The Human Biology, Health, and Society (HBHS) major, only offered through the College of Human Ecology, helps students to view human health issues from a broad and multidisciplinary perspective.

Learn more about the HBHS major

The HBHS major may be a good fit for students who wish to pursue careers related to issues of human health and well-being.

Many health problems are complex in origin. For this reason, promoting health and reducing the risk of disease requires practitioners, researchers and policymakers who can consider the biological and physical aspects of health and illness, as well as their social, psychological, economic, cultural and political dimensions.

You will be required to develop a strong background in human biology so that you can understand the physiological and biochemical aspects of health issues. The program also will require you to use perspectives from the social sciences. 

With these skills, and with access to a wide array of courses related to human health and well-being, you will be prepared to explore a range of health issues through a variety of career paths. You also will have many opportunities to enhance your classroom learning by participating in special opportunities for experiential learning, including the Practicing Medicine program and study abroad, undergraduate research and field experience, or by joining the Health and Nutrition Society.

An HBHS major will help prepare you to answer questions such as:

  • What physiological and biochemical processes are involved in health and necessary for resistance to disease?
  • What is normal growth of children and what biological, social, cultural and environmental factors are involved?
  • How do biological processes explain normal and abnormal behavior?
  • How do diet and other lifestyle factors influence the risk of chronic disease?
  • What social, political, economic, and cultural factors explain the differential access to health care in the US and how can this situation be changed?
  • How can communities, organizations, and practitioners work to promote health in the US and other countries?
  • What can be done to reduce disease and promote quality of life for older Americans?


All students in the HBHS program must complete the graduation requirements for the College of Human Ecology as well as the requirements for the major. All HBHS students complete NS 1400 - Introduction to Human Biology, Health, and Society, and one introductory course in each of two areas of social science chosen from anthropology, economics, psychology and sociology.

HBHS students develop a strong background in biology and chemistry. After a year of introductory chemistry and biology, students complete a sequence of courses in organic chemistry, physiology, and biochemistry. Students also choose advanced electives in biology selecting from courses in areas such as genetics, evolution, neurobiology, cell biology, microbiology and nutrition. A term of physics and a term of calculus also are required.

To explore issues related to human biology, health, and society, students choose from a wide array of selectives courses available in all departments in the College of Human Ecology that provide a more in-depth exploration into the biological science, social science, and nutritional science aspects of public health.

The HBHS major is one step toward a career in the health field. Most HBHS students will need to pursue advanced study to attain the academic and experiential credentials to work in their chosen profession. The HBHS major provides an excellent foundation for graduate and professional schools leading to careers in:

  • Medicine and dentistry: Resources at Cornell for those wishing to pursue admission to medical school or dental school are extensive. You will want to complete the pre-med requirements, which include the eight-credit organic chemistry sequence, two terms of physics and a year of college mathematics. For further information about course requirements and application processes, consult the college's pre-med advisers and the resources of the university's Health Careers Program office.
  • Allied health professions such as physical therapist, genetic counselor, occupational therapist, gerontologist, pharmacist, athletic trainer, or strength and conditioning specialist. Preparation for graduate school in physical therapy requires courses in physics, psychology and ethics.
  • Exercise science and physical therapy: You should complete Human Anatomy and Physiology of both lecture (NS 3410) and lab (NS 3420) before taking any course at Ithaca College. Then you can complete the Applied Exercise Science Concentration at Ithaca College, which includes courses in exercise physiology, kinesiology, and biomechanics of human movement.
  • Health education and promotion careers such as health educator, health communicator, fitness and wellness educator; community action specialist.
  • Biomedical research, genomics and toxicology: Recommended courses include calculus, two terms of physics, and genetics. Other courses in advanced biology and chemistry should be selected based on your interest.
  • Health administration and policy careers: It is recommended that you complete introductory courses in economics, government, sociology and management,as well as courses offered in the college's department of Policy Analysis and Management.
  • Community health: Recommended courses include introductory and advanced courses in human development, psychology, sociology, economics, anthropology, communications and health policy.
  • Dietetics, nutrition counseling, clinical nutrition, community nutrition, and management: If you wish to pursue a career in managing food and nutrition services,or in providing nutrition advice to promote health and/or manage disease states,you should complete the academic requirements for The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.Faculty members in the Division of Nutrition's dietetics program can provide career advice and help you compile your applications to the post-baccalaureate supervised practice component (dietetic internship), which is the next step in pursuing a career as a registered dietitian (R.D.).
  • Global health: You can complete the Global Health Minor program by completing their requirements. Requirements include two core courses and three elective courses for a total of 15 credits. Additionally, you will be required to complete an eight-week international Experiential Learning Opportunity in a resource limited environment.


Expect your career interests to develop and possibly change while you are at Cornell! The HBHS program gives students time to consider different career interests while they get started completing introductory courses in chemistry, biology, math, writing, and the social sciences. The first-year course, NS 1150 Nutrition, Health and Society, introduces students to some important health issues and helps students develop their critical thinking and writing skills. In a 1-credit spring semester course, NS 1200 Nutrition and Health: Issues, Outlooks and Opportunities, students can meet experts working in different fields and learn about critical issues and trends in these fields as well as the requisite knowledge and skills to work in these areas. In addition, take advantage of the different speakers and seminars offered throughout the year to learn about various career options, and discuss your career interests with your faculty advisor and with college counselors specializing in career planning. If you want to explore other majors, minor fields, or pre-professional paths, your advisor will suggest some people to contact.

Transferring into the HBHS major
In general, successful applicants for transfer into the HBHS major demonstrate:

  • Adequate progress and proficiency in introductory natural sciences courses
  • Interest in the HBHS major, e.g. via NS 1400 and/or CHE coursework
  • An appropriate plan to meet HBHS and CHE graduation requirements

Students who are interested in transferring into the HBHS major from another HBHS major should contact Students who are interested in an Internal Transfer to the HBHS major from another College at Cornell should contact Human Ecology Admissions.

Adding HBHS as a second major
Students in CHE may not have two majors.