Online Biology Degree Overview
Online degrees in biology are available at a variety of levels including bachelor's, master's, and doctoral. A biology degree can help you pursue a range of career options in technical fields such as medical, environmental, or scientific.
Online Associate Degrees in Biology
Online associate degrees in biology are available; however, programs are mostly limited to community colleges. Many of the biology associate degree programs are designed to lead directly into a bachelor's degree. Taking these early level math and science classes at a community college can potentially help a student save money on tuition costs. Some of the online associate degree programs may require in-person labs.
The average associate degree program in biology will take about two years to complete and will require about 60 credit hours of classes. Common classes will include calculus, physics, chemistry, and biology. With an associate degree in biology, students can pursue a career as a biological technician or medical researcher.
Online Bachelor's Degrees in Biology
There are online programs available for students who want to pursue a bachelor's degree in biology, and schools may award either a Bachelor of Science (BS) or a Bachelor of Arts (BS). These programs typically require about 120 credit hours of classes, which may take about four years to complete over four semesters.
You may be able to complete your degree faster if you have any applicable transfer credits. Some schools may allow you to transfer your full credits if you have previously earned an associate degree. You may also qualify for credits for work experience or military training.
Common coursework will include classes in botany, chemistry, anatomy, genetics, and zoology. Some programs may require in-person lab work, which may be completed on campus or transferred from a local school.
A bachelor's degree in biology can prepare a student for a career as a biology teacher, a biological scientist, or a pharmacist. A biology degree is also a common choice for students looking to move on to medical school.
Online Master's Degrees in Biology
For students looking to advance their education in biology, there are online master's degree programs available. These programs will usually require about 30 credit hours of coursework. This will typically take two to three years to complete. Some schools will allow students to transfer about 15 credits of applicable graduate-level coursework, which will allow for faster degree completion.
Some master's degree programs are geared specifically towards educators, whether that is teachers or individuals who work in museums and research laboratories. Common coursework will include classes in ecology, genetics, the human body, and microbiology. Depending on the school, the online master's degree program may not require a thesis; however, it may require a final research project.
With a master's degree, a student can pursue a career as a lab researcher, a biochemist, a genetic counselor, or a teacher at the collegiate level.
Online Doctoral Degrees in Biology
Online doctoral degree programs in biology are available and allow a student to focus on a specific area such as marine biotechnology, microbiology, or molecular biology. Some online doctoral programs will require in-person work, such as in a lab or other professional setting. Many online degree programs are designed with working professionals in mind. This means students can take online classes that work with their schedule and will not be required to quit their job.
As an advanced degree, a doctoral degree in biology is usually awarded as a PhD. Students are usually required to complete advanced research projects, and possibly a dissertation as well, before they complete their degree. Coursework may include classes in neurobiology, enzymology, or genetics. Doctoral degree programs typically require about 60 credit hours of coursework and research and are usually completed in about three years.
Online Certificates in Biology
Online certificates in biology are available at both the undergraduate and graduate level. These certificates are designed to give students more experience in the science of biology and related topics. Undergraduate biology certificate programs will require at least a high school diploma or the equivalent along with successful completion of some advanced level science classes. Typical programs will include about 12 credit hours of classes.
Certificates at the graduate level are geared towards individuals looking for more professional training or for educators who need continuing education credits. Graduate-level certificates will usually include 15 credit hours of classes. The credits from this certificate may be used towards a future master's degree.
Difference Between Bachelor of Science & Bachelor of Arts Degree Programs
Bachelor's degree programs are available as both a Bachelor of Science (BS) and a Bachelor of Arts (BA). The type of degree available will depend on the school and program a student chooses. There are some key differences that set these degree programs apart.
- Bachelor of Science. A typical Bachelor of Science degree in biology will be more focused on science and math courses and may have more lab course requirements. With a BS in biology, students will be more prepared for medical careers or advanced degrees scientific areas.
- Bachelor of Arts. A Bachelor of Arts degree in biology will give a student a broader education. This degree is less specialized and offers more opportunities for studying a variety of topics. A student may have the flexibility to customize their degree towards his or her interests. A BA in biology can be a good starting point for an advanced degree.
Biology degrees cover a broad range of scientific fields. Many schools and biology degree programs offer specialization options to narrow a student's focus. Common specializations include the following:
- Ecology. This concentration focuses on study the ecosystems of the earth and how to protect them. Classes in this area may include marine biology, evolution, plant biology, or biology of mammals.
- Behavioral biology. In this concentration, students will study how biology influences behavior. Coursework may include studies in communication, sociobiology, and primatology.
- Cellular and molecular biology.Students who choose this specialization may take glasses in neurobiology, analytical chemistry, and the biology of gene expression. This is one of the fastest growing fields of biology.
- Genetics. With a concentration in genetics, a student will gain an understanding of inherited traits, evolution, and immunology. Students may take classes in biochemistry and microscopic anatomy.
Curriculum/Coursework for a Biology Degree
An online degree in biology will include the same type of classes as you would take in an in-class setting. Common coursework will include classes in genetics, evolution, anatomy and physiology, zoology, and botany. Science and math-focused credits will constitute the majority of a biology degree.
Degree requirements will also include general education classes, which will vary based on the school a student chooses. For a bachelor's degree, a student will generally need between 20 and 40 general education credits. There are also some elective credits that give a student the ability to focus on a specialization.
For students looking for more education in biology, but do not want to pursue a degree, there are some free online biology courses available.
How Long Does it Take to Get an Online Bachelor's in Biology?
A typical online bachelor's degree program in biology will take four years to complete. However, if you have applicable transfer credits, such as a completed associate degree, you may be able to complete your bachelor's degree in as little as two years.
Some schools may also offer classes in an accelerated timeframe, for example about 8 weeks for a class instead of the typical 15. This may allow a student to finish their degree faster. No matter how quickly a bachelor's degree program is completed, it will require about 120 credit hours of classes, spread out over 30-40 classes.
Accreditation for Online Bachelor's in Biology Degrees
When choosing a school to get an online bachelor's degree in biology, a student should first make sure that the school is accredited. Accreditation is given out by independent organizations and is only given to schools and programs that meet certain requirements.
Choosing an accredited school is also important if a student is wanting to qualify for financial aid. Certain federal and state grants and loans are only available for students who attend accredited schools. Some organizations that offer accreditation to schools and biology programs include The Higher Learning Commission, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, and the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
How to Choose a Biology School & Program
When considering an online degree in biology, students should carefully consider which school they wish to attend. One of the first things to consider is whether or not the school is accredited, as this can affect future transfer opportunities and student aid. Students should also consider how an online program will fit into their lifestyle and if there are any in-person class requirements, like for lab work.
Many students who want to major in biology aspire to continue their education into more advanced areas, such as medical school or obtaining a doctorate in a specialized scientific field. Contact the school to get more information on how its online biology degree program can help reach these goals.
Students should also take into consideration what profession they wish to pursue after graduation. The field of biology is broad and can be used in a wide range of careers. By choosing an area of specialization, a student can be more prepared for a specific career. They should ensure the school they choose offers classes in that area, such as marine biology, microbiology, or genetics.
Biology Licensure & Certification
Most careers in biology do not require any licensure; however, there are various professional certifications available that can help an individual advance in his or her chosen field.
- Board Certified Entomologist. This certification is offered by the Entomological Society of America. An entomologist is a person who studies insects and how to manage them. To earn this certification, an individual must apply and pay a fee to take an exam. There is also an annual renewal fee to maintain the certification.
- Clinical Genetics and Genomics. For professionals in the field of genetics, the American Board of Medical Genetics and Genomics offers a variety of certification options including in Clinical Genetics and Genomics. To earn this certification, an applicant must have a doctoral degree in a genetic specialty. They also must complete multiple years of training and then pass an exam.
Biology Career Information
There are a lot of career options for individuals with a degree in biology. Many of biology-related careers may require an advanced degree. With a degree in biology, jobs are available in the medical industry, through government agencies, and in education. Here are some potential job titles and more detailed steps on how to progress in those fields.
- Marine biologist
- Certified wildlife biologist
- Biological scientist
- Microbiology scientist
How to Become a Marine Biologist
Marine biology is a specialized field that studies the health of marine life and the bodies of water they live in. A marine biologist may study climate change, marine mammals, and wildlife management. They may spend a lot of time working outdoors or in a lab setting. They typically will need at least a master's degree. If a student is interested in becoming a marine biologist, these are some steps they can take.
- A student will need to first obtain a bachelor's degree, likely in the field of biology.
- If there are specialized marine biology courses available as an undergraduate, they should pursue those as elective classes.
- For higher level scientific work, a marine biologist will need at least a master's degree. An advanced PhD will open opportunities for teaching in higher education and for doing independent research.
- Marine biologists need advanced computer skills along with problem-solving skills, critical thinking, and observational skills.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2019 that the median pay for zoologists and wildlife biologists was $63,270 per year. The job outlook for this field is expected to grow 4% by 2029. The states with the highest level of employment in this field are Washington, Florida, and California.
How to Become a Microbiology Scientist
A microbiologist studies microorganisms that affect our daily lives including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. They usually work in lab settings where they conduct experiments and analyze data. Microbiologists will need at least a bachelor's degree; however, an advanced degree will be necessary for advanced research work. Here are the steps someone should take to become a microbiology scientist.
- Pursue a bachelor's degree in an advanced scientific field, like biology, or microbiology, if it is available.
- Take classes that focus on microbiology, cell biology, and biochemistry. Classes in advanced mathematics will also be required.
- Consider pursuing an internship in a lab setting to earn hands-on experience.
- Earn an advanced degree, like a master's or doctoral degree. These degrees can help an individual pursue high-level research positions and jobs in academia. An advanced degree also gives a student opportunity to specialize their interests in microbiology.
- Certification in the field of microbiology can help job candidates stand out. There are certifications available from the American Society for Microbiology.
- Microbiologists will need strong math skills, observation skills, and logical thinking.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2019 median pay for microbiologists was $73,650 per year. The job outlook is expected to grow 4% by 2029, which is as fast as the average job. The states with the highest mean wage include Maryland, California, and Virginia.
Financial Aid and Scholarship Information for Biology Degrees
To help offset the cost of earning a biology degree, there are financial aid and scholarship opportunities available to most students. The first step in the financial aid process if filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Check with the school to find out about financial aid deadlines and opportunities. There may be a general scholarship application available that will automatically consider you for applicable scholarships and grant.
There are also scholarships that are available outside of specific educational institutions. Here are some popular scholarship opportunities for students pursuing biology degrees.
- APS/IBM Research Internship for Undergraduate Women and Underrepresented Minorities. This research internship program is designed to help underrepresented groups excel in STEM fields. Selected applicants will get a 10-week paid internship at one of three IBM research locations. Applicants must be majoring in a scientific field, like biology or computer science. They also need at least a 3.0 GPA.
- Emily M. Hewitt and Stephen Stocking Memorial Scholarship. This scholarship is offers $2,500 to a student studying biology or other environmentally related subject who is committed to understanding and practicing conversation. This scholarship is restricted to students studying in California.