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Biology Colleges and Universities in the U.S.

Biology is the study of living organisms and their environments. Biology has many subspecialties, including cellular and molecular biology, genetics, microbiology, botany, zoology, evolution, ecology and marine biology.

How to Select a Biology College

Most 4-year colleges and universities in the U.S. offer undergraduate and graduate biology degree programs that prepare students for careers in science, medicine and education.

Summary of Important Considerations

  • Career goals
  • Program content
  • Research opportunities

Career Goals

The type of biology training depends upon whether the student chooses a career in scientific research, medicine or education. For example, a biological research technician usually requires a bachelor's degree, while an independent researcher requires a graduate degree, usually a Ph.D. Students with bachelor's degrees in biological sciences comprised over half of the total applicants to U.S. medical schools in 2011 according to the American Association of Medical Colleges (www.aamc.org). Biology teachers in secondary education usually have a bachelor's degree, while those at the college level have a master's or doctoral degree.

Program Content

There are many biology programs in U.S. colleges and universities. Students may wish to evaluate a program based on curriculum and research. Curricula with courses in many diverse biological disciplines offers the student broad training. Furthermore, if those courses are taught by professors rather than graduate students, then it shows the program's commitment to undergraduate education.

Research Opportunities

Because research is an important aspect of biology training, there should be research opportunities available to undergraduates, such as research assistantships, summer internships or part-time work. Programs offering both undergraduate and graduate degrees usually have such research opportunities. A faculty with diverse research interests can provide a student with many choices for his or her research. Furthermore, modern laboratory facilities and equipment also indicate a commitment to biology research and education.

Biology Program Overviews

Bachelor's Degree in Biology

Biology degree programs can lead to a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science depending upon the school. Besides general education courses, students take courses in chemistry (general, organic, physical, biochemistry), physics and mathematics (calculus, statistics). Upperclassmen take core electives in biology, which vary with the program. Core classes in biology include:

  • General biology
  • Genetics
  • Cell biology
  • Plant physiology
  • Animal physiology

Master's Degree in Biology

Master's degree programs in biology vary between schools. The course of training is more individualized than that of undergraduate biology programs. Students choose a faculty research advisor and plan appropriate coursework for their research interests. Besides classes, graduate students must typically conduct research and write a thesis based on their research. Most graduate students finance their education through research assistantships, scholarships and research grants, so it is important to discuss this aspect with a faculty advisor. Master's degree students may take courses such as:

  • Parasitology
  • Animal behavior
  • Molecular biology

Doctoral Degree in Biology

Biology doctoral programs have individualized courses of study, which are agreed upon by the student and a faculty advisor. Doctoral programs emphasize research in some subspecialty of biology and require some coursework and a written dissertation based on the student's research. Doctoral programs usually take four or more years to complete, compared to two years for a master's program. A master's degree in biology is not a pre-requisite for doctoral degree programs; usually only a bachelor's degree is required and not necessarily one in biology. Like master's degree students, doctoral students finance their education through research assistantships, scholarships and research grants. Doctoral students may come across courses such as:

  • Biochemistry
  • Advanced cell biology
  • Endocrinology

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