FAQ

What are the introductory courses in the life sciences?
Life Sciences 1a (LS 1a) and Life Sciences 1b (LS 1b) were designed as the foundation for the life sciences concentrations.  Based on your background preparation, Life and Physical Sciences A (LPS A) may serve as an alternative to LS 1a. LS 1a, which is offered in the fall, provides an integrated introduction to chemistry, molecular biology, and cell biology.  LPS A is offered in the fall and treats foundational topics in chemistry and biology.  LS 1b, which is offered in the spring, covers topics in genetics, genomics, and evolution. 

If I am a freshman, which life sciences class should I take in the fall? 
For course advice, you should take the biology and chemistry placement exams.  Based on the results of the placement exams, you will receive a recommendation for your fall course – either LS 1a or LPS A.  If you are unsure of which course to take, you should talk with a life sciences advisor.  A team of life sciences advisors will be available to talk with you at the Science Advising Session in the Science Center during Opening Days.

What is the difference between LS 1a and LPS A?
Both LS 1a and LPS A are offered in the fall and are introductory courses in biology and chemistry. LPS A is aimed at students who, based on their background in chemistry or biology, require additional preparation before taking further science courses at Harvard. The first portion of LPS A primarily covers chemistry, followed by a discussion of biology in the second portion of the course. LPS A is particularly important for students with little or no chemistry background who plan to take PS 1 in the spring. LS 1a is an introductory course that integrates chemical and biological concepts and presents them in the context of larger biological problems such as HIV and cancer. Therefore it is beneficial to already have a familiarity with basic chemical principles when taking LS 1a.

Which Life Sciences concentrations require LS 1a, 1b, or LPS A?
Both LS 1a (or LPS A) and LS 1b are required for concentrators in:

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Chemical and Physical Biology
  • Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology
  • Human Evolutionary Biology
  • Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Organismic and Evolutionary Biology
  • Neurobiology

The Social and Cognitive Neuroscience track in Psychology requires one of LS 1a, LPS A, or LS 1b. The Chemistry concentration requires two of the following: LS 1a, LPS A, and Physical Sciences 1.

Who should take the introductory Life Sciences courses?
All students are welcome in these courses, whether or not they proceed to more advanced work in the Life Sciences. First-year students who are interested in concentrating in any of the Life Sciences should take these courses. The courses incorporate study networks, review sessions, and small sections in order to facilitate the success of everyone in the class. Students who wish to satisfy pre-medical requirements, but are not thinking of concentrating in one of the Life Sciences, are also encouraged to take these courses. For more information, please see the information on pre-medical requirements at the end of this document, and consult the OCS website.

If I have a strong science background, should I take LS 1a and LS 1b?
Yes. Even if you have a strong high school background, these courses will provide new approaches to material that you will not have seen before, and the courses will prepare you for advanced Harvard courses more effectively than relying on your high school preparation alone. 

If I have little or no science background, what class should I take?
If you have little or no science background, you should consider taking Life and Physical Sciences A (LPS A) in the fall. You should take the on-line chemistry and biology placement exams for course recommendations. Based on the results of the placement exams, you will receive a recommendation for your fall course.  If you are unsure of which course to take, you should talk with a life sciences advisor.  A team of life sciences advisors will be available to talk with you at the Science Advising Session in the Science Center during Opening Days.

If I take LPS A, do I also need to take LS 1a and LS 1b to concentrate in the Life Sciences?
A student who takes LPS A is not required to take LS 1a in a subsequent year.  However, you will need to take LS 1b to fulfill the requirements of most of the life sciences concentrations. 

Can LS 1a, 1b, or LPS A be taken by non-science concentrators?
Yes. All of these courses are designed for potential concentrators and non-concentrators alike.

Do LS 1a, LS 1b, or LPS A count for General Education credit?
Yes.  LS 1a, LS 1b, and LPS A count for General Education credit in the Science of Living Systems category.

Are these courses only for first-year students?
Absolutely not. The courses are open to everyone, although students who are considering concentrating in one of the Life Sciences are strongly encouraged to take them in their first year.

What math background do I need for LS 1a, LS 1b, or LPS A?
There are no formal pre-requisites in mathematics for these courses. However, studies have shown that students whose score on Part 1 of the Harvard Math Placement Test (HMPT 1) is 12 or less do much better in their science courses if they complete Math Ma with a high grade first. If you have been placed in Math Ma, you should consider postponing the start of the LS sequence by one semester, taking LS 1b in the spring of your first year and LS 1a in the fall of your second year. LPS A assumes fluency with high school algebra.  If you are placed into Math Ma, it is fine to take LPS A concurrently.

Are there any pre-requisites for these classes?
There are no pre-requisites for LS 1a, LS 1b, or LPS A.

Can I take LS 1a and/or LS 1b for credit if I accept Advanced Standing with AP scores of 5 in Biology and/or Chemistry?
Yes. Harvard does not consider AP courses to be equivalent to LS1a or LS1b. Please consult the Advanced Standing websitefor more information.

Do LS 1a, LS 1b, and LPS A count for pre-medical requirements? 
Yes.  LS 1a and LPS A fulfill the requirement for one semester of general chemistry with laboratory.  LS1b fulfills the requirement for one semester of biology with laboratory. 

Will the introductory Life Sciences courses prepare me for the MCAT?
LS 1a, LS 1b, and LPS A, like all introductory science courses at Harvard, cover much of the material required for the MCAT. However, as these courses are not specifically designed to prepare students for the MCAT, there may be some topics which are included on the MCAT but not covered in your science classes at Harvard. You are encouraged to read theMCAT Student Manual which describes in detail the content of the physical science and biological science sections of the MCAT.

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