Plant Sciences Major & Minor

Drive change in a field that’s changing our world

Plant Sciences is the study of plant growth, reproduction, evolution, and adaptation, as well as the use of plants for food, fiber, and ornamental purposes. 

Majoring in Plant Sciences will help you make a positive difference in the world. Plant science expertise is needed to address many of our most challenging problems:

  • Producing enough food for a growing world population.
  • Breeding plants to tolerate the heat- and drought-stress caused by climate change.
  • Developing sustainable cropping practices to produce healthful and nutritious food.
  • Investigating new methods to fight plant diseases.
  • Restoring damaged ecosystems to better support those who live there.
  • Conserving species, through plant collections in gardens and arboretums, for future generations.

Contact Plant Sciences Major Coordinator Leah Cynara Cook (email: lcc2 [at] cornell.edu) and Director of Undergraduate Studies Marvin Pritts (email: mpp3 [at] cornell.edu) to see if the Plant Science Major is a good fit for you

Major in Plant Sciences

Bachelor of Science (B.S.)

While students majoring in Plant Sciences necessarily share a common enthusiasm for plants, the variety of available courses and research opportunities encourages a great diversity of individual interests and career paths.

CALS’ Plant Sciences faculty members offer many exciting opportunities for students to apply their knowledge as field and laboratory assistants. For example, current students are collecting experimental data to aid in the development and selection of plants with optimal yield, crop quality, and aesthetic appeal.

Recent undergraduate independent research topics in Plant Sciences include: mapping genes in wheat, development of an agroforestry farm, and improved understanding of interactions between host plants and insect predators.

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

  • 4 Units of English
  • 4 Units of Mathematics* (including pre-calculus)
  • 3 Units of Science (biology, chemistry and physics recommended)
  • Also recommended: an additional unit of science

Students in the Plant Sciences major must complete three sets of requirements.

  1. College - View college requirements

  2. Major - View Major requirements
  3. Concentration - See information below

Please visit the Plant Sciences Major Degree Requirements page for more information.

Upon completion of the Plant Sciences major, students will be able to:

Use major concepts and principles from multiple areas of life science to explain plant-related phenomena

  • Describe plant biology at genetic, molecular, physiological, and organismal levels to integrate plant functionalities in a hierarchical manner, from individual cells to the biosphere.

  • Discuss evolution as the foundation of all biological systems and integrate evolutionary biology to describe patterns of plant diversity and ecological interaction.

Contribute to the expansion of the plant science knowledge base in the modern era

  • Formulate original questions about plants into empirically testable hypotheses, collect and analyze data obtained from original research, and translate and apply experimental data to advance the field and solve real-world problems.

  • Synthesize and apply knowledge to better understand and manage plant-based systems.

Articulate the influences of plant science on the world

  • Discuss natural and managed ecosystems at local, regional, and global levels and evaluate their effects on environmental sustainability and human health and well-being.

  • Demonstrate an awareness of the ethical principles and global consequences associated with past, present and future advances in plant science, demonstrate an appreciation for the range of cultures, values and perspectives of living in a global community, and engage in actions that reflect civic responsibility.
  • Communicate information about the breadth of issues in plant science to diverse audiences in oral and written formats.

All students who major in Plant Sciences must declare a concentration. This will provide a more focused approach to coursework with the aim of honing marketable skills for immediate post-graduation employment or transition to graduate or professional study.

All PS students who matriculate as freshmen or sophomores must declare a concentration by the beginning of their junior year. Students matriculating as junior transfer students must declare an intended concentration by the end of their first semester at Cornell. Plant Sciences majors must satisfy all course requirements for at least one of the concentrations listed below.

  1. Ecology of Managed Landscapes (Ecology)
  2. Organic Agriculture (Organics)
  3. Plant Breeding & Genetics (Breeding)
  4. Plant Computational Biology (Big Data)
  5. Plant Evolution and Systematics (Evolution)
  6. Plant Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology (Physiology)
  7. Plant Pathology & Plant-Microbe Biology (Plant Diseases)
  8. Plants and Human Health (Medicinal Plants)
  9. Soil Science (Soils)
  10. Sustainable Plant Production (Sustainability)
  11. Design Your Own Concentration (DYOC)

You may not substitute a CALS minor or a second major for a concentration.

Declaration of the intended concentration must be made by the beginning of the junior year for students matriculating as freshmen or sophomores and by the end of the first semester at Cornell for students matriculating as upper-class transfer students.

Detailed information about requirements for each of the Plant Sciences concentrations can be found here.

In addition to the Plant Sciences Major, School of Integrative Plant Science's faculty contribute to other related majors:

Agricultural Sciences

Develop leadership skills and get practical, hands-on experience while exploring of agricultural systems and related environmental and socio-economic issues. Concentrations include: Animal Science, Business, Crop Production and Management, Education and Communication, and Sustainable Agriculture.

Viticulture and Enology

Learn to grow grapes and make wine in the heart of New York’s wine region.

Biology with a Plant Biology Concentration

Majors gain a greater understanding of the structure, classification, ecology, function, development, and molecular biology of plants.

International Agriculture and Rural Development (IARD)

Designed for students interested in tackling the unique and interdisciplinary issues associated with food systems and rural development in emerging nations.

Minor in Plant Sciences

A deeper understanding of plants sciences can enrich and add perspective many fields of study. This minor provides broad yet meaningfully deep exposure to many aspects of plant science.  With only one required course, there is lots of flexibility. 

Advisorwsd2 [at] cornell.edu (Walter De Jong)
Eligibility: Plant Sciences majors are not eligible.

For more information on obtaining a minor, please visit the Plant Sciences Minor page.

Requirements Overview

  • At least 15 credits in Plant Sciences coursework.

Foundation Course

  • PLBIO 2410, Introductory Plant Biodiversity and Evolution (fall, 3 credits)

Elective Courses

Must take at least one of the following courses:

  • PLHRT 1115: The Nature of Plants (spring, 3 credits)
  • PLBIO 2440: Evolutionary Plant Biology (spring, 3 credits)
  • PLBIO 2480: Vascular Plant Systematics (spring, 4 credits)
  • PLBRG 2250: Plant Genetics (spring, 4 credits)
  • PLBIO 3420: Plant Physiology (spring, 3 credits)
  • PLSCI 4460: Plant Behavior and Biotic Interactions, Lecture (spring, 3 credits)
  • PLSCS 2600: Soil Science (fall, 4 credits)

Additional Electives

Any 2-3 instructor-led courses (minimum 9 credits) with the PL-prefix at the 2000 level or greater, except for PLBIO 2400, PLBIO 2490, PLSCS 2940, PLHRT 2010 and PLHRT 3250.

  1. Submit a copy of the application form and contact minor advisorfsr3 [at] cornell.edu ( W)wsd2 [at] cornell.edu (subject: Plant%20Sciences%20Minor) (alter De Jong )to discuss your interests in plant sciences and decide which courses you will take to satisfy the minor. 
  2. Complete the courses required for the plant sciences minor. 
  3. In your second-to-last semester, prior to pre-enrollment, meet with the minor advisor to determine if you have completed all requirements or if you need to take one or more classes your last semester. 
  4. After this meeting, email the Minor Coordinator, lcc2 [at] cornell.edu (subject: Minor%20coursework%20audit) (Leah Cook), with a copy to the minor advisor, listing any courses you need to complete in your final semester.

A final grade audit will be completed a few weeks after graduation, and the minor will be added to your academic record at that time. 

Crop Management Minor

Advisor: Toni DiTommaso
Eligibility: All undergraduates

  • 12 credits beyond major
  • At least 3 credits of crop science (PLSCS 2110, PLSCS 4050, PLSCS 3170, PLSCS 4130, PLSCS 4140)
  • At least 3 credits of plant protection/pest management (PLSCS 3150, PLSCS 4440, ENTOM 3410, PLPPM 3010)
  • At least 3 credits of soil science (ANSC 4120, PLSCS 2600, PLSCS 3210, PLSCS 3650, PLSCS 4660, PLSCS 4720)
  • Equivalent transferred courses can be substituted. For students with majors such as Agricultural Sciences and Plant Sciences, addition of this minor helps prepare them for the Certified Crop Advisor examination, which provides an important credential for jobs in agriculture and environmental management.

Fungal Biology

Advisor: Kathie Hodge
Eligibility: All undergraduates

  • Requirement for 11 credits minimum, including 5 credits below.
  • PLPPM 3190: Mushrooms of Field and Forest (fall, 2 credits)
  • PLPPM 4490: Mycology (fall, 3 credits)

Horticulture Minor (General)

Advisor: Frank Rossi
Eligibility: All undergraduates

  • 14-15 credits beyond major
  • PLSCI 1101: Plant Science and Systems (fall, 3-4 credits)
  • PLHRT 1115: The Nature of Plants (spring, 3 credits)
  • 8 credits in 2000-level PLHRT courses
  • Accommodations for transfer students (course substitution per advisor)

Horticulture Minor with a Focus in the Botanical Arts

Advisor: Marcia Eames-Sheavly
Eligibility: All undergraduates

  • 13-15 credits beyond major
  • PLSCI 1101: Plant Science and Systems (fall, 4 credits)
  • PLHRT 1115: The Nature of Plants (spring, 3 credits) or PLHRT 1450: The Art of Plant Anatomy (spring, 1 credit)
  • PLHRT 2010: The Art of Horticulture, (fall, 2 credits)
  • PLHRT 3250: Intensive Study in Botanical Illustration (spring, 4 credits)
  • PLSCI 4970, Individual Study, 1 credit

Infectious Disease Biology

This minor is now supported in the Department of Microbiology.

Plant Breeding Minor

Advisors: Don Viands and Mark Sorrells (lead)
Eligibility: All undergraduates

  • Requirement for 15 credits minimum, including 10 credits below.
  • PLBRG 2010: Plants, Genes, and Global Food Production (spring, 3 credits)
  • PLBRG 2250: Plant Genetics (spring, 4 credits)
  • PLBRG 4030: Genetic Improvement of Crop Plants (fall, 3 credits)

Soil Science Minor

Advisor: Toni DiTommaso
Eligibility: All undergraduates

  • 14 credits beyond major
  • PLSCS 2600: Soil Science (required)
  • At least two additional courses (minimum 7 credits) in soil science
  • At least one course (minimum 3 credits) in environmental information sciences (PLSCS 2200, PLSCS 4110, PLSCS 4200)
  • Students qualify for the Civil Service classification as Soil Scientist (GS-0470) if they take an additional 12 credits in biological, physical, and earth sciences. Civil Service classification as Soil Conservationist (GS-0457) is achieved with the minor plus 12 credits in natural resources and agriculture and 3 credits in applied plant science.

Declaration of Intent

Students wishing to complete one of the minors listed above should submit the declaration of intent form.

Transfer Student Admissions

Study the biology, growth and development of plants, as well as the use of plants for food, fiber, and ornamental purposes. Concentrations include: Plant Genetics and Breeding; Sustainable Plant Production and Landscape Management; Evolution, Systematics, and Ecology; Plant Molecular Biology; and Plants and Human Health.

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.

Required

Strongly encouraged (but not required)

  • General (Inorganic) Chemistry I plus Organic Chemistry I
  • Statistics
  • Soil Science course
  • Applied Plant Science course

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.

Required

  • One semester of Introductory Biology with lab
  • Two College Writing/English Composition courses or one writing/composition and Public Speaking
  • General (Inorganic) Chemistry I with lab
  • Organic Chemistry I (lab not required)
  • Statistics
  • 2 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.

Strongly encouraged (but not required)

  • Soil Science course
  • Applied Plant Science course

Careers in Plant Sciences

People working on a large crop field.

Plant breeder

Many of our students go on to apply the tools they've learned to creation of new varieties of plants with desired characteristics. These can be as varied as disease resistance and climate resilience in our important food crops, new traits in ornamentals, or new products that meet emerging market demands. Students can go on to do this work in small seed companies, as university researchers, at large biotech firms, or as part of international organizations focused on global food security.

Arboretum director

With our concentrations in Ecology of managed landscapes and Public garden management, together with our close relationship with Cornell Botanic Gardens, students graduate with the experience and skills to manage botanic gardens, educational garden resources, and conservatories for the benefit of conservation, research, and public education.

Biotech industry scientist

Course work and student research experiences provide our students with the opportunity to learn cutting edge skills in biotechnology as well as the leadership and collaboration skills much in demand in the private sector.  While the agricultural biotech industry is a common destination for those interested in plant biotechnology, much of the skillset is readily transferable to pharmaceuticals and other biotech industries.

Grower and orchardist

Some of our students return to family  agricultural operations or are interested in becoming producers themselves. Our major provides skills and internship experiences that train students in the cutting edge skills required for successful production agriculture.

Food policy administrator

Through international internships and the coursework and faculty connections focused on international agriculture, many of our student pursue work with the federal government and international agricultural research organizations conducting both research and policy work. Some graduates also work with cities and municipalities to increase access to healthy foods.

Urban agriculture start-up

Advances in technology and interest in urban farming and indoor agriculture, together with increasing markets for fresh local produce has created a relatively new employment niche.  Some of our Plant Science Majors have coupled their plant/agriculture interests with leadership and business training to prepare for entrepreneurial ventures that address this new market.

NEWS SPOTLIGHT

Saving Your Salad: Cornell Plant Breeder Develops Better Cucumbers

Lauren Brzozowski inspecting cucumber plants

Explore your opportunities

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