Best Bachelor’s in Marine Biology Programs 2021

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A branch of science focusing on ocean life, marine biology studies the diverse species that live in the earth’s saltwater environments. Marine biologists study the behavior of marine animals, the physiological processes of different species, and the different habitats and environments found in the ocean. They also examine how human actions impact marine life. These professionals explore viable solutions to problems such as global warming and rising sea levels, oxygen depletion in the earth’s oceans, and widespread chemical and plastic pollution.

A bachelor’s in marine biology provides a framework for understanding the diverse ecological roles of sea creatures. Marine biologists often possess a strong affinity for ocean life and a commitment to preserving and improving the ocean environment. Graduates of an accredited bachelor’s in marine biology program often qualify for jobs as zoologists, conservation biologists, and marine ecologists.


  • What is marine biology?

    Marine biologists study various organisms that live in saltwater ecosystems such as oceans, estuaries, and hydrothermal vents.

  • How long does it take to earn a bachelor's in marine biology?

    Just like other undergraduate degrees, marine biology bachelor’s programs typically take four years to complete.

  • Can I study marine biology online?

    The majority of schools offering a bachelor’s in marine biology require on-campus attendance. However, some schools offer specific courses online.

  • What marine biology graduate degrees are available?

    Graduates of an accredited bachelor’s in marine biology program often explore postgraduate programs in several fields. This can include marine conservation, evolutionary ecology in aquatic environments, and marine science and climate change.

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Career and Salary Outlook for Marine Biology

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), biologists earn a median annual salary of $63,270, much higher than the median annual salary for other jobs ($39,810). The BLS projects a 4% growth rate for jobs in this sector, about as fast as the average growth rate for all occupations.

Not all marine biologists spend their professional life out on the ocean collecting specimens and examining natural ocean habitats, although many certainly perform these tasks. Marine biologists work in various settings including laboratories, aquariums, and zoos. Marine biologists with advanced degrees work as college professors, researchers for independent environmental organizations, and consultants for government agencies.

A marine biologist’s work often relates directly to their specialization area. A broad field of study, marine biology offers specializations in fields such as mammalogy, aquaculture, and marine archeology. Many marine biologists currently serve in varying capacities to address and mitigate the impact of climate change on the earth’s oceans and the creatures that live there.

Career Lowest 10% Median Annual Salary Highest 10%
Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists Less than $38,880 $63,270 More than $101,780

Source: BLS


Accreditation for Marine Biology Degrees

Reputable postsecondary schools voluntarily submit to an accreditation process, whereby an independent accreditor evaluates a school’s academic offerings according to established standards. Nonprofit degree-focused institutions typically seek regional accreditation while for-profit vocational and sectarian schools often apply for national accreditation. Stakeholders tend to hold regional accreditation in higher esteem because regional accreditors apply a more rigorous evaluation process.

Accreditation not only signifies the quality of education offered by a school, but also the funding available to students. The U.S. Department of Education channels financial aid only through accredited institutions. Students who intend to apply for financial assistance from the government must enroll in an accredited school or program.

To date, no accrediting body exists that deals specifically with marine biology programs. Examine the school’s accreditation to determine the quality of their program.

Courses in a Marine Biology Bachelor’s Program

Course offerings for marine biology majors vary by program. While foundation courses likely cover similar topics, specializations (if any) typically include specific classes and course requirements.

Marine biology bachelor’s programs include classroom lectures, laboratory work, and field experiences. These different modes of teaching and learning prepare graduates to take on wide-ranging professional responsibilities. The five courses below represent some of the common marine biology subjects offered in schools today.

Students explore topics such as the molecular basis of behavior, signal transduction pathways, and molecular endocrinology. Enrollees examine the physiological and behavioral responses of different organisms to environmental stimuli. The course familiarizes enrollees with traditional and emerging research theories and methodologies used to study control systems and molecular signaling.

The course introduces enrollees to various policies relevant to conservation issues and the preservation of diverse species populations. Students explore topics such as habitat fragmentation, ecosystem restoration and rehabilitation, and reserve design. They examine the close interrelationship between living organisms and their physical environment to craft viable conservation policies and sound ecological alternatives.

In this course, students examine the biodiversity of marine communities on several locations like beaches, marshes, coral reefs, and tidal flats. Topics covered include biogeography, physical attributes of marine systems, and environmental adaptation. Students also study factors that affect the diversity and distribution of marine organisms such as invertebrate animals, micro- and macro-algae, and vascular plants.

The course introduces students to core molecular biology concepts such as replication, DNA structure and function, and protein synthesis. Students also examine cell structure and metabolism, as well as various molecular mechanisms. A molecular biology course typically also considers the relevance of molecular biology to diseases and the implications for the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.

The course gives enrollees the chance to study the physiological characteristics of various marine and estuarine animals. Students examine how marine animals adapt to major environmental forces such as temperature, oxygen and light levels, and water salinity. The course includes lectures and laboratory work that familiarize students with different methodologies and analytical techniques. Students also learn how to report their findings in a scientifically appropriate manner.

Scholarships for Marine Biology

Colleges and universities offering some of the best marine biology bachelor’s degrees also often administer various scholarship and grant programs. In addition to schools, marine biology majors often also explore financial aid packages from federal and state governments and additional assistance from private organizations and nonprofit agencies. The three scholarships below represent a small sample of funding options for marine biology students.

Gladys Carol Scholarship Program

Who Can Apply: The Gladys Carol Scholarship Program welcomes applications from full-time undergraduate students pursuing a STEM program (including marine biology). Eligible applicants show a minimum 3.75 cumulative GPA and an SAT score of 1290 or an ACT score of 28.
Amount: $2,500 per year (renewable for up to two years)

National Ocean Scholar Program

Who Can Apply: Applicants participate in at least one National Ocean Sciences Bowl and submit an essay on a given topic. Applicants also show a history of academic excellence.
Amount: Varies

NOAA Undergraduate Scholarships

Who Can Apply: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration welcomes applications from students pursuing an accredited academic program that supports the organization’s mission. Recipients also participate in a paid summer internship program.
Amount: $9,500

Best Colleges for a Bachelor’s Degree in Marine Biology 2021

The schools listed below offer some of the most affordable marine biology bachelor’s programs today. While cost remains a major factor in deciding which college or university to attend, these schools offer other advantages as well including accreditation, specialization areas, and scholarship opportunities. Begin with this list in your search for an affordable bachelor’s in marine biology.

  1. Boston University

    Boston, MA




    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.

    Program Features

    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.

  2. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    Chapel Hill, NC




    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.

    Program Features

    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.

  3. Eckerd College

    St. Petersburg, FL




    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.

    Program Features

    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
    • Ichthyology


    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.

  4. University of California Los Angeles

    Los Angeles, CA




    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.

    Program Features

    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.

  5. Oregon State University

    Corvallis, OR




    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.

    Program Features

    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.

  6. University of Maine at Augusta

    Augusta, ME




    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.

    Program Features

    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
    • Oceanography
    • 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.

  7. University of New Hampshire

    Durham, NH




    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.

    Program Features

    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.

  8. Stony Brook University

    Stony Brook, NY




    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.

    Program Features

    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.

  9. University of Oregon

    Eugene, OR




    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.

    Program Features

    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.

  10. California State University-Long Beach

    Long Beach, CA




    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.

    Program Features

    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.

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