Biology, Biology-Environmental Studies, Biology-Geology

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

1)  Application for degree candidacy         
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

a. Research should be completed or near completion

b. Enroll in Biology 489: Fall of senior year

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

c. Enroll in Biology 490: Spring of senior year

  • Credit for
    • thesis completion (under Whitman Biology thesis advisor)
    • research seminar: public oral presentation (seminar) of your research findings to the Department of Biology during Bio 499 meeting time. The presentations are 15 minutes.  The department will schedule your seminar time and you will be informed of the date in January. 
  • Enroll in Biology 499: One credit for mandatory attendance at all sessions of the seminar.  Any absences should be coordinated with your advisor.

4) Senior Assessment in Biology

a. GRE subject exam in Biology
You must take and pass (see below) the Biology GRE:

30th percentile for straight Biology and combined

  • 85th percentile for Biology honors
  • 80th percentile for Bio-EnvS, Bio-Geo honors

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.

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.
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 

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

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

In biology and biology combined majors, students do NOT apply for admission to candidacy for honors. Students whose thesis earns a grade of at least A-, who pass the Senior Comprehensive Examinations with distinction, and who attain a Cumulative GPA of 3.3 and a major GPA of 3.5, may be granted Honors in Major Study by the biology department faculty. The biology department chair will notify the Registrar of those students attaining Honors in Major Study not later than the beginning of the third week of April. Two copies of the Honors Thesis must be submitted to Penrose Library no later than Reading Day.

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

3) Departmental oral exam: pass with distinction

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

5) Seminar: give oral presentation of your thesis research to the Department of Biology (during Biology 499 meeting time in spring of your senior year).