
Algebra and Trigonometry
Calculus with Algebra and Trigonometry I
and Calculus with Algebra and Trigonometry II
Chemistry—complete one:5-9
General Chemistry I
and General Chemistry II
Advanced General Chemistry
Physics—complete one:8-10
General Physics
and General Physics
General Physics
and General Physics
General Physics
and General Physics
Total Credits18-25

30 credits in Biology and zoology coursework

Introductory Biology

Option 1: Introductory Biology
Introductory Biology
and Introductory Biology
Option 2: BIOCORE
Required courses:
Evolution, Ecology, and Genetics
Cellular Biology
Organismal Biology
Biological Interactions
Select two of the following:
Evolution, Ecology, and Genetics Laboratory
Cellular Biology Laboratory
Organismal Biology Laboratory
Option 3: Animal Biology 1
Animal Biology
and Animal Biology Laboratory
Total Credits10-18

BOTANY/​BIOLOGY  130 is recommended, but not required for students pursuing Option 3.

Zoology Electives 2

Neurobiology of Disease
Directed Studies in Zoology
Invertebrate Biology and Evolution
Invertebrate Biology and Evolution Lab
Introduction to Entomology
Aquatic Invertebrate Biology
Limnology-Conservation of Aquatic Resources
and Laboratory for Limnology-Conservation of Aquatic Resources
Extinction of Species
Medical Entomology
Evolutionary Biology
Behavioral Ecology
Comparative Anatomy of Vertebrates
General Ecology
Principles of Genetics
Introduction to Animal Development
Plant-Insect Interactions
Modeling Animal Landscapes
Ecology of Fishes
and Ecology of Fishes Lab
and Birds of Southern Wisconsin
Theoretical Ecology
Laboratory in Developmental Biology
Human Cytogenetics
Principles of Landscape Ecology
Cell Biology
Computer-based Gene and Disease/Disorder Research Lab
Lab Course in Neurobiology and Behavior
Molecular Ecology
Cellular Signal Transduction Mechanisms
Conservation Biology
Climate Change Ecology
Historical Ecology
Senior Honors Thesis
and Senior Honors Thesis
Senior Thesis
and Senior Thesis
Directed Study
Directed Studies in Zoology
Total Credits12-20

A maximum of 10 credits of Directed Study (ZOOLOGY 299, ZOOLOGY 698, ZOOLOGY 699), Senior Thesis (ZOOLOGY 691, ZOOLOGY 692), or Senior Honors thesis (ZOOLOGY 681, ZOOLOGY 682) count toward the 30 credits required for the major.

Residence and quality of work

2.000 GPA in all ZOOLOGY and major courses

2.000 GPA on 15 upper-level major credits, taken in residence 3

15 credits in ZOOLOGY, taken on the UW–Madison campus


ZOOLOGY 300–699 and intermediate/advanced BIOCORE are considered upper level in the major.

Honors in the Major

Students may declare Honors in the Zoology Major in consultation with the Zoology undergraduate advisor(s).

Honors in the Zoology Major Requirements

To earn a B.A. or B.S. with Honors in the Major in Zoology students must satisfy both the requirements for the major (above) and the following additional requirements:

  • Earn a 3.300 overall university GPA
  • Earn a 3.500 GPA in all courses that count toward the major
  • Complete 12 credits, taken for Honors, with individual grades of B or better. Select 6 credits from the following list:
ZOOLOGY/​ANTHRO/​BOTANY  410 Evolutionary Biology3
ZOOLOGY/​BOTANY/​F&W ECOL  460 General Ecology4
GENETICS 466 Principles of Genetics3
ZOOLOGY 470 Introduction to Animal Development3
ZOOLOGY 504 Modeling Animal Landscapes3-5
Ecology of Fishes
and Ecology of Fishes Lab
and Birds of Southern Wisconsin
ZOOLOGY/​PSYCH  523 Neurobiology3
ZOOLOGY/​NTP/​PHYSIOL/​PSYCH  524 Neurobiology II: An Introduction to the Brain and Behavior3
ZOOLOGY/​PSYCH  550 Animal Communication and the Origins of Language3
ZOOLOGY 570 Cell Biology3
ZOOLOGY 603 Endocrinology3-4
ZOOLOGY 611 Comparative and Evolutionary Physiology3
ZOOLOGY/​BOTANY/​ENVIR ST/​F&W ECOL  651 Conservation Biology3

And complete a two-semester Senior Honors Thesis in ZOOLOGY 681 Senior Honors Thesis and ZOOLOGY 682 Senior Honors Thesis, for a total of 6 credits.1


 A written thesis proposal must be approved by the thesis mentor and the departmental advisor.

By the beginning of the senior year, each honors student will develop a written thesis proposal that must first be approved by the thesis mentor and then by a department advisor. Two semesters of Senior Honors Thesis (ZOOLOGY 681 and ZOOLOGY 682, 6 total credits) must be taken; the first semester can be done during the summer, especially for students doing field research. Completion of ZOOLOGY 682 requires a written thesis approved and graded by the thesis mentor.

University Degree Requirements 

Total Degree To receive a bachelor's degree from UW–Madison, students must earn a minimum of 120 degree credits. The requirements for some programs may exceed 120 degree credits. Students should consult with their college or department advisor for information on specific credit requirements.
Residency Degree candidates are required to earn a minimum of 30 credits in residence at UW–Madison. "In residence" means on the UW–Madison campus with an undergraduate degree classification. “In residence” credit also includes UW–Madison courses offered in distance or online formats and credits earned in UW–Madison Study Abroad/Study Away programs.
Quality of Work Undergraduate students must maintain the minimum grade point average specified by the school, college, or academic program to remain in good academic standing. Students whose academic performance drops below these minimum thresholds will be placed on academic probation.
  1. Understand the principles of genetics.
  2. Understand the principles of cellular biology.
  3. Understand the principles of physiology.
  4. Understand the principles of ecology.
  5. Understand the principles of evolution.
  6. Understand current issues in biology.
  7. Provide solid connections to related disciplines of chemistry, physics and mathematics.
  8. Understand how scientific information is obtained.
  9. Understand biological complexity.
  10. Understand the interrelationship of humans and natural systems.
  11. Develop quantitative reasoning skills (ability to solve problems requiring mathematic/statistical reasoning).
  12. Develop critical thinking skills (ability to identify a problem, identify the information needed to solve the problem, and develop methods for solving the problem).
  13. Develop skills to effectively communicate scientific information through oral presentations.
  14. Develop skills to effectively communicate scientific information through written reports.
  15. Develop skills to critically evaluate scientific information.
  16. Develop an ability to engage in scientific inquiry.
  17. Develop an ability to plan scientific experiments.
  18. Access scientific information from various electronic and print sources.
  19. Apply scientific knowledge to societal issues.
  20. Appreciate the diversity of life.
  21. Build a strong foundation for potential graduate study.
  22. Develop a sense of competence in the field of study.


Students are encouraged to consult with a department advisor to construct individual programs appropriate to their own needs. Please use scheduling assistant or call 608-262-2742 to make an appointment with an advisor. Kayla Pelland (kpelland@wisc.edu) is available to meet with students on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings in B154 Birge Hall, and Joel Gruley (jgruley@wisc.edu) is available on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons in 156 Birge Hall.

Directed Study

For students interested in a short-term undergraduate research experience in a particular area of zoology, the department offers ZOOLOGY 699 Directed Studies in Zoology. ZOOLOGY 699, recommended for juniors and seniors, is graded on an A to F scale. Students cannot take directed studies on a pass/fail basis.

Directed study allows students to gain experience in a wide range of research areas in biology and to learn research techniques that are not easily taught in the classroom. Such experiences allow students to make more informed decisions about their future goals and careers.

Before students can sign up for ZOOLOGY 699, they must set up an appointment with a professor/mentor of their choice, and work with the professor/mentor to:

  1. decide the specific number of credits and
  2. plan the work required to earn those credits.

Such plans can involve reviewing relevant literature in the area, developing a proposal for independent research, and/or conducting an experiment in the mentor's study area.

Students interested in doing in-depth research as undergraduates in an area of interest can elect to do a Senior Thesis or Senior Honors Thesis (see below). Students should contact a department advisor at the beginning of their junior year to explore possible research areas.

A maximum of 10 credits of directed study (ZOOLOGY 299 , ZOOLOGY 698 , ZOOLOGY 699 ), senior thesis (ZOOLOGY 691 , ZOOLOGY 692 ), or senior honors thesis (ZOOLOGY 681 , ZOOLOGY 682 ) will count toward the 30 credits required for the major.

Senior Thesis

Students interested in making a longer-term commitment to a research project may consider undertaking a senior thesis. Students should contact a department advisor during their junior year to explore possible research areas in zoology.

Zoology Senior Thesis Requirements:

  • approval of a department advisor;
  • completion of ZOOLOGY 691 and ZOOLOGY 692, a two-semester thesis research sequence, during the senior year (6 credits).

It is recommended that candidates for the senior thesis take ZOOLOGY 699 during second semester junior year to prepare for the thesis.

Senior Thesis and Distinction in the Major

Upon recommendation of the department to the dean, Distinction in the Major is granted at graduation to students not earning Honors in the Major who have done superior work in the major. In addition to the requirements for a senior thesis, to graduate with Distinction in the Zoology Major, students must maintain an overall GPA of 3.300 and a GPA of 3.500 in all zoology courses in the major.


The Department of Zoology encourages our majors to begin working on their career exploration and preparation soon after arriving on campus. We partner with the L&S Career Services office to help you leverage the academic skills learned in your major and liberal arts degree, explore and try out different career paths, participate in internships, prepare for the job search and/or graduate school applications, and network with professionals in the field (alumni and employers).

Letters & Science graduates are in high demand by employers and graduate programs. It is important to us that our students are career ready at the time of graduation, and we are committed to your success.

Career Resources:


Professors Hardin (chair, jdhardin@wisc.edu), Bement, Blair, Carpenter, Gammie, Halloran, Ives, Lee, Newmark, Porter, Riters, Stanley, Stretton, Turner and Vander Zanden

Associate Professors Amann, Damschen, Grinblat, McIntyre and Orrock

Assistant Professors Sharma and Wolman

Adjunct Professor Peckarsky