Best Biology Graduate Programs: List of Top Schools

Jan 09, 2020

Graduate programs in biology prepare students for careers in academia, government and research, among other occupational fields. Get rankings and program details for some of the top graduate biology programs in the country.

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  • 0:57 Stanford University in…
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  • 4:02 Listing of Additional Schools

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School Overviews

Specialties in the field of biological sciences can include plant, microbial, and animal ecosystems; molecular biology; evolution biology; and integrative biology. Depending on the degree and the manner in which you pursue that degree, it can take anywhere from one to seven years to complete all requirements.

The best graduate biology programs, both at the master's and doctoral levels, usually demand an intense amount of personal or collaborative research and individual scholarship and may include an instruction component in the form of biology teaching assistantships. Based on U.S. News & World Report rankings, the top schools for studying biology are Stanford University, Harvard University, and Columbia University. In addition to their high rankings, each research-intensive program provides opportunities to specialize in a particular area of biology.

Stanford University in Stanford, CA

Often described as one of the world's leading research institutions, Stanford University was recognized for being tied as the top school in the nation in 2018 for its graduate biological sciences programs by U.S. News & World Report. Stanford has two graduate program options in its Department of Biology. The coterminal Master of Science/Bachelor of Science (M.S./B.S.) in Biology is available only for Stanford undergraduates. The coterminal program offers extra research opportunities that can help give students an edge in the job market or in doctoral degree program applications. It also offers a chance for more exposure to specific applications of biology for students interested in careers in teaching and consulting.

The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Biology program primarily prepares its students for success in both science and teaching. In addition to completing coursework and research, students work alongside their academic advisers and an assigned faculty committee to produce a dissertation. Students in the Ph.D. program choose from three areas of specialization, including cellular and molecular biology, ecology and evolution biology, and integrative biology. Stanford has six research sites geared towards biology students.

Harvard University in Cambridge, MA

Harvard University tied for fourth with Stanford and California Institute of Technology in the U.S. News & World Report 2018 rankings of graduate biological sciences programs. Harvard's Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology offers two distinct programs that can eventually lead to a Ph.D. in biology. Students can choose between tracks in molecules, cells, and organisms, or engineering and physical biology. All graduate students are admitted as Ph.D. candidates, and each specialization prepares its students for professional or academic careers in science.

The Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology also offers a doctorate in biology and allows students to focus on microbial, plant, and animal ecosystems. Graduate students must fulfill all course requirements within their first two years in the program and make satisfactory progress toward a completed dissertation for the remainder of the degree program.

Columbia University in New York, NY

The Department of Biological Sciences at Columbia University was established in 1966 by combining the zoology department and the botany department. While the department focused on molecular biology and neurobiology at first, it now includes chemical biology, developmental biology, structural biology, cell biology, biophysics, and computational biology. The school offers a Master of Arts in Biotechnology program, which can be completed in one year of full-time study, including the summer session. Their Ph.D. program can be completed in five to seven years. Columbia tied at #18 for graduate programs in biological sciences in 2018, according to U.S. News and World Report and tied for third on the 2020 list of top national universities.

Listing of Additional Schools

Let's take a look at an additional nine schools that offer graduate programs in biology.

School Name Distinction Location
Duke University Home to a biology department that includes three centers/research groups Durham, NC
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Boast top-notch faculty researchers that include Nobel laureates, National Academy of Sciences members, and investigators from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Cambridge, MA
University of California - Berkeley Provides students the opportunity to pursue far-reaching research interests through about 40 research centers, field stations, institutes, and museums Berkeley, CA
University of California - Davis Offers biology graduate students the chance to participate in a variety of training programs Davis, CA
University of California - San Diego Gives students the chance to participate in a joint Ph.D. program in cellular or molecular biology between UCSD and San Diego State University La Jolla, CA
University of Michigan - Ann Arbor Features a Pathways master's program designed specifically to prepare excellent students from under-represented groups for entrance into Ph.D. programs Ann Arbor, MI
University of Washington - Seattle Received nearly $1 billion for federal research funding in 2012, which was the highest funding for any public university in the nation Seattle, WA
University of Wisconsin - Madison Allows students to work in groups dedicated to a specific area of research guided by faculty trainers; interdisciplinary work spans across 40 departments Madison, WI
Washington University Home to a biology department that offers a 1-year, research-intensive biomedical master's program for medical students Saint Louis, MO

Many schools offer graduate degrees in biological sciences. A Ph.D. can prepare you for research or for teaching in this field.

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