Marine Science Degree Program Overviews

Oct 12, 2019

Marine science degree programs provide students with knowledge about oceans and marine life. There are different levels of study that become more rigorous as a student progresses through them.

Essential Information

Marine science touches on all the natural sciences in pursuit of knowledge about the world's oceans and marine life. Students have multiple school options, since many schools are located in coastal areas, and both undergraduate and graduate degree programs are available. Some programs require students to choose a concentration such as biological, geological, chemical or physical oceanography. Though research careers are challenging to establish, there are many career alternatives for graduates to consider. A bachelor's degree is earned in 4 years, while a master's degree program is completed in 2-3 years, but some allow up to 5 years. A marine science doctoral degree is earned in 3-5 years.

Bachelor's program applicants need a high school diploma or GED. Schools recommend high school courses in mathematics and the natural sciences, particularly biology and chemistry.

Master's degree programs require a bachelor's degree. Marine science departments prefer candidates who have studied biology, chemistry or marine science and maintained a 3.0 grade point average in their major. Students in this program may be required to complete a thesis.

A bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement for admission to a marine science doctoral program, but applicants with a master's degree have stronger prospects. Candidates with a bachelor's degree need to have maintained at least a 3.0 grade point average and completed courses in physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics. Most doctoral programs require a dissertation at the conclusion of the program.

Bachelor's Degree in Marine Science

A bachelor's degree in marine science provides a comprehensive picture of oceans as an ecosystem, economic resource, and global climate regulator. Course content is supplemented with lab and fieldwork and introduces students to marine biology, marine evolution, ocean chemistry, and ocean physics. In some programs, elective courses allow for exploration of such areas as meteorology or aquaculture.

Most schools require bachelor's degree candidates to complete general education courses in composition, social sciences, and humanities. Marine science content includes courses in:

  • Oceanography introduction
  • Ocean chemistry
  • Marine flora
  • Marine fauna
  • Coral reef ecosystems

Master's Degree in Marine Science

Master's degree programs in marine science draw from all major branches of natural sciences to provide an understanding of oceans as an interacting set of physical, chemical, and biological systems. Some programs require students to choose a concentration. Programs combine courses, lab work, and field research.

The curriculum in a master's program is organized into core, specialty, and elective courses. The final year of classes is devoted to researching and writing a thesis. Courses may include:

  • Marine geology fundamentals
  • Ecosystem dynamics
  • Coastal ecosystems
  • Seabed ecosystems
  • Oceans and climate change

Doctoral Degree in Marine Science

Doctoral degree programs in marine science are oriented toward original research. Degree candidates enhance their skills in the use of field and lab equipment, quantitative problem-solving, and experimental methodologies. While maintaining an interdisciplinary perspective, students choose a specialty from within the broad areas of marine physics, chemistry, or biology and develop a dissertation topic addressing some aspect of it.

Marine science doctoral programs are built around a set of foundational courses in ocean biology, ocean chemistry, ocean physics, and ocean economics. Other course topics are determined by a chosen specialty, but may include:

  • Research methods and statistical analysis
  • Marine biochemistry
  • Marine population genetics
  • Phytoplankton and marine food chains
  • Ecological symbiosis
  • Paleo-oceanography

Popular Career Options

Marine science bachelor's degree holders have relatively limited employment prospects compared with more highly educated people in the field. However, positions are available to those willing to work at an entry level:

  • Exhibits coordinator
  • Marine lab assistant
  • Administrative support

Continuing Education Information

Bachelor's degree holders can improve their employment prospects by earning a master's or doctoral degree. Programs at either level accept applicants with a 4-year degree, but doctoral programs are more selective.

Graduates of a master's program who go on to earn a doctorate in marine science have the best prospects for employment as researchers and postsecondary school professors. Many schools that confer master's degrees also offer doctoral degree programs.

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Because they are relatively limited in number, marine biology research positions are difficult to obtain. However, master's degree holders do have a range of other career possibilities in occupations potentially related to marine science:

  • Science writing
  • Conservation and environmental protection
  • Education
  • Aquaculture

People who earn a doctoral degree in marine science are qualified to become marine biologists and oceanographers, occupations which the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) categorizes as, respectively, wildlife biology and geoscience. The BLS projects 5% job growth (as fast as the average) for wildlife biologists and 6% job growth (slightly faster than average) for geoscientists over the years 2018-2028.

Most of the employment growth for marine biologists will reflect the need to mitigate human impact on marine life and the marine environment; resource exploration and technical consulting will drive some of the growth in oceanography. reports that as of September 2019, marine biologists earned a median salary of $51,580 and oceanographers earned $66,289, in August 2019.

Marine science degree programs help students explore a wide variety of topics related to the ocean and marine life, such as ecosystems, marine flora and fauna, and marine biochemistry. Although marine biology research positions are limited, those who complete marine science degree programs have many other job options available in sectors such as conservation and environmental protection, education, science writing, and aquaculture.

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