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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 Leah Cynara Cook (email: lcc2 [at] and Director of Undergraduate Studies Marvin Pritts (email: mpp3 [at] 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 enthusiasm for plants, the variety of courses and research opportunities encourages a great diversity of individual interests and career paths.

CALS Plant Sciences faculty offer many exciting opportunities for students to apply their knowledge as field and laboratory assistants. For example, recent students have been involved in 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 have included: 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

More admission details.

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

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.

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.

Previous versions of the Plant Sciences Major curriculum set out strict requirements for particular concentrations.  Now, students select concentration courses -- 10-credit minimum of related upper-level (3000+) courses -- in consultation with their faculty advisor.

Some examples of possible concentrations from the old curriculum include:

  • Ecology of Managed Landscapes (Ecology)
  • Organic Agriculture (Organics)
  • Plant Breeding & Genetics (Breeding)
  • Plant Computational Biology (Big Data)
  • Plant Evolution and Systematics (Evolution)
  • Plant Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology (Physiology)
  • Plant Pathology & Plant-Microbe Biology (Plant Diseases)
  • Plants and Human Health (Medicinal Plants)
  • Soil Science (Soils)
  • Sustainable Plant Production (Sustainability)

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

Students are expected to submit a proposal to the Plant Sciences Curriculum Committee for approval of the concentration courses no later than pre-enrollment for the student's first semester of the junior year--or if the student transferred in with junior standing, no later than pre-enrollment for the student's second semester of the junior year.

Visit the Plant Sciences concentrations page for detailed information about concentration requirements, and possible course choices for the example concentrations above.

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 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.

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 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.


Strongly encouraged (but not required):

  • General (Inorganic) Chemistry I
  • 1 course that meets 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.

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.


  • 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
  • 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)

  • Botany, Plant Diversity, Plant Identification or Systematics courses

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.


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.