Microbiology, the study of microorganisms, helps us understand our world and solve major problems. Microorganisms, or microbes, were the first life forms on earth and influence our lives and our planet in innumerable ways. The field of microbiology is constantly expanding as we learn more about the role of microbes in infectious disease, environmental remediation, bioenergy, food safety, antibiotic resistance, biotechnology and much more. Communities of microbes (or "microbiomes") are critically important in human health, global warming, agricultural yield, criminal justice, economic development and other issues of national concern.

The microbiology major, offered by the Department of Bacteriology, is a rigorous path of study, providing a curriculum packed with deep knowledge on broad aspects of microbiology and emphasizing modern laboratory skills. The core courses focus on the diversity, genetics, biochemistry, and physiology of microorganisms. A variety of elective courses provide the opportunity to study environmental microbiology, food microbiology, microbial pathogenesis, immunology, virology, microbiomes and microbial biotechnology, as well as advanced topics in microbial genetics and physiology. In the instructional laboratory courses, students learn beginning through advanced laboratory techniques—gaining the type of hands-on experiences with modern equipment that employers and graduate schools seek. Additionally, students can conduct mentored and independent research projects in faculty laboratories.

The bachelor's degree provides a strong background in the biological sciences for students planning to enter medical, dental, veterinary or other professional schools, as well as those planning graduate studies in any branch of microbiology or other biological sciences such as biochemistry, pathology, and molecular or cell biology.

Students who end their training with a bachelor's degree are well-prepared for a variety of career opportunities, including laboratory positions in pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms and in university and government laboratories. They also work as specialists in industrial quality testing and control, and as regulatory workers in government agencies and public health laboratories. Exposure to the scientific process as well as training in microbiology allows microbiology graduates to enter fields as diverse as business, technical service, sales, and technical writing.

Declaring the Major

Students may declare the major by meeting with the major advisor to discuss the requirements and a course plan. 

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 86th 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.  Please note that the following special degree programs are not considered majors so are not available to non–L&S degree-seeking candidates:  

  • Applied Mathematics, Engineering and Physics (Bachelor of Science–Applied Mathematics, Engineering and Physics)
  • Journalism (Bachelor of Arts–Journalism; Bachelor of Science–Journalism)
  • Music (Bachelor of Music)
  • Social Work (Bachelor of Social Work)

Requirements for the Major

Select one of the following:5-10
Calculus with Algebra and Trigonometry I
and Calculus with Algebra and Trigonometry II
Calculus and Analytic Geometry 1
Select one of the following:3
Introduction to Statistical Methods
Introductory Applied Statistics for the Life Sciences
Introduction to Biostatistics
General Chemistry
Select one of the following: 15-9
General Chemistry I
and General Chemistry II
Advanced General Chemistry
Organic Chemistry
Select ALL of the following:
CHEM 343 Introductory Organic Chemistry3
CHEM 344 Introductory Organic Chemistry Laboratory2
CHEM 345 Intermediate Organic Chemistry3
Biology Foundation
Select one of the following:10-13
Introductory Biology
and Introductory Biology 2
Evolution, Ecology, and Genetics
and Evolution, Ecology, and Genetics Laboratory
and Cellular Biology
and Cellular Biology Laboratory
and Principles of Physiology 2
Animal Biology
and Animal Biology Laboratory
and General Botany
Select one of the following:8-10
General Physics
and General Physics 3
General Physics
and General Physics 3
General Physics
and General Physics
Select one of the following:3-6
Introduction to Biochemistry
General Biochemistry I
and General Biochemistry II
Microbiology Courses
Microbiology Core (all required):
Except where noted, all Microbiology Core courses are offered every fall and spring semester.
MICROBIO 303 Biology of Microorganisms3
MICROBIO 304 Biology of Microorganisms Laboratory2
MICROBIO 305 Critical Analyses in Microbiology1
MICROBIO 450 Diversity, Ecology and Evolution of Microorganisms3
MICROBIO 470 Microbial Genetics & Molecular Machines3
MICROBIO 526 Physiology of Microorganisms3
MICROBIO 527 Advanced Laboratory Techniques in Microbiology (FALL ONLY)2
Microbiology Capstone (required):
MICROBIO 551 Capstone Research Project in Microbiology (SPRING ONLY)2
Microbiology Electives
Select at least 6 credits; at least 3 credits must come from Set A. Note that not all elective courses are offered every semester.
Set A:3-6
Food Microbiology Laboratory
Food Microbiology
Host-Parasite Interactions
Special Topics
Environmental Microbiology
Soil Microbiology and Biochemistry
Topics in Biotechnology (topics vary by semester)
Advanced Microbial Genetics
Prokaryotic Molecular Biology
Plant-Bacterial Interactions
Industrial Microbiology/Biotechnology
General Virology-Multiplication of Viruses
Biology and Genetics of Fungi
Microbiology at Atomic Resolution
Set B:0-3
Biology of Viruses
Protein and Enzyme Structure and Function
Plant-Microbe Interactions: Molecular and Ecological Aspects
Biophysical Chemistry
Introduction to Bioinformatics
Diseases of Wildlife
Fermented Foods and Beverages
Pathogenic Bacteriology
Medical Mycology
Emerging Infectious Diseases and Bioterrorism
Clinical and Public Health Microbiology
Total Credits64-87

Residence and Quality of Work

  • 2.000 GPA in all MICROBIO courses and courses approved for the major
  • 2.000 GPA on 15 upper-level major credits, in residence1
  • 15 credits of MICROBIO or courses counting toward the major, taken on campus

Honors in the Major

Students may declare Honors in the Microbiology Major in consultation with the Microbiology undergraduate advisor.

Honors in the Major Requirements

To earn Honors in the Major in Microbiology, students must satisfy both the requirements for the major (above) and the following requirements:

  • Earn a 3.300 University GPA
  • Earn a 3.300 GPA for all courses accepted in the major
  • MICROBIO 681 and MICROBIO 682 for a total of 6 credits 
  • 9 credits of Honors course work (with grade B or better) from:
MICROBIO 303 Biology of Microorganisms3
MICROBIO 304 Biology of Microorganisms Laboratory2
MICROBIO 330 Host-Parasite Interactions3
MICROBIO/​SOIL SCI  425 Environmental Microbiology3
MICROBIO 450 Diversity, Ecology and Evolution of Microorganisms3
MICROBIO 470 Microbial Genetics & Molecular Machines3
MICROBIO 526 Physiology of Microorganisms3
PATH-BIO/​M M & I  528 Immunology3
MICROBIO 607 Advanced Microbial Genetics3
MICROBIO/​BIOCHEM/​GENETICS  612 Prokaryotic Molecular Biology3
PL PATH 622 Plant-Bacterial Interactions2-3
MICROBIO 632 Industrial Microbiology/Biotechnology2
ONCOLOGY/​PL PATH  640 General Virology-Multiplication of Viruses3
MICROBIO/​BMOLCHEM  668 Microbiology at Atomic Resolution3

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. Develop a fundamental understanding of the principles of microbiology and the necessary skills for a professional career in microbiology.
  2. Apply the scientific method to questions. Formulate a hypothesis, gather data, and analyze that data to assess the degree to which their work supports the hypothesis.
  3. Demonstrate proficiency in the techniques used in microbiology and an ability to critically analyze data and integrate ideas for problem solving.
  4. Access the primary and secondary literature and, in combination with their own findings, effectively communicate their ideas both orally and in written form.
  5. Learn about and demonstrate personal and professional ethics.

Sample Four-Year Plan

This Sample Four-Year Plan is a tool to assist students and their advisor(s). Students should use it—along with their DARS report, the Degree Planner, and Course Search & Enroll tools—to make their own four-year plan based on their placement scores, credit for transferred courses and approved examinations, and individual interests. As students become involved in athletics, honors, research, student organizations, study abroad, volunteer experiences, and/or work, they might adjust the order of their courses to accommodate these experiences. Students will likely revise their own four-year plan several times during college.

Sample MICROBIOLOGY Four-Year Plan

CHEM 10314CHEM 1045
Communication A3Foreign Language (if needed)4
Foreign Language (if needed)4Literature Breadth3
 16 17
CHEM 3433CHEM 3453
Directed Study / Research42MICROBIO 3033
Ethnic Studies/Social Science3MICROBIO 3051
Literature Breadth3Directed Study / Research2
 Social Science Breadth3
 16 14
Directed Study / Research2Directed Study / Research2
 14 15
Microbiology Elective- Set A3Microbiology Elective- Set B3
Directed Study / Research3Directed Study / Research3
Humanities Breadth3Humanities Breadth3
Social Science Breadth3Social Science Breadth3
 14 14
Total Credits 120

Current UW-Madison students should use Starfish to schedule an appointment with an advisor in the Biochemistry & Microbiology Undergraduate Advising Hub.

Prospective / future UW-Madison students should send an email to the Biochemistry & Microbiology Undergraduate Advising Hub to set up an appointment, which can be conducted in person or via phone call.

Read about and explore possible microbiology careers at the American Society for Microbiology website.

Learn more about health-related careers through the website.

L&S career resources

SuccessWorks at the College of Letters & Science helps students leverage the academic skills learned in their major, certificates, 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). In short, SuccessWorks helps students in the College of Letters & Science discover themselves, find opportunities, and develop the skills they need for success after graduation.

SuccessWorks can also assist students in career advising, résumé and cover letter writing, networking opportunities, and interview skills, as well as course offerings for undergraduates to begin their career exploration early in their undergraduate career. 

Students should set up their profiles in Handshake to take care of everything they need to explore career events, manage their campus interviews, and apply to jobs and internships from 200,000+ employers around the country.

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