Biology is a very broad term. It conjures up thoughts on things as big as ecosystems or the biosphere all the way down to viruses and bacteria. So if you’re asking what will I learn in college biology, that’s very understandable.
First, let’s get the big picture. I’m painting in broad strokes here. In college biology you’ll spend most of your time learning how the cell works (from bacterial cells to plant cells to animal cells). Learning about the cell will cover about 75% of your first biology course. It’ll touch on how the cell harvests energy, how genetics, evolution, and common cell processes work, and cellular structure/makeup. I tackle this in more depth below, but first, let’s look at what is not college biology.
- Anatomy and physiology: these are courses doctors and nurses will take that are on the macro level of the various systems of the human body
- Ecology: these are courses that deal with the biosphere and how various environments of the earth have been created and how animals have adapted to them
- Botany: the study of plants
All of these deal with biology, so it can be surprising to find out that college biology doesn’t cover this. College biology, instead, starts at the micro level and builds from there.
What will I learn in college biology: an overview
College Biology, sometimes called Principles of Biology, is a 1000 level class (e.g. 1610, 1210) that gives a broad introduction to biology at the cellular level. It’s broad enough to cover the two main types of cells (prokaryote and eukaryote), but it will get into specifics that deal with individual cell types (heart cells or neurons, for example), though when specific cell types are brought up, it’s usually to help illustrate a point or process (how a one letter genetic mutation can lead to a major disease like sickle cell anemia, for example).
Here are the main topics you can expect to cover in college biology:
- A broad overview of the cell
- The parts of the cell (nucleus, mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, etc)
- The basic functions of these parts
- A review on chemistry and why its important on the cellular level
- Catabolism (breaking molecules down), anabolism (building molecules up)
- Chemical bonds (bond angles, lengths, covalent vs ionic, etc)
- Energy in the cell (ATP and photosynthesis)
- How they’re made/how they’re regulated
- How they work
- How it is replicated
- How it is read
- How it is repaired
- What they code for
- How mutations happen
- Cell membranes
- What functions they perform
- Cellular skeleton
- The various types of skeletal proteins (macrotubles, intermediate filaments, actin filaments)
- Skeleton rearrangement/movement
- Cell division
- The various cycles of the cell
- What controls the cycles
- Cell signaling and communication
- How cells communicate with each other (long distance, mid-distance, short distance)
- Cell transport
- How the cell ferries contents around inside the cell
- How cells relate to each other, specialize, and how they create tissues
- Common diseases when things go wrong (cancer, sickle cell anemia, dwarfism, etc)
On top of these topics, you’ll likely be required to take an accompanying biology lab where you’ll learn things like:
- Microscope handling/techniques
- Tissue staining
- Dealing with acids/bases/buffers
- Working with enzymes
What if I want to learn college biology on my own or get a head start?
First of all, rock on for being so ambitious. If this article on what you’ll learn in college biology has whet your appetite, there are a few things you can do.
- Check out our post on How to Learn College Biology Online
- Check out our Guide to Learning Biology on Your Own
Both of these are jam packed with resources to help you learn biology. They include video resources, free textbooks, flash card resources, etc. As for the lab work, well- you’re on a site right now that has instructions on building your own biology lab, so you might be good on that too. Take advantage of all of these resources and you’ll move from “what will I learn in college biology” to “I know
kung fu college biology.” It will be an epic day. Good luck.