Best Bachelor's Degrees in Biology

Mar 04, 2021

What is a Biology Bachelor Degree?

Biology is the study of life and can be applied to a wide range of fields and also contains an array of subfields. A bachelor's in biology degree prepares someone for a career with a scientific angle, particularly one involving living things, such as animals, medicine, or the environment. Many different fields of study fall under the heading of biology, including ecology, zoology, molecular biology, astrobiology, biophysics, and animal science. All of these subfields focus on specific aspects of living things and a biology degree can provide students an overview of these different areas and/or allow them to focus in a specific specialization.

Biology is a rapidly changing field with many exciting opportunities for researchers and technicians. Whether making new discoveries or developing the next vaccine or cancer therapy, biologists are critical contributors to society.

The Top Bachelor's Degree Programs in Biology

1. Xavier University of Louisiana

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$25055 60% 51% 98% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

2. SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$9115 70% 76% 92% Yes Yes AP Credits

3. University of California-Merced

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$13538 72% 69% 93% No Yes AP Credits

4. University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$14148 84% 34% 96% Yes Yes AP Credits

5. St. Mary's College of Maryland

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$15124 84% 77% 95% Yes Yes AP Credits

6. University of Minnesota-Morris

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$13578 57% 58% 98% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

7. Alcorn State University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$7290 58% 41% 88% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

8. Christopher Newport University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$14924 72% 78% 75% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

9. Dillard University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$19281 39% 51% 100% Yes Yes AP Credits

10. Southern Virginia University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$17280 98% 31% 100% Yes Yes AP Credits

11. SUNY College at Geneseo

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$8927 65% 80% 84% Yes Yes AP Credits

12. University of California-Santa Cruz

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$13991 51% 75% 70% Yes Yes AP Credits

13. University of California-San Diego

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$14415 31% 87% 63% Yes Yes AP Credits

14. University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$9127 73% 69% 78% Yes Yes AP Credits

15. Francis Marion University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$11160 68% 44% 100% Yes Yes AP Credits

16. University of Maryland-Baltimore County

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$12028 61% 71% 90% Yes Yes AP Credits

17. Ave Maria University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$21854 85% 58% 100% Yes Yes AP Credits

18. University of South Carolina Beaufort

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$10730 63% 31% 93% Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits

19. Spelman College

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$29972 43% 75% 97% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

20. Drury University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$29515 64% 58% 100% Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits

21. Birmingham-Southern College

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$18241 54% 69% 97% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

22. University of California-Riverside

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$13853 57% 76% 85% Yes Yes AP Credits

23. University of North Carolina at Pembroke

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$3490 85% 41% 90% Yes Yes AP Credits

24. Humboldt State University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$7864 92% 49% 83% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

25. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$8132 80% 46% 90% Yes Yes AP Credits

26. Virginia Military Institute

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$19118 60% 79% 92% Yes Yes AP Credits

27. Western Colorado University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$10437 84% 51% 95% Yes Yes AP Credits

28. University of Pittsburgh-Bradford

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$14158 73% 40% 98% Yes Yes AP Credits

29. Young Harris College

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$29367 65% 42% 99% Yes Yes AP Credits

30. University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$8064 44% 33% 98% Yes Yes AP Credits

31. Ouachita Baptist University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$27900 61% 63% 99% Yes Yes AP Credits

32. University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$14156 79% 57% 97% Yes Yes AP Credits

33. University of Wisconsin-Green Bay

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$7873 85% 53% 84% No Yes AP Credits

34. Johnson C Smith University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$18784 47% 49% 94% Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits

35. Pennsylvania State University-Penn State Berks

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$15206 76% 71% % Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits

36. University of South Florida-St Petersburg

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$5821 27% 44% 85% Yes Yes AP Credits

37. Coastal Carolina University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$11640 69% 47% 100% Yes Yes AP Credits

38. Oakwood University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$19990 65% 51% 100% No Yes AP Credits

39. University of Hawaii at Hilo

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$7792 52% 44% 86% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

40. Claflin University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$17192 55% 51% 97% Yes Yes AP Credits

41. SUNY Oneonta

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$8740 56% 76% 85% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

42. University of Minnesota-Duluth

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$13680 75% 62% 90% Yes Yes AP Credits

43. Northern State University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$8750 84% 48% 96% Yes Yes AP Credits

44. Colorado State University-Fort Collins

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$11901 81% 70% 79% Yes Yes AP / ACE / NCCRS Credits

45. Stockton University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$14048 76% 77% 91% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

46. Canisius College

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$29428 83% 73% 97% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

47. College of Charleston

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$12939 78% 66% 83% Yes Yes AP Credits

48. Keystone College

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$26070 79% 47% 92% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

49. Truman State University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$8120 63% 75% 99% Yes Yes AP Credits

50. Walsh University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$30830 76% 65% 100% Yes Yes AP / ACE / NCCRS Credits

To get a more in-depth look at our school ranking methodology, please visit Study.com's ranking methodology page.

Tuition information is based on published tuition and required fees, per data by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)

What Other Kinds of Biology Degrees Are There?

Biology degrees exist at all levels of higher education, from associate to doctorate. Depending on the program, students at the bachelor's level can earn a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in biology. The intended career path and goals will likely dictate which biology degrees they pursue. BS degrees tend to be more technical in nature and be more rich in math and science courses, while a BA degree may contain more liberal arts courses.

Associate Degrees in Biology

An associate degree in biology can serve as a stepping stone to a bachelor's degree or as a quick way to qualify for one of many jobs as a technician or medical assistant.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019 clinical laboratory technicians earned a median salary of $53,120 and the demand for these jobs is expected to increase by 7% over the next decade. In the same year, BLS states veterinary technicians earned a median salary of $35,320, and those jobs are expected to increase 16% by 2029.

Even faster growing is the job outlook for medical assistants: Over the next decade, the number of these jobs is expected to increase by 19%. In 2019, medical assistants earned a median salary of $34,800, according to the BLS.

Associate degree programs in biology are most commonly offered as Associate of Science (AS) degrees and may be available in areas like biology or human biology. Students in associate degree programs for biology can expect to take about twenty courses, including a mix of basic science and hands-on labs. They can finish the requirements in as little as two years and some programs may be available in online formats.

Bachelor's Degrees in Biology

A general biology bachelor's degree encompasses a broad range of studies, from cell biology, biochemistry, and genetics to evolution, ecology, and computational genomics. Graduates can take many paths after earning this degree. Some might go on to further studies in specialized areas, including medicine or research, while others might begin working in a scientific job or as a teacher.

One type of job that is available to those with a bachelor's degree in biology is a microbiologist. These scientists study, as the name implies, microorganisms like bacteria or viruses in a lab or industry, such as at a wastewater treatment plant or for a pharmaceutical company. In 2019, the BLS states that the median pay for a microbiologist was $75,650, although microbiologists working for the federal government might earn significantly more.

At most schools, a bachelor's degree in biology takes about four years to complete and includes foundational science courses in chemistry, physics, and math along with the biological sciences and laboratory experiences. Students may pursue a BA or BS degree in areas like biology, human biology, or biological sciences.

Master's Degrees in Biology

Similar to bachelor's degrees in biology, a master's degree can be earned as a Master of Arts (MA) or Sciences (MS). Such a degree typically takes one or two additional years beyond an undergraduate degree to complete, and it may require original research or a thesis to be granted. Not all schools require a bachelor's degree in biology for entry to a master's program, though many prefer a candidate who has some scientific background.

People with a master's degree in biology are able to go into teaching or a biological science job, such as a researcher in academia or industry. Others who pursue a master's degree in biology might become doctoral candidates. In fact, many doctoral candidates automatically earn a master's along the way to their final Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).

A notable shift in studying biology at the master's level is that many students select a more specialized field. For instance, rather than a master's degree in biology, someone who already holds a bachelor's degree in biology might pursue a master's in public health, health policy, genetic counseling, or animal science. Even those whose master's degrees are in pure biology usually pick a track or area of focus, such as ecology or molecular biology.

The 2019 median salary for a genetic counselor was $81,880, according to the BLS. For environmental scientists, it was $77,940, as of 2019.

Doctoral Degrees in Biology

A doctoral degree in biology is the highest level of education in the field. While the coursework required for a PhD in biology may be minimal (around 20 to 32 credit hours), candidates typically spend several years conducting research in order to write and defend a dissertation.

Because the field of biology is so broad, doctoral candidates must select a specific research path related to their interests, such as developmental biology, neuroscience/neurobiology, or evolutionary biology. Their research might cross departments or even schools. For example, a computational biologist interested in genomic sequencing might work within a university's school of medicine and the computer science department.

Biology PhD holders stand to earn high wages in academia or industry. Outside of university research, they can be found across the public health and policy sectors as well as in the pharmaceutical industry.

For example, biochemists and biophysicists, who may work on a new drug treatment or research the inner workings of cells, respectively, earned a median salary of $94,490 in 2019, according to the BLS. Since that estimate includes some entry-level workers without doctoral degrees, biology PhDs probably earned more.

Certificates in Biology

Students who would like to add a specialized credential to their degrees, whether they have majored in biology or not, may pursue a biology certificate. These programs may fall under general names, such as biological sciences certificates, or have a title in a specific area, such as a certificate in biomedical science. These mini-tracks allow someone to select courses in the field that most interests them, such as epidemiology or developmental biology. In addition to helping tailor a degree to the candidate, certificates in biology can help job seekers stand out.

Some schools allow students to pursue additional certificates post-graduate, while others offer programs within a degree program. Those going the latter route should be mindful that many schools do not accept courses doubly towards both a certificate and a major. Many certificate programs require between 12 and 15 credits and students can typically complete these programs in less than 2 years.

Biology Bachelor's Degree Concentrations

A biology bachelor's degree concentration helps determine an undergraduate's future professional and academic paths. For example, more mathematically interested or research-inclined students might select a concentration in a related field, such as biomedical engineering or applied math biology. Meanwhile, students who plan to go into another field, such as medicine, business, or law, might have a concentration in public health or neuroscience.

Curriculum for a Bachelor's Degree in Biology

The curriculum for a bachelor's degree in biology involves broad-view seminar courses in the field and other sciences (such as chemistry and physics), as well as math and laboratory coursework. A typical undergraduate can expect to take courses in:

  • Cell and molecular biology
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Ecology
  • Biochemistry
  • Genetics
  • Research methods
  • Chemistry
  • Organic chemistry

How Long Does it Take to Get a Bachelor's in Biology?

A bachelor's degree in biology is usually a four-year degree, or about 120 total credit hours. In the first and second year, students can expect more of the large-group, foundational courses, while in later years they might conduct independent research or take specialized courses towards a degree concentration or certificate.

Accreditation for Bachelor's in Biology Degrees

For a bachelor's degree in biology to suffice in most job applications and virtually every subsequent level of degree program, it must come from an accredited school. The school earns accreditation after being reviewed by an accreditor, which involves a rigorous process of observation and documentation around a school's offerings, credentials, and practices. Once a school is accredited, prospective students will know that the school offers quality coursework that meets industry standards.

Several regional and national accreditation bodies provide this credential in the United States. Schools that offer bachelors' degree programs in biology may be accredited by groups such as the Higher Learning Commission or the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Enrolling in a School for Biology Bachelor's Degree Program

The admissions process for students wishing to enter a bachelor's degree program in biology will likely vary by school. Some schools may even have different admissions requirements for different types of students, such as first-time undergraduates vs. transfer students. In general, applicants will need to have at least a high school diploma and may need to meet a minimum GPA requirement. It is also fairly common for schools to require students to submit test scores from the ACT or SAT exam. Many schools follow an online application process.

Undergraduate programs in biology typically offer some sort of academic advising specifically for the field. These advisors may be able to assist students in deciding which path within the field may be best for their desired career goals and interests. It is also recommended that students meet with their advisors to discuss course selections and career goals on a regular basis. Programs may provide degree paths and course matrices for students to follow when selecting classes.

Biology Licensure & Certification

For most jobs in the biological sciences, a degree and evidence of specialized skill training is sufficient. However, some biologists may seek additional certification to prove their expertise, stand out from the crowd, and network with others in the field.

The Wildlife Society provides the Certified Wildlife Biologist designation for wildlife biologists. To become a Certified Wildlife Biologist, candidates must show proof of a degree from an accredited university, complete an application that outlines their professional work in the field, and pay a fee. Wildlife biologists with fewer than five years of professional experience in the past decade may apply for an associate credential, which shows they are on the way to earning full certification.

Another field in which a biology degree holder might choose to certify is medical illustration. The Association of Medical Illustrators offers a board certification to become a Certified Medical Illustrator for qualifying individuals. This certification requires proof of a degree from an accredited institution, five years of work experience, a portfolio of work, and a written exam.

What Can I Do With a Bachelor's Degree in Biology?

Biology degree holders have copious and diverse career options available to them. Some of the more well-known options include:

  • Botanists
  • Conservation scientist
  • Ecologists
  • Epidemiologists
  • Food scientists
  • Marine biologists
  • Zoologists

Other careers might seem more exotic, but fall under the umbrella of biology. For example:

  • Astrobiologists study what life might look like on other planets as well as the origin and future of life in the universe.
  • A medical illustrator needs a strong background in art and biology to create detailed and accurate illustrations for textbooks, journals, and other media.
  • Mycologists focus their research on fungi.

Salaries in biology careers vary greatly, even within careers. For instance, the median pay for a wildlife biologist in 2019 was $63,270, but some careers in anatomy and human biology, like a physician or surgeon for example, in the same year had a median salary equal to or higher than $208,000, according to the BLS.

Meanwhile, according to the Association of Medical Illustrators, a median salary for a medical illustrator or animator in the United States is around $70,650, though a 2018 membership survey showed some artists in the field earned up to $1,000,000 by supplementing their incomes with freelance work.

How to Become a Marine Biologist

Those interested in becoming marine biologists are interested in life in aquatic environments. They might work as researchers, conservationists, educators, oceanographers, aquatic engineers, or aquatic veterinarians.

The desired career path of a future marine biologist determines what education and professional experience they will need. For example, a researcher usually holds a master's or doctoral degree. They may have begun their career by finding their main areas of interest through a bachelor's concentration or certificate program, then completed an internship or fellowship with a group conducting field research before applying to graduate school.

A marine biologist passionate about conservation work, however, might take a very different path--perhaps they chose to get a law degree after finishing their bachelor's in biology so that they can fight for the environment and ocean life in the court system.

In all cases, a marine biologist needs at least a bachelor's degree in biology or marine biology, and ideally some time spent in the field.

A marine biologist can be considered a subset of wildlife biologists or zoologists, which had median 2019 salaries of $63,270, according to the BLS. In the same year, BLS says marine engineers and naval architects earned median pay of $92,400.

How to Become a Molecular Biologist

Molecular biologists' duties include studying the molecules and processes occurring at the cellular level. They might contribute to basic research, medical science, or drug design.

A molecular biologist can begin working in an entry-level laboratory role or as an assistant technician as soon as they earn a bachelor's degree. However, many molecular biologists who want to earn more or move up the career ladder in either industry or academia will need a higher degree. To lead a lab or research group, or hold an upper level position in government or industry, a molecular biologist should have a doctoral degree.

Molecular biologists, which are sometimes called biochemists or biophysicists, earned a median salary of $94,490 in 2019, according to BLS.

Financial Aid & Scholarship Information for Bachelor's in Biology Degrees

The same governmental loan programs are available for a bachelor's degree in biology as with any other undergraduate degree. To apply for federal student aid, admitted students must submit a Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) form. Beyond this, many schools offer specific scholarships and grants specifically to biology majors, who are sometimes considered for the award without having to apply. These opportunities can usually be found on the department web site.

Outside of a specific school, biology majors can find many additional funding opportunities by looking at the websites of professional societies and organizations in the subfields that interest or apply to them. For example, the Association for Women in Science offers scholarships for undergraduates studying physics, which could apply to a double biology major interested in biophysics, molecular biology, or biomedical engineering.

Another way to support an undergraduate biology degree is through fellowships. For instance, the American Society for Microbiology's summer research program that pays for undergraduates to complete a ten-week project in a supervised lab, as well as travel costs to present their work at the society's summer conference.

How to Choose a Biology School & Bachelor's Program

Beyond making sure a school is accredited, affordable, and has the right vibes, prospective biology majors might want to consider what kind of research opportunities or field experiences the program offers. After all, the needs of a conservation biologist planning to become an environmental advocate are quite different from that of a future drug developer.

In the first case, a school with a biology program and a pre-law program is probably the way to go, and even better if it has student groups or volunteer opportunities in the specific area of conservation the student cares about. All of these requirements will ensure they have the background and credentials to go to law school and score an interview at an environmentally focused firm.

Meanwhile, the student who plans to join the pharmaceutical industry would do well to seek a school offering undergraduate research opportunities that will allow them to get their pipettes wet in a real lab before applying to graduate school. Some research universities even boast undergraduates with published papers in distinguished journals--a definite way to stand out for the next stage of a research career.

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