FAQ

Foundational Courses FAQs

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. The fall semester courses, LS 1a and LPS A, introduce chemistry, molecular biology, and cell 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.  LS 1a integrates chemical and biological principles throughout the semester, and also applies these concepts to larger biological problems such as HIV and cancer.  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.  In LPS A, the first half of the semester is devoted to a study of general chemistry, and the second half of the semester explores molecular and cellular biology.  It is beneficial to already have some familiarity with basic chemical principles when taking LS 1a.  LPS A is particularly important for students with little or no chemistry background who plan to take PS 1 or PS 11 in the spring.

The biology and chemistry placements tests have been carefully constructed to give good advice about which course is most appropriate for you based on what you have learned in high school.  You should take the course that is most appropriate for your background.  Although LS 1a and LPS A take different approaches to studying chemistry and biology, either class will prepare you for later science classes. 

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.  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 consult the OCS website.

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.  

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