Math for the Biology Major or Pre-Med Student

A biologist or medical professional must be able to think mathematically (analyze graphs, interpret quantitative information, use clear logical patterns).  An early decision to get a strong mathematical background, particularly in the core areas of calculus, probability and statistics, linear algebra (vectors, matrices, systems of equations), and computer programming, will multiply a student’s career options.

The Formal Requirement for the Biology Major

Biology majors are required to take one semester of calculus plus a second math or statistics course.  Sample programs include:

  • two semesters of calculus, such as MATH 1110-1120 or MATH 1110-1220;
  • one semester of calculus plus a course in finite mathematics, such as MATH 1105-1106;
  • one semester of calculus plus an introductory statistics course, such as MATH 1710.

Advanced placement credit for calculus can be applied to this requirement. 

Medical School Entrance Requirements

College work in mathematics is required by some medical schools and recommended by almost all.  A very few medical schools require one year of calculus.  Also, a very few require one semester of statistics. See the book Medical School Admissions Requirements or individual medical schools’ web pages to verify premedical requirements.

Calculus and Further Study

Students who may take more than one year of mathematics should definitely start with two semesters of calculus.  (See First-Year Calculus.)  The following options provide a good introduction to the core mathematical areas most useful in the biological sciences.  Courses under Option 2 are a bit more challenging than those under Option 1.

Core Mathematical Areas Most Useful in the Biological Sciences
SubjectOption 1Option 2
Calculus MATH 1110-1120 MATH 1110-1220
Multivariable calculus MATH 2130 MATH 2220
Linear algebra MATH 2310 MATH 2210
Probability and statistics MATH 1710 MATH 4710-4720
Computer programming CS 1110, 1112, 1114, 1115, or 2110

Of course, much more is possible and in some cases necessary. Further study in mathematics could lead to a math minor, which is available to students in all colleges.  MATH 4710-4720 combined with two other upper-level math courses, one in algebra and one in analysis, would result in a math minor, for example.