As a marine biologist, you will spend your day studying how different aquatic species interact with each other, as well as how human activity impacts those species. You will use your findings to advance the conservation and protection of these species, and you may even work with other scientific professionals to develop far-reaching solutions.
If you are considering a degree in marine biology, you’ve made a smart decision – but once you find yourself looking at program options, you might be overwhelmed by all the choices that are out there.
What kind of marine biology degree should you get?
Marine biology is a specific branch of biology that studies the creatures that live in oceans and other bodies of salt water. As a marine biologist, you will spend your day researching and learning more about how these organisms interact with their physical environment.
You should always enroll in the program that will most closely align with your career goals and life circumstances. A quality program will include plenty of training in key science classes like botany, herpetology, and ecology, as well as in specific technology training in topics like geographic information systems (GIS).
If you’re unsure of how pursuing a college degree will align with your current lifestyle, remember that an online program offers you a flexible and convenient way of earning a degree – without having to leave the security of your current job.
Online degrees are affordable and high-quality, allowing you to complete your studies from the comfort of your own home. If you’re looking for the perfect online school, make sure you check out our ranking of the Best Online Colleges and Universities for a closer look at all the options out there.
How much money do people make with a bachelor’s degree in marine biology?
Although job growth in the field of marine biology is slightly less than average, the field is expected to grow about four percent by 2024, this is attributed directly to the fact that most marine biologists love their jobs – and therefore rarely leave them. Once you’ve landed a job as a marine biologist, you will likely continue in this career for the rest of your life.
That being said, marine biologists tend to earn high average starting salaries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics groups marine biologists with other zoologists and wildlife biologists for data reporting purposes. Collectively, you can expect to earn a higher than average salary after earning a degree in marine biology – most candidates earn at least $63,420 per year.
Individuals who work for the federal government or in management, scientific, technical, or research services tend to earn the highest starting salaries. Keep in mind that continuing on to receive a master’s or PhD in marine biology can help boost your earnings, too.
What can you do with a bachelor’s degree in marine biology?
As a marine biologist, you will study the way animals and other creatures interact with their aquatic ecosystems. You will study their physical characteristics, behaviors, and the impacts that humans have on their environments. You will design and conduct research studies with animals, either in controlled or natural environments, gathering biological data and specimens for deeper analysis.
You may also work to develop programs to help minimize the impact of human behavior on wildlife. You might write research papers, scholarly journals, or reports, and you will work closely with other scientific professionals to perform and present scientific experiences. Most marine biologists work for the state government, spending their days in laboratories, offices, and field settings.
With a bachelor’s degree in marine biology, you could also work for the federal government or for management or technical consulting services. You might work for a college or university, or you could carry out unique research and development in the life sciences. With this kind of degree, your options and work environment are varied and limitless.
What are the requirements for a bachelor’s degree in marine biology?
To become a marine biologist, you will need to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in marine biology. In many cases, further education in the form of a PhD or master’s degree is also required. Many colleges and universities offer programs in marine biology, while others offer broader programs of study that allow for a concentration in this discipline.
An undergraduate degree in marine biology will provide you with training in topics like ecology, wildlife management, cellular biology, and botany. You will also take courses that focus on specific groups of animals, like the study of fish known as ichthyology, as well as broader science classes like chemistry and physics. You will be required to demonstrate strong communication and critical thinking skills, as well as a high level of scientific proficiency in order to enroll in one of these programs.
What are the best online bachelor’s degrees in marine biology?
There is no one best bachelor’s degree in marine biology for everybody. The best degree will be the one that best meets your career and personal goals, allowing you to study in a manner that is the most convenient for you. The very best programs will be both affordable and flexible, while also providing strong academic quality.
When we developed our list of the best bachelor’s in marine biology, we looked at each school’s academic quality, return on investment (a measure of affordability), reputation, and student satisfaction. Before finalizing our list of the top schools, we analyzed how much each degree would cost and compared this to its overall value.
Our goal was to create for you the most accurate list of the options available to you as you pursue the next steps toward an exciting career. If you’re interested in how we came up with our list of programs, make sure you take a look at our methodology page. This will give you a more detailed overview of how we compile our final list of data.
After we crunch the numbers, we narrow down our final list so that we can publish a list that includes only the very best schools for marine biology. As a result, our list is representative not just of the schools with the best programs, but also those that are the most affordable and flexible for any lifestyle. Consider our top choices below as you embark on the journey toward a lifelong career in a rewarding discipline.
College Choice Score: 100
Average Net Price: $33,728
While Boston University does not have any graduate degrees in marine biology, the undergraduate degree is nothing short of impressive. Housed within the College of Arts and Sciences at Boston University is the Boston University Marine Program – affectionately referred to as BUMP. This program focuses on research in areas like marine conservation, functional genomics, ocean exploration, and more. The degree includes multiple opportunities for undergraduate research and honors courses.
This program is highly interdisciplinary, exposing students to a variety of courses in biology, chemistry, geology, and oceanography. The first year of education involves several general education courses that are integrated into the undergraduate experience. These are flexible and can be completed via coursework outside of the major, as well as through extracurricular activities. Other required classes include:
- Marine Urban Ecology
- Ichthyology: Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution of Fish
- Marine Genomics
- Tropical Marine Invertebrates
- Bio-Optical Oceanography
Boston University is a popular choice for undergraduate learners for many reasons, but one of the most significant is that it offers a Marine Semester that allows students to take marine biology courses in a more hands-on setting. This semester involves extensive research in a variety of New England locations as well as in the Belize Barrier Reef. Students work with Boston University faculty and scientists from prestigious organizations like the University of Belize, the New England Aquarium, and NOAA. Because of the experiences and prestige afforded by this opportunity, graduates go on to high-profile graduate schools and careers in commercial, educational, governmental, and nonprofit settings.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
College Choice Score: 97.71
Average Net Price: $11,100
The University of North Carolina is located in Chapel Hill, NC, and offers multiple degree programs that focus on marine sciences. This university, founded in 1789, has a booming population of well over 18,000 undergraduate students. Despite the schools’ large population, it provides students with attentive education that is delivered by faculty who are dedicated to student success. With a plethora of graduate and undergraduate degree programs alike, this school offers both advanced and introductory coursework in marines sciences.
This program requires students to work closely with departmental advisors as they develop their course of study. Students will be granted exclusive access to departmental resources and facilities as they create their own specializations related to their majors. While each student’s plan of study will vary depending on the pathway selected, most students will pursue classes in topics such as:
- The Marine Environment
- Estuarine and Coastal Marine Science
- First-Year Seminar: Connections to the Sea: The Challenges Faced by Using and Living Near Coastal Environments
- Geology of Beaches and Coasts
- Major World Rivers and Global Change: From Mountains to the Sea
The University of North Carolina is unique in that it provides students with a number of generous financial aid opportunities. Students receive access to exclusive directed research, working closely with faculty members for course credit as part of research honors projects. This school was the country’s first public university and remains one of the best universities in the world. With a diverse student population – there are students from every state and over 100 countries enrolled – the University of North Carolina is regarded as one of the best National Universities by U.S. News & World Report.
College Choice Score: 96.86
Average Net Price: $33,918
Eckerd College is located in St. Petersburg, FL. This location is idyllic for its clear weather and beautiful scenery, but it is also ideal for students who are interested in pursuing degrees in marine biology. With close proximity to the coast, Eckerd offers four specialization areas in the field of marine biology: Marine Geophysics, Marine Geology, Marine Biology, and Marine Chemistry. A small, close-knit university, this school combines extensive opportunities in research with professional preparedness, intensive laboratory experiences, and affordable financing options.
This program is incredibly hands-on, allowing students to step outside the classroom to learn more about diverse marine biological systems in the Gulf of Mexico. The Galbraith Marine Science Lab allows students to engage in hands-on field research in specific areas, such as dolphins or wetland restoration. All faculty conduct their own independent research, and since Eckerd does not have graduate programs in marine biology, undergraduates are always considered first. Popular classes include:
- Marine and Freshwater Botany
- Coastal Geology
- Restoration Ecology
- Tropical Marine Ecology
Eckerd is a popular choice among learners because it has a strategic location near the Gulf of Mexico. This allows students to participate in extensive research opportunities, as well as to participate in comprehensive, hands-on coursework in marine science. Furthermore, the school offers a variety of grants and study abroad programs (as well as financing for study abroad) for students who are interested in expanding their studies off campus.
University of California-Los Angeles
College Choice Score: 96.22
Average Net Price: $14,760
With over 337 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to choose from, it might seem difficult to find the right program for your career goals when you are studying at the University of California-Los Angeles. However, the marine biology degree is a clear standout, providing students with all the skills they need to succeed in the workforce upon graduation. This degree is designed for students wishing to specialize in the area of marine biology, while also allowing for customization in topics such as the physiology of marine organisms, subtidal and intertidal ecology, and oceanography.
Before students may pursue the specialized coursework laid out as part of the exciting, hands-on curriculum, they must first take a series of core life sciences courses. The university accepts transfer students, awarding credit for most experiences. For the major, students will take a range of laboratory-, classroom-, and field-based classes, including, but not limited to:
- Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
- Atmospheric and Ocean Sciences
- Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences
- Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology
- Computational and Systems Biology
This program is unique in that it offers a marine biology quarter. This quarter is designed to help students create and then execute their own research projects. These aren’t limited to on-campus study- many learners travel abroad for these projects, engaging in cutting-edge research in areas like Australia. The school has a range of interesting related programs, such as minors in Conservation Biology and Evolutionary Medicine accompanied by graduate programs in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
Oregon State University
College Choice Score: 95.73
Average Net Price: $30,141
Oregon State University is located in Corvallis, OR. The marine biology program, offered via the Hatfield Marine Science Center, is designed for students who might not necessarily have a background in marine biology or ecology. Students who have biology or non-biology majors may participate in this degree program, which has three separate start terms throughout the year. This program is offered as a concentration within the biology major, which allows students to emphasize research and epiretinal courses in the field of marine biology, placing this discipline at the core of their studies.
This program is unique in that the Hatfield Marine center divides the curriculum into three blocks. In the spring, students take coursework in marine biology. In the summer, they will pursue marine and environmental studies, and in the fall students take classes in coastal ecology and resource management. Students may pursue a variety of elective and required courses, such as:
- Estuarine Ecology
- Biological Oceanography
- Biology and Conservation of Marine Mammals
- Environmental Physiology
- Aquatic Microbiology
With an ideal location, just ninety minutes from Portland and an hour from the Pacific Coast, Oregon State provides marine biology students with some of the best and most extensive hands-on experiences. As a large public research university, the school has the resources to support in-depth studies of marine sciences. The school is committed to public service and affordability, with nearly fifty percent of all graduates leaving school with no debt. As a result, this school is ranked as a Best Value School by U.S. News & World Report.
University of Maine
College Choice Score: 95.13
Average Net Price: $30,970
The University of Maine is a public university that was founded in 1865. A rural campus with fewer than 10,000 undergraduate students, this campus is about an hour from the Atlantic coast. The University of Maine employs over 30 different faculty members with specialties in marine sciences and is home to the largest concentrations of experts in the entire state. Considered one of the top programs in the United States, the marine biology program at the University of Maine is available in both undergraduate and graduate fields of study.
The location of the University of Maine is perfect for students who want to study marine ecology. Learners will have direct contact with intertidal and subtidal marine organisms, and will be able to visit hatcheries, aquaculture sites, and commercial fishing ports as part of their studies. The major requires between 82 and 85 credit hours of study, with core courses in areas such as:
- Invertebrate Zoology
- Experimental Design and Analysis for Biologists
- Algal and marine Plant Ecology
- Marine Ecology
In addition to the core coursework detailed above, all students are also required to complete a capstone requirement prior to graduation. This can take many forms, including a seminar in marine ecology, a seminar in marine biology, or a senior thesis. This school has plenty to offer students outside of academic quality, too. The university is home to over 200 different student organizations, including 25 fraternities and sororities. Regarded as one of the Top Public Schools by U.S. News & World Report, this university was an obvious choice as one of the best schools for marine biology in the country.
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus
College Choice Score: 94.72
Average Net Price: $22,888
A public university founded in 1866, the University of New Hampshire operates multiple campuses throughout the state. The School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering is the university’s first interdisciplinary school and offers marine science classes that are one of a kind. This program is designed to provide students who are interested in marine and freshwater biology the skills and education necessary to pursue a wide variety of careers and graduate study. Students can specialize in an area of interest such as aquaculture or animal behavior.
As the interdisciplinary nature of this program suggests, the students at the University of New Hampshire will engage in classes from many different departments while enrolled in marine science studies. Candidates are given ample opportunities to be involved in scientific policy development and will learn more about strategies regarding the best management of marine resources. With a variety of research facilities and laboratories available, students receive an exemplary education that prioritizes hands-on learning as they take classes such as:
- Marine Estuarine and Freshwater Biology: Freshman seminar
- Introduction to Marine Biology
- Aquatic Animal Diversity
- Introduction to Aquatic Botany
The Location of the University of New Hampshire is ideal. Candidates have unique opportunities for hands-on study with regular trips to the lakes of New Hampshire, the White Mountain National Forest, and two coastal marine laboratories in the curriculum. The university is also close to estuarine and freshwater facilities. Because all courses have a strong research emphasis, candidates graduate with an innate knowledge of how to conduct hands-on research and development in the area of marine biology.
Stony Brook University
College Choice Score: 93.02
Average Net Price: $14,330
Located in Stony Brook, NY, Stony Brook University is a public institution that was founded in 1957. Despite its relatively young age, this university has risen to prominence in all areas, but particularly in its offerings of science-based programs. Stony Brook University employs the power of hands-on learning in all of its programs, but there are few programs that bring this theory to life quite like the marine biology program. The degree is administered by the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, which is one of the top oceanographic institutions in the nation. As a result, students conduct regular research and public services.
This interdisciplinary program requires students to integrate their understanding of all basic sciences including chemistry, physics, and biology. Research and internships are encouraged aspects of the curriculum, with multiple opportunities for experiential learning available. Faculty members are at the forefront of developing research and solutions for regional environmental problems, as well as those related to the global ocean and atmosphere. Students will work closely with dedicated faculty in cutting-edge research facilities as they take classes such as:
- Environmental Microbiology
- Marine Microbiology and Microbial Ecology
- Long Island Marine Habitats
- Environmental INstrumental ANalysis
- Waves, Tides, and Beaches
Stony Brook is one of the few schools on this list that provides students with on-the-job training outside of the classroom. The Semester by the Sea program is a required part of each students’ learning that requires them to spend a semester studying and living at the Stony Brook Southampton campus in Shinnecock Bay. Here students strengthen their field skills by studying on the water most days of the week. Students engage in research opportunities, learning how to use advanced equipment like handheld CTDs and water samplers.
University of Oregon
College Choice Score: 89.13
Average Net Price: $15,100
Located in Eugene, OR, the University of Oregon is a public university that opened its doors in 1876. This large university has a massive enrollment of nearly 20,000 students – but that doesn’t stop its faculty from providing a small-campus support system to its students. The university offers over 310 different academic programs and requires all students to complete a rigorous liberal arts and sciences core – regardless of major. The marine biology major is just one of many hands-on courses offered at this idyllic university.
This degree is one of a handful of its kind offered on the Pacific Coast. Students who enroll in this program receive solid training in modern biology, as well as in hands-on field learning in renowned marine laboratories. Courses are offered during three terms throughout the year and include popular topics such as:
- Marine Biology: Marine Conservation Biology
- Estuarine Biology
- Biological Oceanography
- Marine Biology: Molecular Marine Biology
- Undergraduate Research
This program is unique in that it provides learners with multiple opportunities for internships, study abroad, scholarships, and research experiences. The university helps to place students with Internships and Research Experience for Undergraduates programs, which are available during the completion of an undergraduate degree and help students gain career-relevant experiences. The degree also has a tropical marine biology course in Panama, as well as multiple other international study options for students in this major.
California State University-Long Beach
College Choice Score: 88.87
Average Net Price: $9,654
The Long Beach campus is just one of many locations operated by California State University. This public university was founded in 1949 and has a large undergraduate enrollment of over 31,000 students. This campus overlooks the Pacific Ocean and provides students with the perfect blend of quality academics with an idyllic outdoor life. The Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology is just one program offered at the university – motivated students may choose to pursue a graduate degree in marine biology here as well.
This degree requires the completion of small upper-division lectures and laboratory classes. These are taught by faculty members who possess terminal degrees in marine biology and allow students to take frequent field trips to nearby estuaries, intertidal habitats, and bays. Students can carry out original scientific research, which prepares them well for marine-biology related jobs in resource management agencies and for graduate study. Required classes include:
- Marine Microorganisms
- Aquatic Toxicology
- Fisheries Ecology and COnservation
- Geographic Information Systems
- Tropical Marine Ecology
California State University-Long Beach offers students multiple opportunities to engage in hands-on research opportunities. The school is home to a shark lab, home to real live sharks, as well as a marine laboratory and the Long Beach Marine Institute. Students have the option of participating in the Catalina Semester, a full semester of research at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Santa Catalina Island. This experience allows learners to develop critical time management skills by balancing research and academic aspects, while also giving them an idea of what a career in scientific research is actually like.
University of Tampa
College Choice Score: 87.54
Average Net Price: $29,880
The University of Tampa was founded in 1931 and is a private university located in Tampa, FL. The Marine Science Biology program is one of the most popular degrees within the Department of Biology, providing students with easy access to Tampa Bay for research and recreational opportunities. This program is considered one of the defining degrees at the university and is frequently pursued as a standalone major as well as a double major for biology majors.
This program is geared toward experiential learning, providing students with exclusive access to laboratory experiences, weekend trips to remote locations, and international travel courses. The degree is somewhat prescribed and does not have specific areas of study or constraints. Nevertheless, students may still choose from a wide variety of courses to round out their degrees or to tailor them to specific interests. Required courses for the major include:
- Physical Oceanography
- Marine Botany
- General Chemistry
- Introduction to Marine Science
This prominent degree is supported by a range of facilities and equipment, allowing students to engage in faculty-led research. For example, the Marine Science Field Station includes both a wet- and dry-lab and provides learners with access to Tampa Bay. Candidates may rent canoes, kayaks, research vessels, and trailers to help them conduct their research. All courses in this program are taught by educated, invested faculty members, nearly half of whom conduct their primary research in areas like marine organisms and the marine ecosystem.
University of New England
College Choice Score: 87.32
Average Net Price: $33,204
Located in Biddeford, ME, the University of New England offers a marine science program that grants students a well-rounded education in both research and academics. The program focuses on the practical uses of marine science, giving students access to cutting-edge research laboratories and facilities. In addition to the typical marine biology major, students can also choose to major or minor in topics like Marine Affairs, Aquaculture, Marine Sciences, Applied Mathematics, or Marine Entrepreneurship.
Nestled between the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge and Saco Bay, this program is carried out in close proximity to some of the nations’ most gorgeous waterways. This degree gives students comprehensive training, not just in marine science, but also in conservation. Students learn the core techniques and strategies involved in conserving the environment and may choose between two different concentrations in marine biology, oceanography, or marine science 4+1 bachelor’s and master’s combined track. Required classes for the core major include:
- Marine Biology
- Fundamentals of Biochemistry
With small class sizes and a profound commitment to experiential learning, this school is one of the best for students seeking a small-campus vibe paired with the academic quality of a larger research institution. The school offers dozens of student fellowships, research grants, and other projects in their specialization of choice. The school also partners with prestigious marine-based organizations to provide students with further education. For example, the school allows students to take their marine education to the waters with the United States Naval Academy, or to learn more about entrepreneurialism and marine policy with the Maine North Atlantic Development Office.
College Choice Score: 86.43
Average Net Price: $22,011
Duke University was founded in 1838 and has repeatedly been recognized as one of the best schools in the United States. This university is a private college and offers an exemplary undergraduate degree in biology with a specialization in marine biology. While master’s and doctorate degrees in marine biology and marine conservation biology are also available at Duke, the undergraduate degree remains one of the most popular.
At Duke, marine biology is not viewed as a separate discipline of biology but as the application of many different areas of biology to the study of organisms that live in a marine ecosystem. This degree provides students with multiple opportunities for advisement and hands-on learning as they develop their plans of study. Required courses, as well as popular electives, include studies in topics such as:
- Gateway to Biology: Molecular Biology
- Conservation Biology and Policy
- Comparative Physiology of Marine Animals
- Coastal Watershed Science and Policy
- Biology and Conservation of Sea Turtles
With over 45 different research centers and laboratories, Duke is one of the best schools for students seeking a hands-on education. These training facilities help learners develop a real-world understanding of how marine biology intersects with the rest of the environment and how their careers can help to make a global difference. Because each student is required to complete multiple lab experience requirements and a capstone course, candidates graduate from Duke not just with theoretical knowledge of marine biology, but with a deep understanding of how to apply learned techniques as well.
California State University-Monterey Bay
College Choice Score: 84.39
Average Net Price: $11,233
A young university founded only in 1994, California State University-Monterey Bay is located near one of the most diverse bays in the country. This bay is home to Monterey Canyon, one of the largest underwater canyons in the world, and as a result, serves as an ecosystem for thousands of different marine species. The California State Institute of Applied Marine Ecology offers a dynamic program in marine science that helps students understand how humans can interact safely and sustainably with fragile marine ecology.
The Bachelor of Science in Marine Science at California State University-Monterey Bay helps learners develop skills in applying technology to the study of marine ecosystems. Coursework includes a number of laboratory and field experiences that grant students the skills necessary to monitor common problems in marine science. Required and elective courses include:
- Small Boat Field Techniques
- Ecological Physiology
- Marine Experimental Physiology
- Marine Fish Ecology
- Science Policy and Management in the Marine Environment
California State has plenty to offer students outside of the classroom, too. In addition to offering students the use of five different research laboratories, like the Marine Landscape Ecology lab and the Environmental Physiology Lab, the school offers exclusive research opportunities and training in how to conduct quality research. The school also houses multiple extracurricular organizations, such as the Maine Science Club, which provide students with access.
University of Washington-Seattle Campus
College Choice Score: 84.03
Average Net Price: $9,443
Located in Seattle, WA, the University of Washington is a public university that was founded in 1861. A large university of over 31,000 undergraduates, this school is famous for its research and educational programs related to aquatic and marine science. Over 50 faculty members are currently conducting research and teaching in a wide range of marine biology topics. The program helps candidates develop job-ready skills that are applicable to any setting, such as those in teamwork and writing. All classes incorporate field trips, laboratories, and key analytical skills that prepare them for any career.
This degree requires students to closely examine the life processes of creatures who inhabit saltwater environments. Students can take advantage of unique laboratories as they look at various aspects of marine biodiversity. Students will take core subjects in the divisions of Marine Physiology, Marine Ecology, Marine Evolutionary Biology, and Conservation and Management. Required courses include:
- Marine Evolutionary Biology
- Conservation and Management of Aquatic Resources
- Marine Biogeochemical Cycles
- Integrative Oceans
- Introduction to Oceanography
The University of Washington-Seattle has the perfect location for students who are interested in studying marine biology. Located centrally on the Puget Sound, the university owns a marine sciences field station, Friday Harbor Laboratories. This field station is located just a few miles from campus on San Juan Island and allows students to pursue research opportunities right from day one of their education. In addition to the prominent marine biology major, the school also offers programs in oceanography as well as aquatic and fishery sciences.