Choosing Your Courses in First Year Science

Having trouble deciding what courses to take in first year? This guide is here to help.

Step 1: Determine Your Areas of Interest

What is a specialization?

A specialization is also known as a major. By the end of first year, every UBC Science undergraduate student must choose a specific area of study. Throughout the rest of your time at UBC, you’ll complete courses within that area of study. As a first-year student planning your timetable, consider areas of interest (potential specializations) and build your timetable based on pre-requisites needed for your intended specialization. Be sure to read the related and important information on the UBC Academic Calendar. We’ve included a link on the right.

It’s okay to change your specialization later on

Many specializations have the same—or almost the same—first-year requirements. Knowing what you want to study in second year will help you choose your courses for first year, but don’t worry if you haven’t narrowed your choice down quite yet.

UBC Academic Calendar (BSc)

UBC Science offers numerous areas of specializations for students. Visit the UBC Academic Calendar and scroll down to check out the details of your interested specialization(s). Each specialization Calendar entry will show you an overview of your degree, including the sample timetable you could have at each class standing.

Step 2: Consider Timetable Options

Design Your Own Timetable

This is the typical choice for first-year UBC Science students, and offers the most flexibility. You select both the courses and the particular sections of courses you attend according to the requirements of the degree specialization (major) you want to enter in second year. You take only one section of a course—one that fits your needs and schedule. Most of your lectures will be in large rooms but labs and tutorials will be in smaller groups.

Science One: Immersive. Interdisciplinary.

Immerse yourself in Science One, an innovative course for 75 students in which eight professors teach the traditional disciplines of biology, chemistry, maths and physics in a unified, integrated format. This interdisciplinary, 28-credit program has a dedicated study space, and incorporates lectures, tutorials and labs. Enhance your scientific skillset with workshops, guest lecturers, extra instruction in science literacy and programming, mentored research projects, student conferences, and field trips. Separate application required.

Step 3: Consider Other Courses and Pre-requisites for Second Year

Specialization Admission Pre-Requisites

Each program specialization has requirements for admission. Make sure you are clear on what you plan to complete in first year. Look at areas of interest (potential specializations) and the courses that must be taken for admission. See the specialization admission requirements.

Pre-requisites For Promotion To 2nd Year Class Standing

To be promoted to 2nd year class standing, students must complete 24 credits total, including 15 credits in 100-level Science subjects.

It is best to include a mix of Science subjects in your first year. Keep in mind that to move to 4th year class standing, Science students need to complete the Lower Level Science Requirements (i.e. Foundational and Laboratory Science Requirements).

Communications Component

All UBC Science students need coursework focusing on communicating skills. In first year, you can choose to take SCIE 113, the First Year Seminar in Science. Some 100-level courses in English (ENGL) and Writing Research and Discourse Studies (WRDS) can also count towards the Communication Requirement.

When should I take my communications credits?

It is not mandatory to take your communications credits in first year, but you are encouraged to complete your Communication Requirement early in your degree so that you can apply the skills in your other courses.


Electives are courses that allow you to gain knowledge and skills that complement your interests in particular areas of science. During your degree, you must complete at least 12 Arts credits (in addition to any English courses used to fulfill the Communication Requirement). Bachelor of Science (BSc) students may take courses offered in any Faculty or School. A maximum of 24 credits outside of Science and Arts may be taken throughout your whole degree.

When should I take my electives?

Get advice, but ultimately, the decision is up to you. Balance your required courses with one or two electives each term, or stay focused on your intended path.

What electives should I take?

Browse the Course Schedule to see what courses are available and might be of interest. Popular electives include earth and ocean sciences, economics, psychology, philosophy, music, anthropology.

Laboratory Component

All Science students must take at least one lab course. It can be a stand-alone lab course (e.g. BIOL 140, PHYS 109, or PHYS 119) or a lecture with a lab component (e.g. CHEM 111, 121, 123, PHYS 101, or PHYS 107). The course must be selected from the listed courses in the Calendar.


A pre-requisite is a course that must be completed prior to taking the selected course. A co-requisite is a course that must be completed in advance OR during the same term as the selected course.

Step 4: Course Planning

When you’re admitted to UBC, your high school courses are assigned a grade-level based on the typical curriculum of a student from a British Columbia school. If you did not complete high school in BC, the grade-level your courses are assigned (Grade 11 or Grade 12) is recorded in Workday under External Records.

Then use the following chart to determine the specific courses you need to take, based on the high school courses you completed.

Lower Level Requirements


How to Choose the Right Math Course

No Biology 11 or Biology 12 credit
3 Credits of 100-level BIOL (usually BIOL 111)
ORBiology 11 or Biology 12 credit
Credit fulfilled 
No Chemistry 12 credit
CHEM 100 or CHEM 111
ORChemistry 12 credit
Credit fulfilled 
No Physics 12 credit
3 credits of 100-level physics
ORPhysics 12 credit
Credit fulfilled 
Students must complete one course selected from the following list:
ASTR 101 ASTR 102 BIOL 140 CHEM 111 CHEM 121CHEM 123 EOSC 111 PHYS 101 PHYS 107

PHYS 109 PHYS 119 PHYS 159 SCIE 001

Some specializations (e.g. majors) will require that you have completed Math course(s) - figure out where you should start

Communication Requirement

To complete your first year course schedule with electives, you will want to consider the Communication Requirement. Students are encouraged to take at least one Communication course in their first year.

Science Breadth Requirement

To complete your first year course schedule with electives, you will want to consider the Science Breadth Requirement. This will help you to prepare for course planning in your second and third year.

Step 5: Decide On Your Optimum Course Load

How many courses should I take each term?

A full course load is 30 credits or more over the two terms of winter session (September to April) - that's about five courses per term. If you commute, have family responsibilities, work, or volunteer more than five hours a week, do not attempt a full course load. Allow time for fun! Sports, recreation and social time give you balance. Many students choose to take fewer courses in first term and add another course in second term once they become accustomed to the work load and academic expectations. You can always take some courses over the summer session.


For every course, allow five to eight hours per week to do the required readings, group study, assignments, and exam prep.


To live in student housing, you need at least 9 credits per term, which means 18 credits per winter session. Please consult with UBC Student Housing about the specifics of your contract. 

Student Loans and Scholarships

To be eligible for student loans, you need at least 9 credits per term, which means 18 credits per winter session. To hold a UBC award, you need at least 24 credits in the winter session. To be considered for an award after first year, you need at least 27 credits in the winter session of your first year.

International Students

International students are considered by UBC to be full time for immigration purposes based on definitions outlined in the International Student Guide. Please consult with UBC International Student Advising about the specifics of your immigration documents.

Honours Program

To qualify for an honours option with 2nd year class standing, you must complete 27 credits in the winter session of your first year, with no failed courses.

What about advance credit?

Advance credit (from AP, IB, or A-level courses) does not count toward your winter session course load because you earned it before starting studies at UBC. It does count for promotion and towards your total BSc credits.

Step 6: Advance or Transfer Credits

What are advance or transfer credits?

If you took A-Levels, Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, you may be offered advance credit that counts towards a degree program and can be granted for some UBC courses. If you are transferring from another post-secondary institution, UBC may grant you transfer credits for specific courses.

How do I check my advance or transfer credits?

Log into Workday, click on "Academics", and look under "Transfer Credit" to see how your credits have been assessed.

Should I accept the advance credit or take the equivalent UBC course?

If the course is core to your area of study, it may be worthwhile to take the UBC course. Sure, you are likely to do well, but it also ensures you learn the material as it is taught at UBC. If the course is an elective, then why not accept the advance credit and give yourself more flexibility in planning your first year?

If you're coming from high school and have received a large amount of advance credit, consider taking more electives. If you’re deeply passionate about the subject, ask Science Advising about more challenging honours-level first-year courses. Or take a second-year course in the subject—but don’t overestimate your readiness for second year.

I haven't been notified of the advance or transfer credit yet. What should I do?

Unless it’s an elective, we recommend you register for the course on your registration day. This ensures you have the course if you don’t get the advanced or transfer credit. If you receive the advance credit and decide to keep it, you can drop the UBC course later and find an elective. To find out what credit you may be receiving, see how UBC recognizes A-Levels, Advanced Placement, or International Baccalaureate.

Tips to Remember

  • Create multiple saved schedules. Spots fill up quickly and you may have to quickly switch to a plan B if an important course is filled.
  • Allow for time when planning back-to-back classes, especially if they're in different buildings. Use UBC Wayfinding to see the distance you’ll need to travel between buildings.
  • Laboratory/Tutorial Component: Some first-year Science courses require you to also register for a laboratory/tutorial section. Make sure you register for those in addition to the main lecture.
  • Some courses are only offered in one term.
  • Some courses have restrictions. Check the section details - some courses might be for you. If you have issues, learn more in the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).
  • Need additional academic planning support? We recognize that each student's situation is unique and that first year course selections can be overwhelming. Please know our knowledgeable and friendly Science academic advisors are here to support you.

Need More Support?

Register for Courses

Musqueam First Nation land acknowledegement

UBC Science acknowledges that the UBC Point Grey campus is situated on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm.

Learn more: Musqueam First Nation

Faculty of Science

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