Marine Biology Degree Program Information

Marine biology is the study of salt-water organisms and their environments. Programs are available at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels in this field. Continue on for degree details and coursework, as well as career info.

Essential Information

Graduates of marine biology programs can qualify for many careers related to research, oceanography and biology, as well as those related to marine resources as viewed from an economic, sociological or information technology perspective. Students can choose from bachelor's, master's and doctoral programs in this field. Programs and courses are generally not available online.

Admittance to bachelor's degree programs requires a high school diploma, high standardized test scores and a background in biology. Entrance to the master's and doctoral degree programs usually requires GRE scores and a bachelor's degree in biology or a related field.

Bachelor's Degree in Marine Biology

Baccalaureate programs in marine biology can lead to a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree. The programs provide students with an understanding of contemporary biological science, including cell biology, molecular biology, biochemistry and ecosystems ecology, along with marine biology. In bachelor's degree programs, students can learn about marine mammalogy, pollution and marine environments. They can participate in hands-on training through field experiments, lab work and research projects on marine habitats, wetlands, sand dunes and islands.

Students seeking marine biology bachelor's degrees usually take courses in calculus, physics, ecology and organic chemistry. Coursework specific to marine biology might include:

  • Biological diversity
  • Marine ichthyology
  • Conservation biology
  • Invertebrate zoology
  • Physiology
  • Marine phycology

Master's Degree in Marine Biology

In general, marine biology master's degree programs prepare graduates for careers as research assistants or careers in education. At some schools, students can pursue either a Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Science (M.S.) program with thesis or non-thesis options. These programs provide in-depth knowledge in subspecialties like oceanography, physiology, genetics and various areas of ecology, such as population, community and ecosystem. Non-thesis options lead to either a critical essay or a comprehensive exam. M.A. degree programs may require study of a foreign language.

Master's degree programs in marine biology often require students to specialize in a particular branch of the subject, such as oceanography or population genetics. In addition to research, subjects could include:

  • Deep sea biology
  • Ecological genetics
  • Marine microbial ecology
  • Plant ecology
  • Aquatic ecosystems

Ph.D. in Marine Biology

Programs awarding doctorates in biology prepare graduates for careers in research in numerous areas. In some schools, doctoral candidates can choose from a wide selection of specializations that includes but is not limited to marine biology. Additional areas include limnology, parasitology and stream ecology.

Students perform extensive research, prepare a dissertation and take written and oral exams on a variety of topics that could include ecology, physiology, genetics, morphology and oceanography. They usually need to meet teaching requirements, make presentations and attend seminars.

Once the master's-level course requirements are met, few additional courses are required as efforts move toward research in preparation of completing and defending a dissertation. However, some schools could require that Ph.D. candidates take graduate-level courses in:

  • Biodiversity
  • Oceanography
  • Molecular biology
  • Marine environments
  • Marine populations

Popular Career Options

Though graduates with doctorates perform most research in marine biology, bachelor's degree programs prepare students for many related jobs. The careers listed below are popular options for bachelor's program graduates:

  • Aquarium employee
  • Biological technician
  • Environmental consultant
  • Fishery biologist

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report from October 2010, marine biology is a highly competitive field with scientists significantly in excess of the positions available ( The report states that the greatest demand is in fisheries science and that a competitive edge can be gained with good computer skills and strength in advanced mathematics. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a job growth rate of 8%, faster than average for all occupations, for biochemists and biophysicists from 2014-2024. In January 2016, reported a median annual wage of $51,288 for marine biologists.

A bachelor's or advanced degree in marine biology can be a good option for anyone wishing to work with or study marine life. There are many careers available in this field.

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