Some of the best marine biology colleges in the world are located in the United States. Whether on the frigid shores of the east coast or working along the warmer waters of the west, the best schools for marine biology explore the depths of the oceans in unique ways. Research each school to find the individual program that speaks to your goals of becoming a marine biologist.

The areas of study for a marine biologist are as varied and vast as the Earth’s oceans and seas. From studying the largest mammals on the planet to investigating the minuscule microbes that populate and thrive in the world’s seawater, the best schools for marine biology allow a student to gain significant hands-on experience as they work toward their degree.

What is a Marine Biologist?

The oceans and all that inhabit the waterways that run through the world’s terrain is the marine biologist’s work and play space. A large mammal marine biologist may study the physiological processes of marine species and their behavior. They may also delve deep into the diseases and environmental conditions caused by human activity that the whales and fish species inhabit and how they are affected by them.

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This is a very small field, with a less than 5 percent expected job growth for zoologists, wildlife biologists and marine biologists over the next five years. The median salary for a marine biologist is around $60,000 annually.

Job titles for marine biologists vary with the student’s chosen focus. They include:

  • Conservation Biologist
  • Biological Technician
  • Fish and Wildlife Biologist
  • Aquatic Biologist
  • Fisheries Biologist
  • Zoologist
  • Wildlife Biologist

As you progress through one of the best marine biology programs, you will discover what area of expertise you excel in.

What a Marine Biologist Does

Once students become marine biologists, they can specialize in areas beyond the scope of their original area of study. For instance, a marine biotechnologist uses a marine biology degree to study marine species and how they can assist in industrial processes or technology.

A marine biologist must earn a Ph.D. before they can begin to officially work in the industry as a recognized professional. The doctoral education prepares a future marine biologist with a comprehensive knowledge of important areas, including evolutionary, genomic, physiological, organismic and the biochemical processes of saltwater organisms. This is the basic foundation that a student will need to understand the processes of organisms and the relationship between their physical and biotic surroundings.

Best Marine Biology Programs

While class work is dependent on your emphasis, suggested courses that marine biologists should complete include:

  • Land Surface Hydrology
  • Applied Mathematics
  • Geological Record of Climate Change 
  • Wave Physics
  • Signal Processing
  • Computational Ocean Acoustics
  • Physical Oceanography

A talented marine biologist will study more than the plankton, kelp or sea species that interest them. They should spend time exploring the ocean in their spare time and reading up on the latest research.

Many Ph.D. programs offer more specialized emphasis on areas in the field, from vertebrate biology to photobiology and microbiology. Valued Ph.D. programs combine course training with hands-on experience. A premier school will have a heavy emphasis on research conducted in the field as well as in the classroom and teach research methodologies that will assist the student in conducting an original study and eventual publication.

Duke University

A degree in biology with a concentration in marine biology from Duke University is highly regarded in the industry. With 45 research laboratories for students to study and observe mammals and microbes as they progress through the program, this private university offers a wealth of opportunities for ambitious biologists.

Undergrads are required to take many chemistry, statistics, physics and math classes as well as biology courses in their first years at Duke University. Marine biology hopefuls are expected to complete four course credits at the Duke University Marine Laboratory.

Duke students are expected to finish a minimum of five elective courses. These can include independent studies and biology courses above the 200 level. While the undergraduate programs are impressive and abundant, the master’s and doctorate programs allow the students to stay on course as they advance to their Ph.D. in marine biology or marine conservation biology.

Boston University

The College of Arts and Sciences offers the prestigious Boston University Marine Program. BUMP for short is heavy on research with an emphasis on biomimicry, ocean exploration, functional genomics and marine conservation. The school partners with the New England Aquarium, Sea Education Association and the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary among other informative marine conservation organizations.

Within the first years of undergraduate study, students will partake in what is popularly known as the Marine Semester. This in-depth course work allows the student to delve deeper into marine biology courses rather than the expected math, chemistry and social studies that can be piled on students during their first years in college.

Boston University doesn’t offer a master’s or doctorate degree for marine biology in its program. Students who wish to stay at the college can pursue those endeavors at the earth and environment department and biology department.

University of Maine

Considered one of the best schools for marine biology, the School of Marine Science at the University of Maine is a hot spot for oceanic observation. With more than 30 faculty members who specialize in marine sciences, the school has one of the largest concentrations of specialists in one area.

The school offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees in marine science and marine biology. It offers concentrations in marine biology and physical science as well as oceanography. From the study of molecular biology to fisheries economics and the latest in biotechnology, this school has a strong and supportive student body with a clear aim to be the best in the field of marine biology.

Students get real-life experiences studying at the Darling Marine Center. The center has flowing seawater laboratories and an impressive roster of visiting scientists from around the world who interact with undergraduates and graduates as they progress through their courses.

Eckerd College – St. Petersburg, Florida

Consistently considered one of the top 10 marine biology colleges in the nation, Eckerd has a specialized curriculum for marine biology. The four fields of concentration are:

  • Marine Biology
  • Marine Chemistry
  • Marine Geology
  • Marine Geophysics

Included with the course study is a wide variety of research opportunities. Eckerd students also have access to a host of grants and study abroad grants. This can open a student up to invaluable research opportunities and potential job prospects with companies around the world.

Perched on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico, the college ensures students have easy access to marine science on many levels. Students are expected to broaden their focus by taking courses outside of their major. These include art, social sciences and literature among other liberal art subjects.

Oregon State University – Corvallis

The Hatfield Marine Science Center is specifically designed to offer a multi-disciplinary education for undergraduate and graduate students. OSU students delve into ecology, marine biology as well as social and natural science subjects. The curriculum offers a combination of classroom learning, field and wet lab research.

Subjects are broken down into three terms at the Hatfield Marine Center. Marine biology is taught in the spring. Marine and environmental studies are observed in the summer, and coastal ecology and resource management are undertaken during the fall. Students can conduct research projects side-by-side with faculty throughout the year.

About the Author

Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing about education, jobs, business trends and more for The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Today’s Parent and other publications. She graduated with a B.A. in Journalism from UNLV. Her full bio and clips can be seen at www.vegaswriter.com.