Admission to the Biology Major/Minor

Overview

The admission policies for the Biology Major and Minor address two fundamental goals that lie at the heart of the mission of the Biology Department, the College of Science and Engineering, and Western Washington University: increasing inclusivity and maintaining access to high quality education. To increase equitability and inclusivity, admission to the major and minor is now centered on a multi-part application based on grades, a knowledge assessment, and written responses to prompts. We favor this approach over a strict GPA-only policy due to the potential biases inherent in grades, inconsistency among instructors in grading standards, and because including other factors in admission decisions provides alternate paths into the major and minor for students.

Over the last decade, student enrollment at Western has steadily grown and a greater proportion of these students are pursuing STEM majors or are preparing for professional degree programs focused on healthcare. As a result, enrollment pressures have intensified for Biology courses that serve Biology majors as well as students in numerous other majors and pre-health tracks. We lack the space and personnel to increase the availability of these impacted courses. Thus, this admission policy is necessary to enable students to access our courses and avoid extended times to graduation. 

Application for majoring or minoring in Biology

Deadlines: (There is no application review during the summer quarter)

The deadlines for applications are the first Friday of the quarter prior to the quarter for which you plan to start your major or minor.  For example, if you are planning to start the major in fall quarter, and are taking BIOL 206 and CHEM 163 in spring quarter, you would need to apply for the major by the first Friday of spring quarter.  

  • Fall quarter: First Friday of Spring quarter 
  • Winter quarter: First Friday of Fall quarter 
  • Spring quarter: First Friday of Winter quarter

The Biology Major/Minor application includes three parts:

  • Four essay prompts
  • Knowledge Assessment.
  • Cumulative grade-point average (GPA) for BIOL 204, BIOL 205, CHEM 161, and CHEM 162 (or the equivalent of these courses). 

To apply, a student must submit responses to the essay prompts and complete the knowledge assessment (the department will calculate your cumulative GPA).  

Students will need access to the Canvas course entitled “Biology Majors Admissions Application” to complete the application. Those that have applied to be a Biology pre-major, should already have access to the Canvas course.  If you are not a Biology pre-major or plan to transfer to WWU, you will need to request access to be enrolled in the Canvas course (see information below about requesting access). 

To be eligible to apply, students must have completed BIOL 204, BIOL 205, CHEM 161, and CHEM 162 (or equivalent course) with C- or greater. 

If you are transferring to WWU, you will also need to provide your transcripts with grades and syllabi for your introductory biology and chemistry courses. 

Essay Prompts

Essay prompts for the application will have a 300-word limit for each. 

The following are the essay prompts for the application:

  1. How will the Biology degree program help you to achieve your post-graduation goals?
  2. How have your past experiences given you tools, strategies, and/or motivation to persevere when faced with challenges in pursuing a Biology degree?
  3. Discuss personal experiences that have prepared you to work with diverse groups of people to solve complex problems.
  4. What else would you like us to know about you that is not reflected elsewhere in your application or academic history?

Knowledge Assessment

The Biology Knowledge Assessment evaluates the understanding of core concepts in biology and chemistry, along with quantitative and critical thinking skills used to address questions relating to those concepts. The assessment may be re-taken for the next round of applications.

You can find a list of topics that will be the basis for questions on the Knowledge Assessment here.

GPA

The cumulative grade point average for the courses BIOL 204 & 205 and CHEM 161 & 162 (or equivalents), will be used for the third part of the application. For transfer students, we will need to determine which of your courses are equivalent to these courses to determine your GPA, and therefore will need your transcripts with grades and syllabi for your introductory biology and chemistry courses. 

Review of application

There is a greater demand than available resources for the Biology program, and therefore we limit the number of students in the program. This allows students in the major and minor to have access to required courses and complete their degrees as planned. 

A committee of Biology faculty members will review the applications each fall, winter, and spring quarter (there’s no application review during summer quarter). The committee assesses the complete application for each student and recommends whether the students should be admitted to the program. Based on these recommendations, the committee determines which students are admitted to the program. 

Because this policy is new, we don’t yet have information about the range of knowledge assessment scores or cumulative GPA of successful applicants. This will be updated when information is available. 

Request access to the application via Canvas

Once students have declared a pre-major in biology, they will automatically be added to the Canvas course where you can take the Biology Knowledge Assessment, provide your essays, and submit your application. If you are interested in minoring in biology or not currently a WWU student, but in the process of applying or transferring, then you can request access to the application here.

Unsuccessful applications

We understand that unsuccessful applicants will be disappointed, and we support students in a few ways. 

  • Students can reapply to the program one time. 
  • We encourage students to contact the department to gain information about their application and help with developing a plan to strengthen their application (e.g., retake a course to improve their GPA, retake the knowledge assessment, re-write their essays, or a combination of these).  
  • We also encourage students to discuss options about other programs at WWU. There are several majors that are closely aligned with degrees in Biology (e.g., Biochemistry, Environmental Science, Behavioral Neuroscience, and Marine and Coastal Science). 

Assignment of faculty advisors

All admitted students will be assigned a faculty advisor if they don’t already have one. Students may be reassigned to a new faculty advisor if their emphasis choice upon entry into the major is different than when they declared a pre-major. We strongly encourage newly admitted students to consult with their faculty advisor or attend a departmental advising session prior to registration for the following quarter.

Changing Biology Major Emphasis

Students who have been admitted to the Biology Major may switch to a different Biology emphasis within the major without having to reapply for admission. Requests for such switches are processed once per quarter (Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer) at the start of each quarter, and are due on Friday of the first week of the quarter. All requests for switching among degree programs in Biology that are submitted after this date will be processed at the start of the following quarter.

Switching from the Biology Major to the Biology Minor

Students who have been admitted to the Biology Major can switch to the Biology Minor without having to apply for admission to the minor. Requests for such switches are processed once per quarter (Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer) at the start of each quarter, and are due on Friday of the first week of the quarter.