Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
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New Student Orientation Guide for Scholar Students

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First Year Penn State Schreyer Scholars and parents, welcome to the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department otherwise known as the BMB Department. The information provided here will assist you in planning your course schedule for freshman year. Many of you will register for these courses when you participate in New Student Orientation during the summer before you start at Penn State.

The BMB department has 5 possible majors: 1. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (Biochemistry Option), 2. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (Molecular and Cellular Biology Option) 3. Microbiology, 4. Biotechnology (General Option), 5. Biotechnology (Clinical Laboratory Science Option). Most Scholars major in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology or Microbiology because these two majors prepare students for graduate school and medical school. The Biotechnology options are geared towards training students for entering the work force following completion of their undergraduate work. Information about each major and course requirements is provided here. Since the course requirements are essentially the same in the first year for each major, you can easily change major during your first year.

To help you in selecting courses, we have prepared separate (RAP) Recommended Academic Plans" and inventories of (CR) Course Requirements. These guides are designed for non-Scholars students, but are suitable for Scholars after taking the following into consideration:

  • Scholars must complete 3 honors courses for a minimum of 9 credits during the first year. Honors courses commonly taken in the first year include: English 30 (required), Math 140H, Math 141H, and honors sections of Chemistry 110, 111, 112, 113, and 210 (if you place out of Chem 112).  400-level courses also count as honors.
  • Scholars take English 30 instead of English 15. Although the recommended schedule places English 30 in spring semester, you can choose to take it either semester.

For many courses, you have a choice between an honors version and a regular version. Generally, the honors courses offer small class sizes and opportunities to explore a subject more deeply than is done in the regular course. If you like the subject matter, the honors version is probably your better choice. However, don't feel that your education is compromised by taking the regular version of a course. Both the honors and regular versions of the course will adequately prepare you for your major.

One of the greatest challenges in selecting courses is identifying a set that have no time conflicts. Obviously, you can't attend two courses that meet at the same time. You'll find the schedule of courses essential for choosing courses. Some of you will have advanced credit which will increase the number of scheduling options available to you. All of you will have electives to choose. Since the number of choices can be somewhat overwhelming, the following schedule serves as a foundation. More information pertaining to this schedule and various options are provided below. A typical schedule for Fall semester could be:

  • PSU 016: BMB, MICRB, or BIOTC (1 credit)
  • English/CAS 137H (fall, 3 credits) and 138T (spring, 3 credits)
  • Math 140 or 140H (4 credits)
  • Chem 110 or 110H (3 credits)
  • Chem 111 or 111H (1 credit)
  • General education course (3 credits): Arts elective (GA), Humanities Elective (GH), or Social and Behavioral Sciences (GS)


PSU  016 (also known as First-Year Seminar)

All students are required to take PSU 016 during the first semester.  Select the section (BMB, MICRB, or BIOTC) that represents the major in which you are most interested. The information provided in this course will help you decide if you have made a good choice for a major and will introduce you to peers and professors who are involved in the major.

English and CAS

All Scholars are required to take one semester of English and a semester of Communication Arts and Sciences (ENGL 137H and 138T) Rhetoric and Civic Life I in the fall, and Rhetoric and Civic Life II in the spring.

General education courses

All students are required to take 18 credits of general education courses to graduate. General education courses are divided into different categories which receive a designation such as GA, GH, or GS. Majors in the BMB department are directed to take 6 credits in each category. Scholars may choose to concentrate in an area and are allowed to take 9 credits in one category and 3 in another. Often, the selection of one of these courses turns out to be the most frustrating part of setting up your first Fall semester because enrollment in the courses is frequently full.  The schedule of courses has a very nice feature to assist you in selecting General Education courses. At the schedule of courses, select "General Course Search" under "Other Search Options". This takes you to a page that allows you to peruse the selection of General Education Courses.


Our majors are required to take Math 140 and Math 141 (honors or regular). Some of you will have advanced placement credit for Math 140.  If so, you can take Math 141(H). If you've placed out of Math 141, then consider taking a 200 level Math course, or a selection from Computer Sciences, Statistics or Physics.


Our majors are required to take Chemistry 110, 111, 112 and 113.  Chem 110 and 111 are usually taken in the Fall and Chem 112 and 113 are usually taken in the Spring. To obtain advanced placement, you must do one of the following:

  1. Obtain a 4 on the national high school Advanced Placement exam, and you are eligible for credit for Chem 110 and 111.
  2. 2. Obtain a 5 on the national high school Advanced Placement exam, and you are eligible for credit for Chem 110, 112, 111, and 113.
  3. 3. If your PSU testing information indicates you have proficiency, contact the Chemistry department at 865-9391 to find out more information about testing out of Chemistry.

If you have advanced placement for Chem 112, you can take Chem 210 during Fall semester.  This is true even if you still require Chem 111 and/or Chem 113.


Students majoring in our department should not take Biology 110. Many students entering the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology department wonder why there is no Biology requirement. The Biology that is pertinent to our majors is encompassed by several courses that are normally taken during the sophomore year. These include BMB/Micrb 251 and 252 (honors or regular), Micrb 201 and 202, and Biol 322. ("BMB/Micrb" means that the course is cross listed under BMB and Micrb.  In the case of 251 and 252, these are exactly the same course.) Importantly, this collection of courses meets the Biology requirement for Medical Schools that some of you may be planning on attending.

Option available to students with advanced placement in Biology.

Since an introductory Biology course is not a requirement for our majors, students with advanced placement in Biology use the credits in the "free elective" category of their major.   You are eligible to take Genetics (Biol 322) although this course is intended for sophomores and usually filled before incoming students have an opportunity to register.

Options available to students with advanced placement in Chemistry.

If you have advanced placement in Chemistry 110, you can take Micrb 201 and Micrb 202 in your Freshman year.  If you have advanced placement in Chemistry 112, you can take BMB/Micrb 251 (honors or regular) in the fall and BMB/Micrb 252 (honors or regular) in the spring during your Freshman year. These courses are prerequisites for many of the upper level courses in the BMB department. You will then have the option of taking some of the upper level courses in your sophomore year.

Foreign Language.

There is not foreign language requirement for our majors.  Hence, if you have obtained the 12th-credit level of proficiency, you are allowed to substitute this for 3 credits in any of the categories of General Education except GHA.  Four or more years of a foreign language in high school corresponds to 12th-credit level proficiency (see University Undergraduate Advising Handbook).