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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. 

Armed with a degree in Plant Sciences, you can make a positive difference in the world by:

  • Finding new ways to produce enough nutritious 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 food while protecting the environment.
  • 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.

Why study plant science at Cornell?  Here are 10 reasons.

Contact Plant Sciences Major Coordinator and Student Services Lead Lauren Boggs (email: leb69 [at] cornell.edu (leb69[at]cornell[dot]edu)) and Director of Undergraduate Studies Marvin Pritts (email: mpp3 [at] cornell.edu (mpp3[at]cornell[dot]edu)) to see if the Plant Sciences Major is a good fit for you. (More info about the Plant Sciences Minor here.)

Major in Plant Sciences

Bachelor of Science (B.S.)

While students majoring in Plant Sciences share a common passion for plants, the variety of courses, research experiences and other experiential learning opportunities are designed to meet the needs of a great diversity of student interests and career paths.

More than 150 courses that deal directly with some area of plant science are offered in the School of Integrative Plant Science. Plant Sciences majors are expected to take introductory coursework in biology, chemistry, and statistics and a primary core of four plant-focused courses.

This is followed by a selection of foundational courses and a suite of courses concentrating on the student’s area(s) of interest in the Plant Sciences, rounded out with a broadening course, an experiential practicum and a senior symposium.

There are also opportunities to engage in internships, undergraduate teaching, and research experiences. See Experiential learning for more information.

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

More admission details for first-year applicants, including standardized testing and other special requirements.

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

  • College - View college requirements
  • Major - View Major requirements
  • Concentration - 10-credit minimum of related upper-level (3000+) courses that share a common plant-related theme selected in consultation with faculty advisor. See details in accordion section below.

All Plant Sciences Majors are also required to develop an ePortfolio and engage in at least one experiential learning opportunity while at Cornell. Most meet this requirement either through internships or research experience. Learn more.

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

Students complete 10-credit minimum of related upper-level (3000+) courses from across the university that share a common plant-related theme built on foundational courses. Courses are selected in consultation with the student’s faculty advisor and are submitted to the Plant Sciences Curriculum Committee for approval.

Here are just a few of the many different concentrations students have pursued in consultation with their faculty advisor: 

  • Sustainable plant production
  • Plant breeding
  • Computational biology
  • Plant diseases
  • Evolution and diversity
  • Plant molecular, cellular & developmental biology
  • Medicinal plants
  • Public garden management
  • Soil science

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.

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 and translate these into empirically testable hypotheses.
  • Collect and analyze data obtained from original research, using methods that are reproducible.
  • Translate and apply experimental data to advance the field and solve real-world problems.

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.
  • Demonstrate an awareness of the ethical principles and global consequences associated with past, present, and future advances in plant science.
  • Succinctly and clearly communicate information about the breadth of issues in plant science to diverse audiences in oral and written formats.

Love plants but don’t necessarily want to devote your career to them?  This minor is for you! Provides broad yet meaningfully deep exposure to many aspects of plant science. Only two required courses and lots of flexibility.

Visit the Plant Sciences Minor webpage for more information.

 

Transfer Student Admissions

Plants form the foundation of life on the planet, providing us with oxygen to breathe, food to eat, clothes to wear, and landscapes to enjoy. But most of these things don’t happen by accident. Scientists and practitioners work hard to breed crops that are more resilient; manage pests that cause plant diseases; improve the health of soils; produce flavorful fruits, vegetables and grains; restore damaged ecosystems; and understand the underlying principles of how plants develop, grow, reproduce and evolve. After obtaining fundamental knowledge of plant science, students can concentration in topics ranging from plant systematics to greenhouse crop production; from breeding to pest management; from molecular biology to computational biology; from public garden management to organic agriculture; and almost anything in between.

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 information about AP/IB/GCE Credit, Visit our Cornell Policy on Advanced Placement Credit for English, Math, Science, and Foreign Language. CALS adheres to these guidelines unless otherwise noted by the major.  

For information about College Credit Earned in High School, Visit CALS Policy on College Credit While Earned in High School  

Below are requirements for Transfer Students applying to CALS for Fall 2025 

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:

One semester of Introductory Biology with lab 

One College Writing/English Composition course 

Strongly encouraged (but not required): 

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 

  • Botany course cannot substitute for Introductory Bio course 
  • Students with an AP Biology score of 4 or 5 will be exempt from BIOG 1440, but will need another biology course 

General Chemistry I with lab  

Organic Chemistry I  

Statistics (AEM 2100) 

Two Courses that meet the CALS social science and humanities requirements 

Two College Writing/English Composition courses or one writing/composition and Public Speaking  

Strongly encouraged (but not required): 

Botany, Plant Diversity, Plant Identification or Systematics courses 

Students currently enrolled in CALS or other Cornell schools see Internal Transfer Policy

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.