Online Graduate Degrees in the Natural Sciences: Program Options

Apr 21, 2021

Essential Information

Fully online graduate degree programs in the natural sciences are available in biology, chemistry, and geographic information systems. On-campus requirements, such as lab work and supervised exams, may be included in hybrid programs. Completion of these programs prepares graduates for a variety of science careers. Educational and professional credentialing requirements vary by job title, employer, and state; check for state-specific regulations when choosing a degree program.

Master of Science in Biology

Master of Science (M.S.) degree programs in biology are widely available for those who want to pursue an advanced career in science-related fields and academia. Topics include scientific method, communication skills and the understanding of the environment as it relates to biological concepts. Students must have an undergraduate degree, preferably in biology, to be eligible for these programs. They must also achieve an acceptable score on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

Program Information and Requirements

The length of time required to complete an online M.S. in Biology degree program can range from 33-45 hours. Students may sometimes choose between a thesis and non-thesis course of study, which alters the semester-hour requirements for the degree. While this degree can be earned entirely online, some programs have on-campus lab requirements and require students to take proctored exams. Course material is delivered and accessed through online learning systems, such as Blackboard. Students are also expected to communicate with instructors and peers via online discussion boards.

Students need to have access to a computer with a high-speed Internet connection. Because much of the course material consists of downloadable multimedia and streaming video, the computer must have audio and video capabilities. It is recommended that the computer have an updated browser and operating system.

List of Common Biology Courses

Biological Research

This course spans multiple semesters. Students gain a biology-specific mastery of the scientific method through designing an experiment, accumulating research data, analyzing data, testing hypotheses and communicating their findings via a formal research paper. Students often need to work closely with a mentor to select and develop their topic for research.


Students gain a comprehensive understanding of epidemics and epidemiology through studying the past, contemporary, and projected research findings of the science community. Students learn the varying types of disease pathogens, their patterns and methods of controlling them. Emphasis is also placed on the anticipation of future pathogens and the preventative measures that can be enacted against them.

Environmental Biology

This course explores the new field of environmental biology by examining the impact of human life and industry on the global ecosystem. Students consult past and current case studies and research findings to gain an understanding into this field, and to develop studies to contribute to the growing body of knowledge.

Master of Science in Geographic Information Science

M.S. in Geographic Information Science (GIS) online degree programs are designed for working professionals in the fields of geography and geology, and also for professionals who use geographic information technology in their work. These programs train students in GIS concepts that include cartography, modeling, geostatistics and project management, as well as data identification, accumulation and storage. To be admitted into these programs students need to have an undergraduate degree, preferably with at least one course devoted to GIS study. Some students may need to complete prerequisite programs prior to enrolling in core courses.

Program Information and Requirements

Students can often choose to complete an M.S. in GIS program in either a thesis or a non-thesis course of study. The result of this variance is a program length that usually ranges between 32-36 semester hours. These programs can be completed entirely online, and in many cases, entirely on the student's schedule. Course material and exams are administered using online learning systems and e-mail.

List of Common Courses in Geographic Information Science

Fundamentals of Geographic Information Science

Students are introduced to the principal concepts in GIS, which include spatial surveying, data collection, vector data models, raster data models and analytical methods. Emphasis is placed on the role these principles play in GIS functions in private, public and government industries.

Geographic Information Science Theory

Emphasis is placed on the digital interface of GIS technology systems. Students learn the workings of these interfaces by examining the theories, design and algorithms that support this technology.


This course provides a historical survey of cartography, from antiquated methods to cutting-edge techniques. Emphasis is placed on the science of cartography within the context of GIS technology. Students then apply these concepts to their own spatial data model.

Master of Science in Chemistry

Online M.S. degree programs in chemistry are available for working professionals, teachers and other distance students who want to earn this degree entirely in an online format. Concepts learned in this program include spectroscopy, sample preparation, research development, method techniques and separation science. Applicants need to have a bachelor's degree in chemistry, or in a related field where prerequisite coursework is satisfactory.

Program Information and Requirements

Many online programs require students to select a concentration of study within the field of chemistry. These concentrations include analytical, biological, organic, inorganic, polymer and physical chemistry.

While most programs can be completed entirely online, some have an on-campus orientation session prior to the start of coursework that students must attend. Program length is about 30-32 semester hours, and this degree can be completed within 2-3 years. Students communicate to instructors and peers through e-mail threads, online discussion boards and Web forums.

List of Common Courses in Chemistry

Graduate Analytical Chemistry

Advanced concepts in analytical chemistry are surveyed, including complex ionic equilibria, ion chromatography, electroanalytical methods, sensors and capillary electrophoresis. Emphasis is placed on identifying, collecting and analyzing quantitative data.

Organic Synthesis Techniques

Students explore current practices used by chemists when synthesizing complex organic compounds and molecules. Emphasis is placed on finding solutions to regiochemical and stereochemical questions by utilizing reagents in a disconnection approach to research and experimentation.

Colloid Analysis

This course introduces students to different classifications of colloids, as well as colloid science. Concepts in colloids include factors leading to their degree of stability, development and formation. Students also learn specialized analytical methods used in classifying colloidal systems.

Career Information

Master of Science in Biology

While some graduates of an M.S. in Biology degree program engage in scientific research, many degree holders pursue a teaching career at the high-school level. Teaching certification requirements vary by state, but master's degree-holders are well qualified for this career. As of May 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the annual mean wage for secondary school teachers was $67,340 ( The BLS also reported that the projected employment growth for high school teachers was expected to be four percent, as fast as the average for all occupations, from 2019-2029.

MS in Geographic Information Science

Graduates of an M.S. in GIS online degree program are qualified to find employment as cartographers and photogrammetrists. Professionals in these fields accumulate and interpret data using information collected from many geographic sources, including photographs and surveys. The BLS reported that the employment rate for the general category of photogrammetrists and cartographers was expected to rise by 4% from 2019-2029. That growth rate is the average for most occupations during the same time period.

The BLS also reported that, as of May 2020, the annual mean wages for cartographers and photogrammetrists averaged $72,420. These professionals work in industries that include local, and state government, federal executive branch, and architectural, engineering and related services.

Master of Science in Chemistry

Many graduates of an online M.S. in Chemistry degree program find employment as chemists and materials scientists. While competition for these occupations is high, the BLS reported that the employment rate for these professions is expected to grow by five percent during the decade of 2019-2029. According to the BLS, as of May 2020, the mean annual wage was $86,410 for chemists, and $104,450 for materials scientists.

Students interested in studying the natural sciences online at the graduate level can find master's programs in biology, chemistry and geographic information systems. Courses are dependent on the program of study, and graduates may need to obtain state-specific credentials for employment for various careers, such as teaching at the high school level.

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