Graduation Requirements

Biology, Biology-Environmental Studies, Biology-Geology

Do not neglect to carefully review the Biology Student Handbook (in the Biology Major Folder on CLEo)

Your senior year is always a busy one with several requirements and dates to keep in mind:

  1. Application for degree candidacy

    1. For May graduation you must file your Degree Candidacy form with the Registrar’s Office no later than the designated date in November. You should receive the form in the mail. (For December graduation, you must file by the end of the preceding February).

  2. Meet all minimum credit and course requirements

  3. Senior Research Thesis

    1. Research should be completed or near completion

    2. Enroll in Biology 489: Fall of senior year

      1. Credit for processing and analyzing data and writing thesis (under the direction of a Whitman Biology faculty who is your thesis adviser)

    3. Enroll in Biology 490 (498 for honors): Spring of senior year

      1. Credit for

        1. Thesis completion (under Whitman Biology thesis adviser)

        2. Research seminar: public oral presentation (seminar) of your research findings to the Department of Biology during Bio 490 (Bio 498) meeting time. The presentations are 15 minutes (30 minutes for Honors Candidates).  The department will schedule your seminar time and you will be informed of the date in January.

    4. Enroll in Biology 499: One credit for mandatory attendance at all sessions of the seminar.  Any absences should be coordinated with your adviser.

  4. Senior Assessment in Biology

    1. GRE subject exam in Biology

      1. You must take and pass (see below) the Biology GRE

        1. 30th percentile for straight Biology and combined

        2. 85th percentile for Biology honors

        3. 80th percentile for Bio-EnvS, Bio-Geo honors

      2. The exam is divided equally into three sections: cellular and molecular biology; organismal biology; ecology and evolution.  Please see Appendix A of the Biology majors Handbook for a list of specific topics covered.

      3. There are three test dates available at Whitman during the academic year: late September, late October, and mid April.  However, the department requires you to take the exam in the Fall; April exam should be reserved as a backup in case you need to retake the exam for graduation.  Please consult the GRE website ( and see additional information in Appendix A.

      4. You must make your own arrangements to take the GRE.  When you register, be sure to designate that your scores should be released to Whitman College.  Registration should be done online by mid-August (for the Sept exam) or mid-September (for the Oct exam) at

    2. Departmental comprehensive oral exam

      1. Senior year.  The department will schedule your oral exam for you and you will be told at least two weeks before the exam date.

        1. Non-honors: approximately half will be scheduled in the fall (Oct-Nov) and the other half starting in early February.  The committee includes two randomly assigned faculty for Bio and two to three for Bio-EnvS.

        2. Honors: Oct-Nov with two randomly assigned faculty (there may be a third ES representative for Bio/ES majors).

Graduation with Honors (Biology, Bio-EnvS, or Bio-Geo)

To graduate with honors, you need a cumulative GPA of at least 3.3 and a GPA in your major of at least 3.5 at the time of graduation. If you currently have an overall GPA of 3.1 and a major GPA of 3.3, you may consider applying for honors in your major.

To apply for honors candidacy, you need to submit to the Biology Chair by the Monday of the fifth week of the semester:

  1. Honor’s research proposal (font 12 and double-spaced throughout).

    1. This proposal must have the following:

      1. cover page with the proposal title, your name, the date, and signatures of your research adviser and academic adviser

      2. 2 written pages (no more!) describing the research

      3. 1-2 additional pages listing references cited in the proposal.

    2. The proposal must be approved by all members of the Biology faculty. Therefore, you need to initiate your proposal with your research adviser ahead of time, circulate it to the entire Biology faculty for comments and approval, make any appropriate changes, and then submit the revised final proposal to the Biology Chair (Dr. Tim Parker) by the end of the 6th week of the semester.

  2. Honors candidacy form

    1. This form is available at the Registrar’s Office or can be printed off the web at (

    2. The form must be signed by your research adviser.

Requirements - To graduate with honors in the major, you must meet all of the following at the time of your graduation:

  1. GPA: achieve minimum cum GPA of 3.3 and a minimum major GPA of 3.5

  2. GRE: earn minimum score of 85 percentile in the Biology GRE for Biology majors and 80 percentile for combined majors (or other minimum established by your oral exam committee)

  3. Departmental oral exam: pass with distinction; takes place in Oct-Nov 2011

  4. Thesis: write a thesis of “honors” quality: with a rigorous coverage of the literature and analysis of data, and an in-depth discussion. The completed thesis must be read and approved by two Whitman Biology faculty in addition to your thesis adviser (these will be assigned to you by the Biology Department Chair). Also, your thesis is due to the Biology faculty three weeks before the library due date. Your thesis must be submitted to the library by Reading Day (the day after the last day of classes) in May.

  5. Seminar: give oral presentation of your thesis research to the Department of Biology (during departmental Biology 499 meeting time in Spring of your senior year). You will be allotted 30 minutes for your presentation.