New Freshmen Q&A

Congratulations on your acceptance to UC Berkeley!

Check out these frequently asked questions to learn more about MCB and to help separate fact from fiction! Also, we polled some of our peer advisors about their choice to come to Berkeley, their freshman experience, and more.

Q: What are the lower-division MCB requirements?
A: All students will take the following courses. However, any student considering MCB:Biological Chemistry (BMB: Track 2) should plan to take Chem 1B and the upper-division orgranic chemistry sequence, Chem 112A/B, instead of Chem 3A/3AL and Chem 3B/3BL. Any deviations from this course list must be approved by the MCB major advisor prior to completing the sequence.

Course Number Course Name Semesters Offered Units
Math 10A Methods of Mathematics: Calculus, Statistics, and Combinatorics Fall 4
Math 10B Methods of Mathematics: Calculus, Statistics, and Combinatorics Spring 4
Chemistry 1A/1AL General Chemistry with Lab Fall, Spring, Summer 3 + 1
Chemistry 3A/3AL Chemical Structure and Reactivity with Lab Fall, Spring, Summer 3 + 2
Chemistry 3B/3BL Chemical Structure and Reactivity with Lab Fall, Spring, Summer 3 + 2
Biology 1A/1AL General Biology with Lab Fall, Spring, Summer 3 + 2
Biology 1B General Biology with Lab Fall, Spring, Summer 4
Physics 8A Introductory Physics Fall, Spring, Summer 4
Physics 8B Introductory Physics Fall, Spring, Summer 4

Q: I've heard that you can't graduate in 4 years if you want to major in MCB. Is that true?

A: No, that's a myth. Check this page for some typical 4-year plans.

Q: What should I take in the fall as a new freshman?
A: There are many variables that must be considered, but as a general rule, most incoming students intending MCB will take Chemistry 1A/1AL and Math 10A. In addition, many first semester students will take a reading & composition course and/or a breadth course. Ideally, students should register for Chem 1A/1AL and Math 10A during phase 1, but it is up to you to determine your priorities. CalSO will help guide your scheduling choices for your first semester at Cal.
Q: I am planning on taking the Math 10 series. Are there any resources for Math 10A and 10B?
You can find past midterms and final exams for Math 10A and 10B here. You can find course outlines for both Math 10A and 10B here. The SLC also offers an adjuct course and drop-in tutoring, more info can be found here.
Q: Is the Math 16 series acceptable to meet the math requirement for MCB?
A: No, the Math 16 series is not accepted by the MCB major. Students intending MCB are required to completed the Math 10 series to fulfill the major requirement. Any deviations from this series must be approved by the MCB major advisor prior to completing the sequence.
Q: I want to take a different Math sequence than the Math 10 series. Is this possible?
A: Students who wish to deviate from the Math 10 series may have to take a third semester of math or statistics in order to cover the material missed from Math 10A and 10B. Students who complete advanced math courses (Math 53, 54, or 55) may be able to substitute two of these three courses for Math 10A and 10B. Please see a MCB advisor for more information. 
Q: What if I'm not sure whether or not I want to major in MCB?
A: We still recommend that you take Chem 1A/1AL and Math 10A during your first semester at Cal. Most other biological science majors (including Integrative Biology, Public Health, and those offered through CNR) on campus will accept this sequence. If you would like to know about other biology majors, check out the Biology @ Berkeley website.

Q: If I am pre-med, is MCB the right major for me?

A: Maybe. Students are admitted to medical school with a variety of majors, such as spanish, history, german, political science, etc. We suggest majoring in MCB if you have a true interest in science and, in particular, genetics, immunology, biochemistry, neurobiology, or cell biology. If your interests lie in another major, you can always take the classes needed for admission to medical school while majoring in the subject that is most interesting to you. Regardless of your major, you would need to take one year of college-level calculus, general biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, calculus-based physics, and biochemistry. More information can be found on the Career Center's medical school preparation website.

Q: What about AP or IB scores? Can I waive out of other prerequisite courses for the MCB major?
A: AP and/or IB scores can substitute for some of the MCB prerequisites (see chart below). However, we strongly suggest that you take all lower-division courses here at Cal so that you have a solid background in biology and chemistry before you begin your upper-division course work. We particularly recommend taking Biology 1A/1AL regardless of AP credit. The classes at Cal are typically more in-depth, taught differently, and designed to prepare you for success beyond Cal. Most health professions programs require that you have, for example, two semesters of general biology with labs, taken at the college-level. Most programs do not accept AP/IB credit.
Exam Required Score Course 
AP Chemistry 4 or 5 Chem 1A/1AL
AP Biology 4 or 5 Bio 1A/1AL and/or Bio 1B
IB Chemsitry 5, 6, or 7 Chem 1A/1AL
IB Biology 5, 6, or 7 Bio 1B only
A-Levels Chemistry A Chem 1A/1AL
A-Levels Biology A Bio 1A/1AL

Q: I still have questions about which classes to take. Can I call, email or come to the MCB Undergraduate Affairs Office even though I'm not declared yet?
 ABSOLUTELY! During the fall and spring semesters, we have peer advisors Monday through Friday beginning at 10a. In addition, there are academic advisors in the Undergraduate Affairs Office (UAO), M-Th 9-12, 1-4 and F 9-12, 1-3. For quick questions, you can also email We check this email daily so we'll be sure to get back to you as soon as possible. If you would like to speak with someone immediately, please call 510.643.8895.

Q: How can I get in touch with other students to get their opinion about certain classes?
A: When school is in session, we have peer advisors in our office every day of the week (beginning at 10a). They are here specifically to talk to you, the prospective major, the undeclared student, the student with questions. More information can be found on the peer advising webpage.
Q: I'm not able to attend Cal Day and/or CalSO but I still want to keep up-to-date about MCB-related events. What can I do?
A: If you're planning to attend Cal in the fall or spring, we suggest signing up for the MCB Infoline email (see side bar on this page). During the academic year, we send out a weekly email highlighting upcoming deadlines, events, and campus opportunities that are relevant to MCB students. As noted before, we also encourage students to talk with the peer advisors, as they are a great resource for getting to know the campus, schedule planning, learning how to be successful in MCB-related courses, and so much more. 
Q: How do I learn about the research being conducted in MCB?  
A: As many of you know, Cal is world-renowned for its academic research and offers many opportunities for students to be involved. MCB-type research occurs all over campus. As incoming students, we encourage you to take your first (and even second semester) to learn about the universiity, adjust to the academic rigor of the coursework, and discover the many opportunities to get involved. Once your settled and you're academically successful, then start exploring the many types of research and projects occurring at Cal and the surrounding area. More information about research can be found on the MCB research web page or check out the Office of Undergraduate Research website. Most students start research in their third or fourth semesters on campus.
Q: I was admitted to the Fall Program for Freshman (FPF). Can I still graduate in four years?
A: Absolutely. While you might think you'll be behind, you will be on track as other intended MCB majors, though your schedule will be slightly different. Every year, we have FPF students declare the major and graduate in four years (without summers). For FPF students, we usually recommend one summer session to help gain some flexibility in your schedule, but it's not necessary to still graduate in four years. Check out this schedule to see a 4-year plan for FPF, Global Edge, or other students who might start major prequisites in January
Q: Why do I receive a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree even though I'm studying MCB?
A: The word "Arts" in Bachelor of Arts does not mean arts in the modern sense. You are receiving a "liberal arts" degree in the classical sense: the term refers to those subjects that were considered essential for a free citizen to study in ancient Rome--and those subjects included mathematics and astronomy! Like Harvard undergraduates, who also earn a BA degree, you attend a liberal arts college. A liberal arts education will ensure that you graduate with both a depth of knowledge in your major and a breadth of knowledge across the disciplines, making you well prepared for a range of graduate school, medical school, and other career options.

Specifically, the MCB major is housed within the College of Letters & Science and is designed to balance depth in the science and knowledge of subects beyond your major, such as anthropology, legal studies, economics, etc. Many students use this opportunity to declare a minor, participate in the Course Threads program, and/or demonstrate success in a multitude of areas. 
Q: What can I do with a degree in Molecular and Cell Biology?
A: Students earning the BA in MCB have been successful in medical/health-related programs, graduate school, and work in a multitude of areas. Check out the MCB career page for more information. 
*Updated 6/01/15