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Biology & Society Major

Tackling the social, political and ethical challenges of modern biology

Many of the most critical social concerns of our time—food and population; impact of genetic engineering and new medical technologies; testing for drugs; AIDS and genes; the influence of heredity versus environment on human behavior; environmental quality; and ethical, legal and social aspects of modern medical practice—are innately biological. At the same time, each of these issues is inherently a social concern and involves complex relations between biological and sociocultural forces. The Biology & Society major is intended to provide you with the skills and perspectives you’ll need to systematically confront these and many other social-biological issues.

Major in Biology and Society

Bachelor of Science (B.S.)

The Biology and Society Major is designed for students who wish to combine training in biology with perspectives from the social sciences and humanities on the social, political and ethical aspects of modern biology. You can examine the impact of genetic engineering and new medical technologies; the influence of heredity versus environment on human behavior; issues surrounding environmental quality and sustainability; and the ethical, legal and social aspects of modern medicine. 

Once you complete the requirements for the Biology & Society major, you’ll leave Cornell with well-developed writing and analytical skills and with the ability to confront complex issues.

Each student's program incorporating the requirements of the major is planned in consultation with a faculty member and is designed to accommodate individual goals and interests. Biology & Society graduates have gone on to successful careers in the healthcare industry, legal profession, policymaking, scientific research and many other exciting professions. Students have found the Major is also excellent preparation for law, medicine, health services administration and other professional schools and for graduate programs in genetic counseling, nutrition, clinical psychology, public health, environmental studies, anthropology, sociology or other related fields.

CALS seeks students who maintain a rigorous high school curriculum and demonstrate an outstanding record of academic achievement.

This major requires students to take courses in biology, humanities and social sciences thus strong science English preparation is essential.

  • 4 Units of English

  • 4 Units of Mathematics including calculus

  • 3 Units of Science (biology, chemistry and physics recommended)

  • Also recommended: an additional unit of science

A full description and listings of courses that satisfy the requirements can be found within the Biology & Society section in Courses of Study.

BSOC 3011 – Life Sciences and Society

Biology and biotechnology are major sources of influence on personal and social life. Additionally, social and historical conditions have profound influence on biological research, and on the applications of such research in medicine, agriculture and other fields. Biological research itself is a social process involving personal and commercial competition, different styles of work and interpretation and complex human interactions. This course aims to introduce students to basic science and technology studies (S&TS) perspectives on biological knowledge and biotechnology.

BSOC 2061 – Ethics and the Environment

Politicians, scientists and citizens worldwide face many environmental issues today, but they are neither simple nor straightforward. Moreover, there are many ways to understand how humans have, do and could value the environment from animal rights and wise use to deep ecology and ecofeminism. This class acquaints students with some of the challenging moral issues that arise in the context of environmental management and policy-making, both in the past and the present.

NS 1150 – Nutrition, Health and Society

Discusses the facts and fallacies concerning the role that nutrition, exercise and other health behaviors play in preventing disease, maintaining good health and maximizing athletic performance. Emphasis is on understanding the biological mechanisms through which good nutrition and regular exercise affect psychological and physical health.

•     Develop significant competence in biology, being able to analyze and assess biological information and understand biological research approaches.

•     Develop ethical and social perspectives on biological science that reflect the reciprocity between biology and society and that can draw on analytic perspectives in other fields.

•     Develop useful quantitative skills.

•     Learn to develop an educational program based on interests at and beyond Cornell.

Transfer Student Admissions

Examine the social, political and ethical aspects of modern biology, research and practice.

Academic Record

  • Strong academic record at the college level. In general, competitive applicants have at least a 3.0 (B) average.
  • CALS Required Coursework should be completed or in-progress with a “B” or better before applying.
  • The most competitive applicants are full-time students who have met the GPA and course requirements

For transfers entering as sophomores or transfers with two full-time college semesters of study (post-high school) completed or in progress at time of application.


For transfers entering as juniors or transfers with four full-time college semesters of study (post-high school) completed or in progress at time of application.


Strongly encouraged (but not required):

  • Courses that meet the CALS social science and humanities requirements in Cultural Analysis, Historical Analysis, Knowledge, Cognition and Moral Reasoning, Literature and the Arts, Social and Behavioral Analysis and Foreign Language.
  • General (Inorganic) Chemistry I & II with labs (for those who are pre-med)

Careers in Biology and Society

Colorful helix model.


  • Management consulting analyst
  • Investment banking analyst
  • Healthcare consulting analyst
  • Talent executive
  • Human resources rotational program
  • Research analyst
  • Project management associate
  • Software training specialist


  • Healthcare public relations assistant
  • Science writer
  • Teaching fellow
  • Biology teacher
  • Peace Corps teacher
  • Conservation educator


  • Project manager
  • Client services analyst
  • Public health advisor
  • Business development and marketing
  • Clinician advocate
  • Health educator
  • Strategy and operations analyst
  • Healthcare research analyst
  • Patient care coordinator


  • Children's foundation program coordinator
  • College program coordinator
  • Peace Corps


  • Project manager
  • Clinical research coordinator
  • Pediatric research associate
  • Environmental research assistant
  • Pharmacology research technician
  • Pharmaceutical research associate
  • Human nutrition research assistant

How we're answering social concerns in modern biology

Recent insights, breakthroughs, news and other Biology & Society stories.

Digital render of a strand of DNA.


The genetic material that species shed into their environments can reveal the presence of the species and a broad range of information about the genetics of entire populations.

  • Cornell Atkinson
  • Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
  • Biodiversity
Hands holding a positive pregnancy test.


A new study testing the accuracy of existing methods used to predict the genetic variation that cause infertility found that relying on computational or in vitro experiments alone is insufficient.

  • Computational Biology
  • Biology
  • Genetics

Explore your opportunities

A CALS education goes beyond the classroom and gives students frequent opportunities to apply what they learn in real-world settings.