The best schools for marine biology offer interesting courses, research opportunities and access to state-of-the-art facilities. With a marine biology degree from a reputable university, you could devote your life to studying unsolved mysteries of the sea. Imagine getting paid to snorkel around dazzling coral reefs in pursuit of undiscovered marine species hidden on the ocean floor. You might even become the scientist who identifies the enigmatic Loch Ness Monster.
When comparing marine biology colleges, prioritize schools offering specializations that match your personal interests and goals. Look for universities that offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees in marine biology.
How Much Education Is Needed?
Marine biologists are highly trained experts who study fish and marine animals and how each species adapts to changing environmental conditions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics groups marine biologists with zoologists and wildlife biologists. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for an entry-level job.
A four-year bachelor’s degree in marine biology prepares you to work in places like fisheries, aquariums and marine education centers. Marine biologists involved in research and development typically hold a master’s degree. Teaching and research positions in higher education usually involve earning a Ph.D., a terminal degree requiring a few more years beyond the master's degree. Although that may sound like forever, you will be doing what you love.
Job Demand for Marine Biologists
Job demand for marine biologists will grow about as fast as average, according to the BLS. It estimates that 1,500 jobs will be created between 2016 and 2026. However, marine biology is a popular and competitive field. Opportunities will be best for those who excel in math, science and technology. Marine biologists must be prepared to spend considerable time collecting samples, analyzing data, writing reports and conducting population studies.
The 2017 median salary earned by zoologists and wildlife biologists, including marine biologists, was $62,290 per year or $29.95 per hour. Median salary means that half of all workers in that occupational category earned less, and half made more.
Job security is more difficult to assess. Many marine biologists depend on government funding for their research labs and projects. Consequently, downturns in the economy can result in hiring freezes and layoffs. Additionally, legislative commitment to conservation efforts and environmental regulation fluctuates from one administration to the next, which influences the number of job openings for marine biologists.
Career Paths for Marine Biologists
Enroll in one of the best schools for marine biology in the country and earn a degree in marine biology. From there, you may enter the job market or apply to a graduate school to continue your study of marine biology. Your career ladder will involve taking lots of science and math classes along with courses in marine biology.
You may have to follow a different path if you don’t live near a marine biology school, and your parents don’t want you moving out of state. If that’s the case, you can major in biology or zoology and pursue internships in zoos, aquariums and fisheries. Upon graduation, your work experience can help you find related employment, or you may want to apply to marine biology graduate programs.
Majoring in a scientific field other than marine biology is another option depending on your career interests. For example, you may want to major in chemistry or physics if you like those subjects and hope to enter a graduate program that offers advanced degrees in fields related to marine biology like chemical or physical oceanography.
Best Schools for Marine Biology
Finding the best marine biology university for you is an important first step in your career journey. Spend time reading school websites to learn everything you can about their marine science programs. Ask your teachers, guidance counselor and family members about the cost, accreditation, reputation and admission standards of schools you’re considering. High-quality marine biology colleges tout the caliber of faculty, ongoing research projects and endless opportunities for hands-on learning.
A good marine biology degree curriculum focuses on the ecology, neurology, physiology and evolution of marine organisms. You may take classes you've never heard of, like ichthyology to learn about fish or phycology, the study of algae. Because marine biology is an interdisciplinary field, your upper-division biology courses may have chemistry, physics, calculus and biostatistics prerequisites. You may want to obtain scuba certification and learn safety protocols to follow when conducting research on marine vessels.
East Coast Marine Biology Colleges
The best schools for marine biology on the East Coast take advantage of the proximity to the Atlantic ocean. For example, Boston University offers an interdisciplinary Bachelor of Arts in marine science. Students in the program embark on a four-month research semester that takes them to many coastal research stations in New England. Students may also travel to the Belizean barrier reef and work alongside scientists.
The research semester at BU includes coursework on topics such as urban ecology, coral reefs, marine invertebrates and underwater-research methods. Along with required marine science and oceanography courses, students study chemistry and advanced math along with general education requirements in order to obtain a marine biology degree.
Centrally Located Marine Biology Colleges
Marine biology colleges are scattered across the country. Programs of study can even be found in the heartland. For instance, Bowling Green State University in Ohio offers many courses in freshwater and marine science. Since 1963, the school has maintained an impressive marine laboratory teeming with marine creatures including starfish, stingrays, horseshoe crabs and sea anemones.
Classroom lecture is combined with hands-on learning where students master the use of sieves, thermographs and other scientific instruments. Students study habitats in mudflats, coral reefs, eel beds and the continental shore. Many BGSU students land summer internships in places like Sea World and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute to get a closer look at marine life.
West Coast Marine Biology Colleges
Many outstanding marine biology colleges and universities are located on the West Coast in California. The best UC marine biology schools in California use the Pacific Ocean as a learning lab. One standout is the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego.
Marine biology majors immerse themselves in rigorous courses focused on direct observation, discovery and analysis. Students learn about sustainability, environmental issues and climate change by studying the ocean. Field trips are also taken to salt marshes and intertidal areas. Students are encouraged to meet regularly with faculty to discuss their plan of study and career ambitions.
Marine and Environmental Science Colleges
Marine biologists pay special attention to melting ice caps and the changing ocean biome. If you are passionate about conservation and love adventure, you may want to check out the exciting marine biology colleges in Alaska. For instance, Alaska Pacific University offers a degree in marine biology and environmental science.
Alaska is arguably the best place in the country to study environmental change in real time. Students explore a wide range of ecosystems including coastal waters, tundras, boreal forests and glaciers. The cutting-edge program also teaches students how to proficiently use geographic information systems. Students may opt for a track that prepares them for jobs managing Alaska’s valuable commercial fisheries.
If you are looking for a warmer place to complete a marine biology degree with an environmental focus, you may prefer the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Current-day issues are examined in the curriculum, such as overfishing, water pollution and the ethics of biotechnology. Courses also examine the human impacts on climate change in the Asian/Pacific area. The school offers several undergraduate and graduate classes in zoology, including marine biology seminars.
- Environmental Science: What is a Marine Biologist?
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists
- Boston University: BA in Marine Science
- Bowling Green State University: Marine Laboratory
- Scripps Institution of Oceanography: Marine Biology (MB)
- Alaska Pacific University: Marine & Environmental Sciences
- University of Hawai'i at Manoa: Department of Biology: All Courses
Dr. Mary Dowd is a dean of students whose job includes student conduct, leading the behavioral consultation team, crisis response, retention and the working with the veterans resource center. She enjoys helping parents and students solve problems through advising, teaching and writing online articles that appear on many sites. Dr. Dowd also contributes to scholarly books and journal articles.