How to Major in Biology
Whether you want to become a doctor or nurse, a zoologist or ecologist, a botanist or biochemist, an immunologist or virologist, majoring in biology is ground zero for a huge range of fields.
Biology, the study of life and living organisms, covers a vast array of topics and specializations, and can prepare you for diverse and lucrative career paths. Biology majors study life, living things, and what makes them tick at the macro and micro levels, including microscopic single-cell organisms (microbiologists), and the potential for life in space (astrobiologists). For the curious and driven, biology is a rich field, full of challenges and rewards.
If you’re ready to earn your degree at one of the most prestigious schools in the world, get started with a look at the Most Influential Schools in Biology.
Or read on to find out what you can expect as a biology major.
5 Reasons to Major in Biology
1.Biology majors are everywhere.
Biology is one of the most popular majors available, and for good reason: the concepts learned in a biology program are applicable to a wide range of engaging, in-demand, and well-paying careers.
2.Biology majors learn about the foundations of life.
Whether studying humans, animals, plants, insects, microscopic cells of bacteria, or even pondering the existence of life in space, biology majors learn about the fundamental processes that all living things have in common. This knowledge unlocks a world of understanding, applicable across many fields, and in your personal life.
3.Biology majors have an opportunity to cause positive change.
While studying the processes of life, biologists also learn how to better preserve and protect it. Biology majors can cause positive change in the world by researching how to protect endangered species and environments, how to prevent viral infections and pandemics, and how to adapt our diets to shifting public health trends, among many other things.
4.Biology majors get to study interesting subjects for their whole careers.
Marine biologists, for example, get to travel the world’s rivers, lakes, and oceans, studying the environments and habits of aquatic life, sometimes including the world’s rarest creatures. Molecular biologists get to use highly advanced technology to study organic tissue at the molecular level, and learn about subjects like DNA and gene editing. If you’re looking for an interesting job, biology is a field full of them.
5.Biology majors are influential.
Biology is everywhere, and biologists in various fields are influencing areas as diverse as how we understand human development, how we view evolution, how we approach medical care, everyday nutrition and dietary choices, environmental conservation efforts, cutting-edge medical research, and agriculture. Today, top influencers in biology are breaking new ground in evolutionary biology, biochemistry, molecular biology, and much more.
Find out who the Most Influential People are in Biology today!
What Kinds of Biology Degrees Are There?
Biology degrees come in all sorts, ranging from associate degrees, all the way to doctoral degrees. The degree path that is right for you depends on your career and life goals. For example, though a Ph.D. might sound like a great accomplishment, it may not really be necessary for your desired profession, so it’s important to know what’s actually required. Moreover, biology degrees come with tons of concentration options, and while general programs are okay at the undergraduate level, graduate degrees will definitely require you to specialize. It’s generally considered a good idea to use undergraduate elective courses to explore and find what you are interested in before you choose a specialization.
- Associate in Biology (AA or AS): An associate degree in biology typically takes two years and 60 credits to complete, though they can sometimes be completed on an accelerated timeline. At the associate level, you’ll develop foundational knowledge of the field, and complete general courses, including an intro to the field, genetics, microbiology, and cells. With an associate degree, you can pursue entry-level jobs such as biological technician or paramedic, as well as further education.
- Bachelor of Biology (BA or BS): A bachelor’s degree in biology typically takes two years and 120 credits to complete, though some accelerated programs are available. At the bachelor’s degree level, you’ll build on foundational knowledge and dive into advanced aspects of the field through concentrations in areas such as biochemistry, plant biology, molecular biology, and human anatomy. With a bachelor’s degree, you can pursue higher-paying entry-level roles, such as medical lab technician, registered nurse, forensic science technician, or dietitian, as well as further education.This is sometimes a prerequisite for certain medical degree programs.
- Master of Biology (MA or MS): A master’s degree in biology takes two or three years to complete and 30-45 credits, depending on the program and specialization. In a master’s program, you will dig deep into advanced topics in the field, and work within a specialization, such as neurobiology, biodiversity, evolutionary biology, or computational biology. Some programs allow for multiple specializations, and most require some kind of lab or professional experience, as well as a research project or thesis. With a master’s degree in biology, you can qualify for high-paying careers such as physician assistant, physical therapist, biochemist, zoologist, or environmental scientist.
- PhD in Biology: A PhD in biology is the highest level degree you can earn in the field. These programs tend to take four or five years to complete, and require a combination of advanced coursework, a research project and dissertation, comprehensive exams, and lab or instructional work. At this level, specialization is the name of the game. When finished, you’ll be prepared for very high-level professions, including head researcher or program director, or post-secondary educator.
Thinking of a graduate degree in biology? Check out What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in Biology? for more information on obtaining a graduate degree in this field.
*Note: Many, but not all, degree programs offer the choice between Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees. Likewise, many, but not all, advanced degree programs offer a choice between Master of Arts, and Master of Science degrees. In most cases, the primary difference is the diversity of course offerings. “Science” degree courses will focus almost entirely on the Major discipline, with a deep dive into a specific concentration, including laboratory, clinical or practicum experience. An “Arts” degree will provide a more well-rounded curriculum which includes both core/concentration courses and a selection of humanities and electives. The type of degree you choose will depend both on your school’s offerings and your career/educational goals. Moreover, there are sometimes numerous variations in the way that colleges name and categorize majors. The degree types identified here above are some of the common naming variations, but may not be all-encompassing.
What Are Some Popular Biology Concentrations?
Your “concentration” refers to a specific area of focus within your major. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) provides a complete listing of college degree programs and concentrations (Classification for Instructional Programs), as sourced from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). According to IPEDS, the following are among the most popular biology concentrations:
- Animal Biology
- Evolutionary Biology
- Human Nutrition
- Marine Biology
- Insect Biology
- Molecular and Cell Biology
- Plant Biology
- Computational Biology
What Courses Will I Take as a Biology Major?
Your concentration will determine many of the courses you’ll take as a biology major. Likewise, you will be required to take a number of requisite courses on foundational topics such as microbiology and biostatistics. However, you will also have the freedom to select an array of courses that most interest you. As a biology major, you’ll have the chance to craft a well-rounded educational experience centered around your area of specialization.
Common biology courses include:
- Human Anatomy
- Plant Biology
- Molecular Biology
What Can I Do With a Major in Biology?
Biology majors enjoy a huge selection of career paths to choose from, including general professions and extremely niche areas of practice. It’s important to understand, however, the requirements for your goal career, so you can be sure to complete courses and specializations that align with the profession. For example, while you might find zoology very interesting, it won’t do much to prepare you for a job as a (human) gastrointestinal specialist. Your biology major can lead to a wide range of career opportunities, including these top jobs:
- Physicians and Surgeons
- Physician Assistants
- Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists
- Environmental Scientists and Specialists
Curious how far you could go with a major in biology? Start with a look at the top influencers in the field today!
Thinking of a graduate degree in biology? Check out What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in Biology? for more information on obtaining a graduate degree in this field.***
Now that you know how to major in biology, check out The Most Influential Schools in Biology and get started on your path to a biology degree.