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Be a Marine Biology Major: Colleges and Courses

Marine biology degree programs explore plants, animals and the ecology of the underwater world. Learn about schools, degree requirements, course topics and career options after graduation.

What You Need to Know

When researching programs to pursue an education in marine biology, you should take into account the college's access to aquatic habitats, since being able to conduct research in the field is essential. Courses in this discipline are available through colleges and universities via degree programs in marine biology and other related fields.

Degree Options Bachelor of Science in Biology: Concentration in Marine Biology, Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology; Minor in Marine Biology
Certificates Marine Science Technician Certificate, Marine Sciences Certificate
Courses Marine organism evolution, tropical bionomics and coral reef ecology, saltwater and freshwater ichthyology, marine plant and animal conservation, phycology and underwater botany

Where Can I Find Colleges With a Marine Biology Major?

You're most likely to find these programs at colleges with coastal access, giving you a hands-on approach to learning about ocean plant and animal life. These include schools in states such as California, Washington, Massachusetts and Florida. You can find marine biology as a major program at some colleges; however, most schools offer marine biology as a specialization within a broader biology degree program. Some schools also offer a minor in marine biology. A few of the U.S. schools that offer marine biology programs are listed below:

  • Five College Consortium: Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (MA)
  • Saddleback College (Mission Viejo, CA)
  • SUNY Empire State College (Saratoga Springs, NY)
  • University of Washington (Seattle)
  • San Francisco State University (CA)
  • University of West Florida (Pensacola)
  • University of California - Los Angeles

What Does Program Coursework Cover?

The core courses in your marine biology program will include organic chemistry, math and physics. You'll also take courses that deal with the underwater study of marine habitats. Some programs introduce thalassic (sea-related) courses throughout your studies, while others may include them in your junior and senior years. You may also be required to learn how to scuba dive or snorkel to participate in field studies and research. These courses may also be included in your program:

  • Evolution
  • Biostatistics
  • Ecology and changes to global oceans
  • Zoology
  • Marine habitats
  • Aquatic vertebrates and invertebrates

Will I Be Able to Find Any Online Programs?

You probably won't find any marine biology programs offered online, since this discipline has a strong hands-on and outdoor focus. However, there are a handful of courses available through schools' distance learning departments, especially for students who have completed prior coursework in biology. In some cases, these courses can be used to fulfill degree requirements.

What Can I Do With This Major?

Biological technicians are employed in supportive positions in every field of biology, including marine biology. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a biological technician requires at least a bachelor's degree for employment in the field (www.bls.gov). There are several other prospects for graduates of marine biology bachelor's degree programs, including environmental consultant, research assistant, aquarist, marine mammal trainer, marine wildlife conservationist, and water quality investigator.

Many undergraduate programs prepare students to continue their education in graduate degree programs leading to a master's or doctorate in marine biology. Per the BLS, a doctoral degree is typically necessary for biologists who want to pursue independent research careers.