Admissions to the molecular biology B.A. have been suspended as of fall 2019. If you have any questions, please contact the department.

About the Major

Molecular biology is the basic science that seeks an understanding of biological processes in terms of the properties and functions of the molecules that make up living cells. The scope of questions addressed in molecular biology ranges from evolution to development to the regulation of gene expression. A career in molecular biology requires a strong background in biology as well as a solid foundation  in chemistry, mathematics, and physics.

The molecular biology major has been designed primarily for three groups of students:

  1. those who plan to enter a research career in molecular biology or related areas such as biochemistry, genetics, oncology, microbiology, cell biology or developmental biology;
  2. pre-professional students who plan to enter either a research or clinical career in medicine, or allied health fields;
  3. students who plan to teach biology at the college or secondary-school levels.

Students with other interests are also welcome, of course. Career opportunities for students with an undergraduate degree in molecular biology are amazingly diverse. Graduates of the program have gone into patent law, science journalism, forensics, philosophy, nutrition, genetic counseling, veterinary medicine, anthropology, archeology, marine biology, theology, and much more.

Major requirements have been set to assure a high degree of proficiency in the various areas specified while still allowing as much flexibility as possible for students to individualize their programs. For the undergraduate interested in life sciences, this major uniquely provides access to the extraordinary scope and strength of biology courses and laboratories on the UW–Madison campus. Each student in the major is assigned a faculty advisor, and it is hoped that students will take advantage of both the staff and faculty advising service available to make a judicious choice of courses, as well as to gain scholarly experience outside the classroom that will further their academic and career goals.

Students who wish to obtain further information about the program or to declare a molecular biology major should contact the student services coordinator. Faculty advisors are assigned through the program office and are located in many related departments throughout campus. Molecular biology faculty advisors are especially competent to provide counsel regarding the major and career opportunities in molecular biology.

Undergraduate Research

Undergraduate molecular biology students at UW–Madison are fortunate to have the opportunity to work with some of the world's leading researchers. Many opportunities for laboratory research experience are available on campus for undergraduate students and this type of experiences is strongly encouraged. Such an experience provides students the opportunity to apply what they're learning and compliment their knowledge with practical skills. Research experience is highly valued by employers, graduate programs, and professional schools. See the major website for more information on how to get involved in undergraduate research.

Admissions to the Molecular Biology B.S. have been suspended as of fall 2019. If you have any questions, please contact the department.

To declare the molecular biology major, students must contact or make an appointment with the molecular biology student services coordinator.

If students are not currently in the College of Letters & Science (L&S), you must transfer into L&S before declaring. However, students are welcome to meet with the molecular biology student services coordinator to discuss the major before transferring. 

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

Mathematics, chemistry & physics

Calculus 1
MATH 221 Calculus and Analytic Geometry 15
or MATH 211 Calculus
Calculus 2 or Statistics—one course:3-5
Calculus and Analytic Geometry 2
Calculus and Introduction to Differential Equations
Calculus--Functions of Several Variables
Topics in Calculus II
Introduction to Statistical Methods
Introductory Applied Statistics for the Life Sciences
General Chemistry—complete one option:5-9
General Chemistry I
and General Chemistry II
Advanced General Chemistry
Chemical Principles I
and Chemical Principles II (by consent of instructor only)
Analytical Chemistry
CHEM 327 Fundamentals of Analytical Science4
or CHEM 329 Fundamentals of Analytical Science
Organic Chemistry
CHEM 343 Introductory Organic Chemistry3
CHEM 344 Introductory Organic Chemistry Laboratory2
CHEM 345 Intermediate Organic Chemistry3
Physics—complete one option:
General Physics
and General Physics
General Physics
and General Physics
Total Credits25-31

General Biology

Complete one option:10-16
Option A:
Introductory Biology
and Introductory Biology
Principles of Genetics
Option B (BIOCORE): 1
Evolution, Ecology, and Genetics
Evolution, Ecology, and Genetics Laboratory
Cellular Biology
Cellular Biology Laboratory
Principles of Physiology

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Select one of the following:
BIOCHEM 501 Introduction to Biochemistry3
General Biochemistry I
and General Biochemistry II
Molecular Biology - 3 credits from:3
Plant Biotechnology: Principles and Techniques I
Plant Cell Culture and Genetic Engineering
Prokaryotic Molecular Biology
Eukaryotic Molecular Biology
Genetics Laboratory
Molecular Biology Techniques
Molecular Approaches for Potential Crop Improvement
Advanced Courses - 6 credits from 2 areas:6
Plant Physiology 3
Introduction to Animal Development 3
Laboratory in Developmental Biology
Development of the Nervous System
Plant-Microbe Interactions: Molecular and Ecological Aspects 3
Biology of Microorganisms
Biology of Microorganisms Laboratory
Host-Parasite Interactions
Environmental Microbiology
Biology of Viruses
Plant Breeding and Biotechnology
Human Genetics 3
Advanced Genetics
Microbial Genetics & Molecular Machines
Advanced Microbial Genetics 3
Cell Biology (Endocrinology, Neurobiology, Immunology)
Cellular Signal Transduction Mechanisms 3
Biological Interactions
Introduction to Experimental Oncology
General Virology-Multiplication of Viruses 3
Neurobiology 3
Cell Biology 3
Biochemistry and Physical Chemistry
General Biochemistry II
Nutritional Biochemistry and Metabolism
Topics in Medical Biochemistry 3
Biochemical Methods 3
Plant Biochemistry 3
Physical Chemistry 3
Biophysical Chemistry 3
Molecular Physiology
Quantitative and Computational Sciences
Introduction to Bioinformatics 3
Phylogenetic Analysis of Molecular Data
Introduction to Combinatorial Optimization 3
Statistical Methods for Bioscience I 3
Statistical Methods for Bioscience II 3
Applied Regression Analysis
Introduction to Biostatistics 3
Total Credits21-26

Laboratory/Independent Research 

2 credits from:

Lab/Research courses:
Molecular Biology Techniques
Genetics Laboratory
Human Biochemistry Laboratory
Biology of Microorganisms Laboratory
Biochemical Methods
Laboratory in Developmental Biology
Thesis/Directed Study: 2
Senior Honors Thesis
and Senior Honors Thesis
Senior Thesis
and Senior Thesis
Directed Studies in Molecular Biology

Residence and quality of work

2.000 GPA in all MOL BIOL and major courses

2.000 GPA on 15 upper-level major credits, taken in residence1

15 credits in MOL BIOL, taken on the UW–Madison campus

1Courses accepted in the major that are intermediate or advanced are considered upper level in this major.

Honors in the Major

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

Honors in the Molecular Biology Major Requirements

To earn Honors in the Major in Molecular Biology, 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 for all courses accepted in the major
  • Complete the Advanced Course requirement, two courses in two different areas, utilizing the courses indicated with the above, taken for Honors credit and with grades of B or better earned in each individual course
  • Complete one of the following, with a grade of B or better: MICROBIO/​BIOCHEM/​GENETICS  612 Prokaryotic Molecular Biology, BIOCHEM/​GENETICS/​MD GENET  620 Eukaryotic Molecular Biology, HORT/​GENETICS  550 Molecular Approaches for Potential Crop Improvement
  • Complete a two-semester Senior Honors Thesis in MOL BIOL 681 Senior Honors Thesis and MOL BIOL 682 Senior Honors Thesis, for a total of 6 credits
  • Complete MOL BIOL 686 Senior Honors Seminar in Molecular Biology

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. Summarize the energetic and thermodynamic basis of life.
  2. Define and explain the molecular basis of life and relationships between the structure and function of biological macromolecules.
  3. Describe the nature of the cell and its role as the basic unit of life.
  4. Understand the nature of the genetic material and its roles in inheritance, evolution, and cellular function.
  5. Demonstrate comprehension of basic molecular biology laboratory techniques.
  6. Utilize the scientific method to solve biological problems characteristic of today’s society.
  7. Understand the primary scientific literature and apply concepts from literature to draw conclusions about modern topics in the field.
  8. Communicate scientific ideas in written and oral form.

Admissions to the molecular miology B.A. and the molecular biology B.S. have been suspended as of fall 2019. If you have any questions, please contact the department.

Students in the major are assigned to a team of advisors composed of a faculty advisor and a the major's student services coordinator. See the major's advising page for a list of advisors and for the student services coordinator information. The faculty advisor provides guidance specific to the molecular biology discipline through discussions about undergraduate experiences (i.e., research, coursework, internships) that will help prepare students for graduate work or a career after graduation. The student services coordinator provides guidance specific to the discipline, and also helps students with  major declarations, course selection, registration, DARS, L&S degree and major requirements, and tracking progress toward graduation, as well as connecting students with important resources on campus.

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.

Committee of Advisors: Ahmad (Dermatology), Amann (Integrative Biology), Fabry (Pathology and Laboratory Medicine), Filutowicz (Bacteriology), Grinblat (Neuroscience), Martin (Biochemistry), McMahon (Civil Engineering and Environmental Engineering), Newmark (Integrative Biology), Otegui (Botany), Raman (Biochemistr), Schuler (Comparative Biosciences)


The Hilldale Undergraduate/Faculty Research Fellowships support undergraduate research done in collaboration with UW–Madison faculty or research/instructional academic staff. Approximately 97 – 100 Hilldale awards are available each year.  The student researcher receives $3,000, and faculty/staff research advisor receives $1,000 to help offset research costs (e.g., supplies, faculty or student travel related to the project).

Holstrom Environmental Scholarships

The Holstrom Environmental Scholarships support undergraduate research done in collaboration with UW-Madison faculty or research/instructional academic staff.  Research proposals must have an environmental focus, and applicants must have at least a junior standing at time of application.


Funded by grants from the Brittingham Fund and the Kemper K. Knapp Bequest, the Sophomore Research Fellowships support undergraduate research done in collaboration with UW–Madison faculty or research/instructional academic staff. Approximately 15 awards are available.

Undergraduate Research Scholars

The Undergraduate Research Scholars program (URS) is dedicated to enhancing the academic experience of UW-Madison students by providing first and second year undergraduates with opportunities to earn credit for participating in the research and creative work with UW-Madison faculty and staff. The program has been designed to include partnerships between students and mentors, seminars on research-relevant issues, and practice in research/artistic presentations. The many benefits of the program are found in the fluid interaction between these activities.

Undergraduate Symposium

The annual Undergraduate Symposium showcases undergraduate creativity, achievement, research, service-learning and community-based research from all areas of study at UW–Madison including the humanities, fine arts, biological sciences, physical sciences, and social sciences. This past year nearly 700 students presented, displayed or performed their work for members of the University, the surrounding community, family and friends.


Supported by a generous grant from the University Book Store, this award recognizes undergraduate students who have completed an outstanding independent project, such as a senior thesis, at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Projects in all academic fields are eligible.

Wisconsin Idea Fellowships

Wisconsin Idea Fellowships are awarded annually to undergraduate student projects working towards solving a challenge identified along with local or global community partner. Fellowships are awarded to semester-long or year-long projects designed by an undergraduate student (or group of students) in collaboration with a community organization and a UW-Madison faculty or academic staff member.