Is a Master's Degree in Biology Worth It?

Aug 05, 2018

A master's degree in biology can be the springboard for an interesting, fulfilling and well-paying career. For the individual who is interested in research and teaching in education, a master's degree in biology can prepare him or her for work toward a doctorate (PhD) in the field.

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When thinking about a master's degree, one question that comes to mind is 'Is it worth it?' To determine the potential worth of a master's degree in biology, it is important to look at career opportunities, how long it takes to complete the program and how much the program costs.

Why Study for a Master's Degree in Biology?

If you are considering getting a PhD in biology, getting a master's degree in biology can work in your favor since students with master's degrees are likely to be more successful in a doctoral program. Having a master's in biology can also increase a candidate's chances of getting accepted into a PhD program. For the individual who is interested in teaching at the community college level, a master's degree in biology is preferred. Some colleges and universities will consider hiring master's-prepared biologists as adjunct faculty or lecturers. In addition to teaching, an individual with a master's degree in biology can expect to find jobs as biochemists, biological science teachers, forensic biologists (forensic technicians), marine biologists, and microbiologists.

Career Comparison

Job Title Median Salary (2017)* Job Growth (2016-2026)*
Biochemist $91,190 (biochemists and biophysicists) 11% (biochemists and biophysicists)
Postsecondary Biological Science Teacher $78,240 15%
Forensic Biologist $57,850 (forensic science technicians) 17% (forensic science technicians)
Marine Biologist $62,290 (zoologists and wildlife biologists) 8% (zoologists and wildlife biologists)
Microbiologist $69,960 8%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Biochemist

A biochemist works in labs conducting experiments to study living systems. Biochemists look at cell growth and development and study diseases and issues related to heredity. The job of a biophysicist is similar to that of a biochemist.

Postsecondary Biological Science Teacher

At the post-secondary level, an individual with a master's degree in biology teaches courses in biological sciences. At junior colleges, duties include teaching in the classroom and labs. At universities, an individual who teaches biological sciences is likely to be involved in research.

Forensic Biologist

Forensic biologists or forensic science technicians specialize in forensic science. They work with law enforcement agencies to solve crimes. The work of a forensic biologist includes collecting and preserving evidence that will be evaluated and studied to help solve crimes.

Marine Biologist

A marine biologist specializes in dealing with environmental issues related to marine life. He or she studies marine animals and plants and issues that impact the marine environment. Other titles for marine biologists include fisheries biologists, aquatic biologists, and wildlife biologists.

Microbiologist

A microbiologist works in a lab setting studying organisms such as bacteria and fungi. Microbiologists may work in medical settings where they study diseases. In the medical setting, they also look at how antibiotics and other substances affect bacteria.

How Long Does it Take to Earn a Master's Degree in Biology?

Typically, 30 hours of graduate credit must be completed to earn a master's degree in biology. Programs may offer both thesis and non-thesis options. It takes about two years of full-time study to complete 30 hours for the degree.

How Much Will it Cost to Earn a Master's Degree in Biology?

Similar to the average tuition cost for master's degrees in general, the average tuition for a master's degree in biology will vary depending on the institution. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (2015-16 estimates), the tuition for all graduate degrees at a public university will be just over $11,000 per year while at a private non-profit institution the cost will be around $25,000 per year. Housing, food, and transportation must also be factored into the total cost. Working as a teaching assistant can help defray some of the costs, and other forms of financial aid such as loans and scholarships are usually available.

If you enjoy science and are interested in a career other than teaching, a master's degree in biology might be the pathway to rewarding work. It is important to consider all of the variables, such as the job market and program length.

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