Students looking to complete an online biological science degree will find their options to be somewhat limited. There are schools offering undergraduate and graduate degrees alike, but these are relatively uncommon. Where they are available, programs may be found in online-only or hybrid formats.
Some undergraduate programs are designed with first-time students in mind, though many online bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs in biological science cater to the needs of working adults who would like to earn teaching credentials, change careers or develop their research skills while maintaining employment in a science-related field. To apply to a graduate-level program, students must hold a bachelor's degree, and they may need to have majored in biology as an undergraduate.
These programs allow students to access most or all of their coursework from home. On-campus requirements could include lab sessions, research symposia, proctored exams, student teaching internships or orientation sessions. Doctoral students are required to defend their dissertation in person.
Bachelor's Degree in Biology
Online undergraduate programs may award a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts in Biology, with the latter option including less quantitative math and science courses. Online biology curricula can also be available as a concentration within a natural sciences degree or as part of a teacher certification program designed for professionals with a science background. This latter option includes teacher education coursework in addition to biology courses covering the lab sciences, ecology, cellular biology and organismal biology.
Program Information and Requirements
Some biology degrees can be earned entirely online. Others require students to complete laboratory sessions on campus, though there are programs equipping students with lab kits that allow them to conduct experiments without having to leave home. Programs that prepare students for teacher certification require degree candidates to complete full-time student teaching experiences.
First-year coursework in an online biology program includes introductory classes in such areas as physics, chemistry, statistics and pre-calculus. Once students have completed these prerequisites they can enroll in core biology courses, some of which are outlined below.
Students in a genetics class examine the biological basis of heredity. They also explore factors influencing genetic variation as well as their quantitative and qualitative characteristics.
In addition to studying the effects of harmful bacteria, protozoa or fungi, students in this course examine the biological, industrial and agricultural applications of beneficial microorganisms. Students may also learn about microorganisms' roles in chemical transformations.
Course topics cover plants' cellular structure, metabolism and growth. Students also learn about the function of plant structures as well as the tools needed to conduct botany research.
An ecology course is primarily concerned with studying the effects of population size on the Earth's resources. Topics of discussion introduce students to the interactions between populations, species and the environment. Students can also look into factors determining an ecosystem's biodiversity.
Master's Degree in Biology
While a bachelor's degree in biological science is not always required to enter a master's degree program in the field, students who've completed some undergraduate biology coursework may be more likely to succeed in advanced classes. Online graduate programs in biology are designed to serve middle and high school teachers as well as other professionals. Topics of study range from evolution to immunology, and students often have the option of choosing between thesis and non-thesis options.
Program Information and Requirements
Master's degree programs in biology can be completed entirely online or through a combination of online and on-campus courses. Students interact with professors and classmates through methods that can vary with each course; some professors require participation in online discussion forums, while others hold live chats. Additional requirements could include the completion of proctored exams administered at on-campus testing centers.
Required courses for a master's degree in biology examine many different forms of life at the cellular and organismal level. Students also learn how organisms interact with each other to form complex ecosystems.
This course is focused on the behavioral adaptations of animals to their environment and the other species with which they share it. Master's degree candidates study how animals find shelter from predators and the elements, obtain food, select mates and raise their young.
Students in this course examine the roles of various organelles within the cell. Students also learn the ways in which cells react to outside organisms, replicate DNA, reproduce and work in concert with other cells.
Courses in mycology introduce students to the uses of fungi in medicine and other fields. Classes cover the growth and reproduction of fungi as well as interactions between fungi and the environment.
This course introduces students to the relationships plant and animal species have with each other and their environment. Topics of discussion can also cover the conservation of fragile or threatened ecosystems.
Students in this course examine causes of cancer at the cellular level. They learn ways in which growth and metabolism are regulated in normal cells and how malfunctions in this regulation can lead to cancer.
Doctoral Degree in Biology
Online doctorate programs in the biological sciences allow students with a bachelor's or master's degree in biology - or a related field - to focus on such areas as conservation biology or industrial biochemistry and molecular biology. These programs are designed for professionals already working in rural planning, biotechnology, medicine or other fields requiring extensive research in the biological sciences. As a result, curricula include core courses that emphasize research methodologies along with electives that allow doctoral candidates to focus their studies on an area of interest.
Program Information and Requirements
Online doctoral biology programs require students to complete around 60-70 credit hours beyond a bachelor's degree. Course content can be delivered asynchronously or synchronously during the afternoons and evenings to accommodate the scheduling needs of working adults. Some programs also allow students to complete dissertation research on the job.
On-campus requirements for these programs could include an orientation before coursework begins or research symposia that take place twice each year. Students also need to present and defend their dissertation.
Core classes in these programs are designed to introduce students to their specialty area. The remaining coursework can be used to conduct independent research.
Students in this introductory course learn how to design experiments and gather research data. They could also learn how to evaluate and publish the results.
These courses can focus on bacterial, plant, human or animal genetics, depending on a student's specialty area. Topics of study cover the processes by which genetic material is reproduced in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. Students examine recombination, DNA replication and gene regulation.
This course covers such topics as ion channel structure and acid-protein interactions. Students also examine immune system components and learn how they relate to the discovery of new drug therapies.
Students examine a cell's membrane structure and cytoskeleton. They might also study cell cycle regulation and signaling as well as protein targeting in animal cells. The functions of plant cell organelles could be discussed as well.
Students who complete a biology program that includes teacher education coursework can pursue jobs as high school science teachers after earning state licensure. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that employment opportunities for these secondary school educators would increase by 6% between 2014 and 2024. As of May 2015, they earned a median salary of $57,200 per year.
Program graduates interested in conducting fieldwork or research could consider becoming environmental scientists and specialists or biological technicians. These professionals could see job growths of 11% and 5%, respectively, during the 2014-2024 decade, according to the BLS. Environmental scientists and specialists earned a median salary of $67,460 as of May 2015; biological technicians earned a median salary of $41,650 per year.
According to the BLS, completing a master's degree program can help current teachers meet continuing education requirements or land teaching jobs at 2-year colleges. Graduates from master's degree programs might also begin research careers or pursue options in the areas of product development. They could find work in the pharmaceutical industry or gain employment in federal, state or local governments, including positions in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of the Interior and National Institutes of Health.
In addition to advancing their careers, graduates of doctoral degree programs can pursue teaching and research positions with 4-year colleges and universities. According to the BLS, postsecondary teachers could experience 13% job growth over the 2014-2024 decade. Those specializing in the biological sciences earned a median annual salary of $75,320 as of May 2015.
Continuing Education Information
Students who graduate from an online biology program that prepares them for high school teaching careers will need to meet their state's licensing or certification requirements. This often entails earning passing scores on competency exams after submitting proof of having completed a state-approved teacher education program and internship.
For students interested in pursuing a graduate degree, biology programs often include curricula that meet course prerequisites for medical school or other allied health training programs. Graduates of online biology programs can also pursue master's degrees in this field, some of which are also available via distance education.
Master's degree program graduates can further their education and improve their job prospects by obtaining a doctoral degree in the biological science. A doctorate is usually required for independent research positions as well as for full-time teaching positions at 4-year institutions.
Though not widely available, online degree programs in the biological sciences cover a range of biological subjects, giving students the opportunity to study the molecular, cellular, organismal and ecosystem levels. Training becomes more advanced and specialized to the student's area of interest at the graduate level.