Durham University

Department of Biosciences


Frequently Asked Questions

Undergraduate Admissions

What A level subjects do I need and what is your typical offer?

Entrants must have three 'A' levels (or equivalent qualifications), two of which must be sciences. One of these must EITHER be in Biology or Chemistry or Human Biology. We do consider psychology, geography and maths as sciences. Our current typical 'A' level offer is AAA. Two 'AS' levels are NOT accepted as an alternative to an 'A' level. General studies and critical thinking are not recognised as 'A' levels for the purposes of admissions.

Would Psychology and/or Geography A levels be acceptable as second science A levels for Biology?


I'm taking Maths A level. Do you consider this a science subject?

Maths is very suitable as a science A level to complement one or more of biology, chemistry or human biology. For some reason we get a number of enquiries asking if maths is a science - it definitely is!

What do you consider to be a science subject?

Subjects considered as sciences for the purposes of admissions are:

  • Anthropology
  • Applied Science
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Computing
  • Environmental Studies
  • Further Mathematics
  • Geography
  • Geology
  • Home Economics
  • Human Biology
  • Marine Science
  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Psychology
  • Science in Society
  • Statistics

Do you consider PE to be a science?

We do not consider PE to be a science for the purpose of admissions. However, as long as you have two other science subjects at A level or equivalent, we are happy for applicants to have PE as a third subject.

I'm taking both maths and further maths A levels. Do you consider these as one A level or two?

These are considered as two A levels for the purposes of admissions. If you are taking both maths and further maths, then as long as your third subject is one of biology, chemistry or human biology, then your subject profile satisfies our entrance requirements.

Is the probability of an offer being made dependent on the subjects I am taking?/ Is there a preferred A level list?

No. As long as you satisfy the subject requirements ( see first FAQ above), then what you have taken in order to satisfy these is not a factor in deciding whether or not to make an offer. Over and above those specified requirements, there are no preferred subjects which are deemed "better" or "worse" than others for the purposes of making an offer. The only exception is that general studies and critical thinking are not considered A levels for the purposes of admissions.

I am taking Biology amongst my A levels but have a choice of dropping Chemistry in favour of another subject. Please can you advise?

Our typical offer will require that you get at least an "A" grade in all three of your subjects. Our evidence is that students who take the “Scientific Skills for Biosciences” Module in level 1 gain all the required chemistry skills to do well in our degrees. As long as you satisfy the subject requirements (see first FAQ above), then selecting that combination of subjects which will best assure your gaining a minimum of AAA is recommended.

I am not taking one (or either) of maths or chemistry at A level. Will this affect the probability of being made an offer?

No. As long as you satisfy the requirements with your other subjects taken, then the presence or absence of maths or chemistry will have no impact on the admissions process.

I'm not taking A level Chemistry/Maths. Will this hinder my progress as an undergraduate?

No. The Scientific Skills for Biosciences module in level 1 provides all the necessary training. Experience has shown that students who have taken the equivalent of this module progress at Durham with just as much success as those who came in with A levels in these subjects. Indeed it now appears that students who took the equivalent of this module tended to achieve better grades at level 1 than those who had A levels in these subjects but did not take the module. Because of this, we now require all students to take this module.

How many students do you admit each year?

Our home/EU entry target is 153 students.

I'm also going to apply for medicine/veterinary science/dentistry, and I'm worried that my UCAS personal statement won't be suitable for biology/biosciences.

Durham University now allows UCAS applicants to submit a substitute statement which we will use exclusively when considering your application - check out https://www.dur.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/apply/personalstatement/substitute/

In summary, if you write a UCAS personal statement directed toward medicine/vet/dentistry, but then upload a substitute statement to us as described in the website above, writing this in the context of applying for biology/biosciences, then we will consider ONLY the substitute statement in reaching an admissions decision. Make sure to read the instructions on the website carefully - there are some strict time limits.

I understand that I can submit a substitute personal statement for Durham applications. Will it affect my application if I do/do not submit a substitute statement?

All applicants have the option to submit a personal statement specific for Durham applications which will substitute for the one submitted via UCAS. Check out https://www.dur.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/apply/personalstatement/substitute/ for information. If you DO submit a substitute statement, it is this, and NOT the UCAS personal statement that will be used in coming to an admissions decision. There is no requirement to submit a personal statement. Using the option for a substitute statement - or not - will have NO impact on any admissions decision. Only the information contained within the substitute statement (or for those not wishing to use this option, the UCAS statement) will be used, not the route by which it comes to us.

Do I need maths beyond GCSE level?

There is no requirement to have Maths qualifications beyond GCSE (or equivalent) for the purposes of admissions.

I am applying for medicine/veterinary medicine/dentistry and I am considering choosing a Durham biosciences subject in case I do not receive an offer for my chosen career. Would you make me an offer?

We are keen to recruit students who are genuinely dedicated in studying the degrees that we offer in the Department of Biosciences in Durham. Since we receive many more applications than places available, the content of the personal statement on your UCAS application form is an important indicator of commitment to the subject that you have applied for. Your application would be considered alongside all those applicants whose personal statement reflects a commitment to studying Biological Sciences. In fairness to all applicants, we only consider information that is presented on the UCAS application form and, when employed, the substitute statement (see above).

I plan to apply to Oxford/Cambridge. Will that affect my chances of an offer from Durham?

No. Your UCAS application that we will receive will give us no information about any other universities that you have chosen to apply to, so your other choice of university will have no bearing on our decision to make an offer.

What qualities do you look for in applicants?

  • A proactive attitude to learning and commitment to your chosen field of study, beyond the confines of your qualification syllabus. We are seeking to recruit highly motivated applicants who can demonstrate a genuine interest in - and enthusiasm for - their chosen subject of study. Evidence for such motivation should be highlighted in the personal statement on your UCAS form. It might include, for example, any of the following: detailed knowledge of biological topics gained by reading outside the A-level syllabus, using current relevant literature; awareness in depth of contentious issues; attendance at summer schools and public science lectures; gaining experience via voluntary or paid work with biosciences-related organisations; self-motivated acquisition of skills and pursuit of interests.
  • We wish to recruit undergraduates who are determined to make best use of the available opportunities for study in the School, who will interact with fellow students and staff and be prepared to contribute actively to the collective learning experience in tutorials, practical classes and seminars.
  • Communication skills are important in science in general and in biological sciences in particular, where current areas of research are often controversial and have important social and economic implications.

Do you accept mature students with non-standard qualifications?

We welcome applications from mature students. We would invite mature students to visit us and discuss their application with us before making offers. Applicants can also progress to our honours degrees via our Foundation programme .

How many applications do you receive and how many offers do you make?

Each year we receive around 1000 applications and we make approximately 4 offers per available place.

Do you accept deferred applications?

Yes. In a typical year, approximately 5-10% of places are held by deferred entry candidates. We do recommend that deferred entry applicants use some of their UCAS or substitute personal statement to explain what it is they propose to use their gap year for.

Is there a college for biologists?

No, as with all other departments our quota of students is distributed amongst all the colleges in Durham, in numbers that are roughly proportional to the size of colleges.

Do I need to apply to a Durham College?

All academic decisions concerning issue of offers are made by the Department. Successful applicants are then allocated to colleges. You can specify the college where you would like your application to be considered, although this does not guarantee that the college will be able to offer accommodation, due to space constraints. Alternatively you can submit an open application, in which case your application will be allocated to a college by the University. You can find more information about Durham Colleges at https://www.dur.ac.uk/colleges/

Will I be interviewed?

No. We may invite applicants to discuss their application with us in exceptional circumstances, but our offers are made without formal interview.

When do you hold open days?

  • Information on University open days, including how and when to book can be found here.

Do you offer a placement year in all degree programmes?

We offer placement years in industry, the NHS, NGOs and other organisations . Assistance is offered to students to secure placements by School staff. Students who spend a year in industry are allocated a placement supervisor and are visited by their academic supervisor while they are away from Durham. The salary or bursary that students receive during their placement is determined by the partner organisation. Students who go on placement change their registration to a "with placement" degree during level 2. There is no placement option for those taking the four-year MBiol Biosciences course.

When do I need to decide whether I wish to include a placement in my degree?

The decision can be delayed until the end of your second year of study, although in practice we advise students who wish to take a placement to start the process at the beginning of that year. You will change your registration to Biological Sciences with placement at the end of level 2.

How can I find out more about the research strengths in the Department of Biosciences?

Our teaching is strongly research-led, which ensures that students are taught by leaders in their field, and puts our graduates in a very strong position to compete for research-based careers when they graduate. The School website has information about the major themes around which research in the school is grouped; the research introductory page, https://www.dur.ac.uk/biosciences/research/ is a good place to start. You can also find out about the research specialisations of staff by accessing their personal web pages from https://www.dur.ac.uk/biosciences/about/schoolstaff/academicstaff/ These pages contain details of research publications and measures of esteem.

How can I find out more about the modules that I will be studying?

Information on the degree programmes and the invidual modules can be found in the Faculty handbook https://www.dur.ac.uk/faculty.handbook

Will I need to do animal dissections?

Students in the Department of Biosciences will be expected, as part of their course, to carry out dissections. They will be trained to develop a responsible attitude to the use of such methods and to the collection of living organisms. They will also be expected to make observations on living cells as well as whole organisms.

I have taken a language at A level and would like to develop my language skills. Can I take a language module as part of my degree?

The University encourages students to take a language module as an optional modules at level 1, although timetabling constraints means that this cannot always be guaranteed. However, extracurricular language classes are available to all undergraduates; see the web site for the Centre for Foreign Language Study, https://www.dur.ac.uk/mlac/cfls/ for details.

Biological Sciences students can also elect to take a language module in level 2, subject to timetable.

What will happen if I narrowly miss the offer that you have made me when my results are announced? Will you still consider me for a place?

The situation regarding applicants who narrowly miss their offer depends on the number of applicants who achieve their offer grades, throughout the university as a whole and within the department. When we receive the results we compile a list of "near miss" applicants, ranked according to how close they were to achieving the required grades, and taking into account any circumstances that would not have been apparent at the time that offers were made. If the total number of applicants who have achieved their requested grades is below the overall target of students that the university is allowed to recruit, then individual departments that are below their allocated quota may be allowed to recruit top-ranked "near miss" applicants. Departments where the applicant success rate exceeds their target not normally allowed to recruit "near misses". We cannot predict the situation we will find ourselves in until we receive all the results in August.

Can I change to a non-biological degree programme after I arrive?

Changing to Natural Sciences may be possible, but is subject to space being available. Other changes will probably mean re-starting your programme.

Do graduates from Biological Sciences/Biosciences go on to gain entry to Medical/Dental/Veterinary School?

A small number of graduates (around 5 per year) typically go on to commence degrees in medicine, dentistry or veterinary science. More graduates use the comprehensive and research-led training in biosciences to go on to pursue post-graduate research degrees (e.g. PhD ) at institutions such as medical schools.

Do you accept BTEC qualifications?

Applicants with BTEC extended diploma qualifications should apply for Biological Sciences with Foundation, not direct entry to BSc Biological Sciences or MBiol Biosciences.

What do you look for in a referee's statement?

A referee's statement which gives some ranking of the applicant in a particular cohort or group can be very helpful. For example, where the referee is of the opinion that the applicant is the best bioscientist in the class of thirty students a statement to this effect (or similar) can really add value. A referee's statement which reinforces and/or validates key items in the personal statement can also be helpful.

I'm interested in biochemistry (or another specific topic in biosciences). Can I write a personal statement reflecting this, or do I need to write one addressing the whole of biosciences?

A statement which reflect the interest in and motivation for a particular aspect of biosciences is perfectly acceptable. Our degrees offer a wide range of choice, but we expect many students to specialise, and so a statement from an applicant with an interest in one or more topics (such as biochemistry) is to be welcomed as much as one with a wide interest in the whole of biosciences.

Which degree is the most competitive for entry / is there a separate quota for each degree?

There is no seperate quota for any degree route, and thus no advantage or disadvantage to application for one of the other degrees.

I am interested in the MBiol Biosciences. Can I change my mind and decide to graduate with a BSc/ can I change from a BSc to the MBiol?

Both BSc and MBiol students follow an identical path for the first two years; a common first year, and a second year following a biological sciences programme. At the end of second year, those BSc students who have acheived good grades in their level 2 modules can seek to enrol in the MBiol programme for a further two years of study. Those MBiol students who have not achieved good grades, or who decide at that point that they wish to graduate after three years of study, will register for one of the BSc programmes and graduate at the end of level 3.

Fees for field courses

The molecular ecology workshop has no additional fees, but field courses based at remote sites can incur an additional fee. In 2015/16 these ranged from £150 to £750.