In the past, distance learning has been considered an option only for those seeking to pursue degrees in the fields of computing or technology. Today, however, fully-accredited, quality degrees are offered on nearly every level and subject matter, by highly respected colleges and universities. And while the first image that may come to mind when considering a degree in biology is of lab coats and lecture halls, biology programs have seen a marked jump in popularity in the virtual classroom space. Learn below about the many biology programs offered entirely online, including course specifics, which schools are offering these programs and special considerations for students considering pursuing an online biology degree.
The science of life and living things, biology covers a huge span of territory.
It’s no surprise, then, that college degree programs in biology, especially those on the undergraduate level, are designed to prepare students for careers in a wide variety of fields including biology, biochemistry, zoology, ecology, anatomy, wildlife management, agriculture, oceanography, education and many, many others. Success in all of these careers starts with a college degree. There are a vast number of online biology degree options available, and while most programs require some amount of on-site classroom and/or laboratory participation, there are other programs that allow a student to earn his or her biology degree fully online. But no matter the program specifics, earning a biology degree online requires a strong commitment of both time and effort.
Online biology degree programs can be readily found on both the undergraduate and master’s levels. There are also a very small number of doctoral programs available, although most are offered in a biology-related sub-field. Selecting the right area of study and the right online degree program depends on several factors, including a student’s financial and personal situation during the years he or she will be working on the degree, as well as his or her ultimate career goal. The time required for any particular program will also depend on several additional factors including degree level and how much flexibility is built into the program itself. Below is a timeline for typical biology degree online programs.
Most individuals seriously intending a career in a biology-related field will need to, at minimum, earn a bachelor’s degree. Therefore, the purpose of a biology associate degree program is to provide a broad understanding of the subject to students who intend to continue on with their education and earn a bachelor’s or graduate degree. In fact, the curriculum of a typical associate-level biology program often mirrors that of the first two years of a bachelor’s degree program, allowing students to complete the necessary basic classes in biology before transferring on to a 4-year college or university for two additional terms of advanced coursework. Those graduates entering the job market with an associate degree in biology will discover their options limited primarily to technician-level careers in which they will assist scientists and biologists in conducting laboratory and field experiments and tasks.
As mentioned, a 4-year degree is the platform on which most successful biology-related careers are launched. An online bachelor’s degree in biology prepares students for careers in a wide range of both subject-related and non-subject related fields. There are a surprising number of excellent bachelor’s degree programs online offered by reputable public and private universities as well as a number of primarily distance learning for-profit and not-for-profit schools.
Students in any education program must make three major investments: time, effort and money. In the case of a biology bachelor’s degree program, the time investment will normally be four years regardless of whether pursued online or on campus. Most distance education programs, however, are built to accommodate students with more or less than four years to invest. Notwithstanding total time, the amount of effort (in credits or hours) remains the same, with most programs requiring the completion of approximately 60 credit hours (sometimes valued as 120 semester credit hours) of coursework. This typically includes a number of general education courses, a core set of biology and subject-related courses and a set of concentration courses and/or electives.
Core subjects in an online biology bachelor’s degree curriculum will include:
Biology: A core set of general biology courses forms the obvious foundation of the biology bachelor’s degree curriculum. Core study will include these subjects: principles of biology; ecology and evolution; molecular biology and genetics; cellular and developmental biology; human physiology and anatomy; plant biology, diversity and horticulture; vertebrates and several others. All core courses are normally completed no later than the end of sophomore year to allow students to concentrate on their chosen areas of specialization and other elective courses in their junior and senior years.
Chemistry: Biology majors will be required to, at minimum, complete one to two courses in general chemistry. These courses cover chemistry fundamentals in thermodynamics, reaction kinetics, quantum mechanics, bonding, solutions and others.
Mathematics: Possibly several courses in mathematics covering, among other areas, calculus, statistics and probability, algebra and trigonometry. Many programs offer mathematics courses that incorporate examples from biology and the social sciences.
Physics: Physics courses play a key role in the study of biology, and students should expect to complete several mandatory general physics classes in areas that include dimensional kinetics, statics, dynamics, work, energy, linear momentum, circular motion and gravitation, temperature, waves, optics and elementary particles.
The number and variety of specializations and concentrations offered to biology bachelor’s degree students is large, but options may be limited depending on the particular program attended. Some programs simply do not offer specializations on the bachelor’s level at all. Among the most common specializations are:
Biotechnology is defined as the use of biological organisms, systems and processes in the development and manufacture of products for human consumption. Examples of biotechnology products include genetically modified plants and foods, biofuels and pharmacogenomic drugs.
The human biology specialization is for students interested in developing and integrating biological knowledge into the specific study of human beings. Human biology investigates the complexity of human life and behavior including brain complexity, communication and conceptual abilities, social structures and interaction, anthropology and psychology.
In general terms, integrative biology refers to biology in the macro form. More specifically, integrative biology investigates the complex interrelationships between living organisms and their biological and physical environment by incorporating biology with the social sciences, physical sciences, engineering and ecology to better understand biological complexity and diversity.
One of the most common goals of many online biology degree students is medical school. As a result, many biology bachelor’s programs offer pre-med or pre-professional specializations or incorporate pre-med tracks into their curricula. Pre-med or pre-professional concentrations are designed to provide students with the coursework necessary to meet medical school application requirements and to prepare them for standardized testing.
There are an increasingly large number of quality, fully accredited master’s degree biology programs available online, and the reason is simple. Online schools are competing for students and one of the best ways to attract those students is to offer programs that are convenient and flexible. This is particularly true on the master’s degree level where the student base contains a high concentration of individuals who have spent several years in the working world following their bachelor’s degree programs and must continue to meet job and family obligations while pursuing their graduate educations. Therefore, students will likely find a great deal of flexibility when it comes to stretching or shortening the normal 2-year master’s time commitment.
Specialization becomes more important on the graduate level as students focus greater attention on their ultimate career goals. As with bachelor’s programs, the variety specializations offered depends solely on the individual program. Here are a three of the most common specializations:
This specialization is meant to prepare students for careers in environmental biology research, consulting and the governmental regulatory sector.
Designed to prepare student for professional careers in the fields of medicine, dentistry and allied health. May also provide the necessary prerequisite knowledge for application to medical school.
Prepares graduates for employment in the fields of genetics, nutritional biochemistry, plant biochemistry and biomedical research.
While online education has made serious strides in recent years, there remain questions regarding the quality and integrity of postsecondary degree programs and their providers. Any student considering a biology degree online should understand that not all programs are created equally and it is his or her responsibility to ensure that the biology degree program they enroll in will provide a solid and credible education experience. Below are a few important factors to look for in a reputable online program:
Of fundamental importance to any quality degree program, online or otherwise, is accreditation. Accreditation is the means by which the public can be assured that a school and its academic programs have been properly vetted. Colleges and universities are accredited on the institutional level by six U.S. Department of Education recognized independent regional agencies. Individual degree and certificate programs within a school are often accredited by private non-profit professional organizations or committees. Accreditation for biology and biology-related academic programs is offered by a number of agencies including the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
One of the most common questions asked by prospective biology degree students has to do with how online programs accommodate laboratory work. There are a number of methods employed that allow online students to complete their lab requirements, depending on the particular school and program.
Student support services play a crucial role in academic success regardless of the format of a degree program. Prospective students should take the time to learn all they can about a degree program’s out-of-class resources including access to quality summer internships, employment counseling and job placement services, as well as financial aid, career and personal counseling. Students should additionally expect their degree programs to provide access to online library and class materials along with round-the-clock technical support.
“Professional certification” in most fields commonly refers the designation and recognition of a particular knowledge, expertise or qualification in a specific specialization or subject-related area of practice. Professional certifications are largely the domain of private, non-profit organizations or professional societies whose purpose is to promote integrity within the profession and engender public confidence.
There are several well-recognized certifications related to biology and biology-related professions and occupations. Each one comes with its own unique set of education and professional experience requirements. Most additionally require completion of some degree of specialized training and a qualifying examination. The following is a list of some of the most common professional certifications available to biology professionals:
Specific government licensure of biologists is, for the most part, non-existent. However, licensure of biology teachers is a given and some professionals working in sensitive laboratory and research-related positions may require government licensing. In most cases, government licensure is handled on the state level.
Possibly the best way to really get a feel for what online learning is like is to speak with someone who has been there and done that. What follows is a brief discussion with Scott Cunningham, Research and Development Technologist at the Mayo Clinic’s Division of Clinical Microbiology. Scott is a 2012 graduate of the online Master’s of Science in Biology program of the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
What made you decide that you wanted to pursue a master’s degree in biology?
I’d been working in medical technology and clinical microbiology for close to 10 years and I decided it was time for me to make an investment in my education. I needed to obtain a master’s degree to get a little bit more respect and increase my knowledge base for some of the technology I was working on.
Why did you choose an online program?
I came across the UNK program when I was looking at traditional master’s classroom-focused programs and was hoping to find an online opportunity. When I ran across the UNK program I did a lot of research on it to make sure it was legitimate and was impressed to find that it was fully-accredited and had all of the bells and whistles of a traditional program. So I jumped in with two feet and ended up having a really positive experience.
So you continued to work at your job while working on your degree?
I worked the entire time I was doing my master’s. A lot of the traditional programs I looked into, in some instances the schools just flat out said that they didn’t want me working. In other instances, the demands of classroom time and the need to assist mentors in their independent research within the department, they really expect that to be your full-time job. This was not a problem with my online program.
Did you ever have to go down to the UNK campus for coursework?
No I didn’t, but I really hit it off with my graduate advisor and a couple of my professors, and I really wanted to go down to the campus and meet them. They were excited to have me visit and had me sit in on some classes. And now, I still have relationships with several of the professors even though I’ve graduated.
Can you briefly explain the logistics of how coursework was delivered?
As far as the class work, lectures were either prerecorded and uploaded online, or some professors prerecorded their lectures onto DVD and I’d get a package of them in the mail a couple of weeks before the class started. Then using Blackboard I would complete assignments and tasks. All of the classes required me to interact with my classmates and professors in forums on Blackboard. So there was a lot of collaboration and interaction which is really essential to graduate-level work.
You work at the Mayo Clinic now and worked there while you were pursuing your online degree. Were you encouraged by your employer to go for your master’s?
Yes. The Mayo Clinic is very epicentric around education, and very dedicated to its employees and supportive of advancing your education.
If you had one single bit of advice for someone thinking about an online biology degree program, what would it be?
It would be to really look at what program would be the best fit for them. An advanced degree is not anything to take lightly. It’s a big investment – and not only a money investment, but a time investment. So it’s very important to have a good idea of what you want to do with your degree before you choose a program.
Though biology degrees are relatively new offerings in the world of online education, many college and universities have begun to include these programs in their online learning catalogs, with an ever-increasing number of concentrations and degree paths. The choice of which branch of biology to pursue is the first of many considerations for the prospective online student; other factors they must review include school accreditation, support services, financial assistance and flexibility. The search tool below can help, allowing students to filter schools using these criteria and narrow down which programs may be right for them.
As online biology programs continue to gain popularity, the number of schools offering these degrees also rises. While the flexibility of such programs run fairly universal, there are certain schools who have set the bar for what a quality online education in biology entails. Using our specific methodology, we’ve ranked the schools who include online biology degrees among their program lists, and have found the following to be the best-of-the-best. Discover which schools made our list of the Best Online Biology Degrees for 2015-2016 below.
|Rank||School Name||Score||Cost||More Info|
The Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences online degree program offered by Troy University at Raleigh is designed for students planning to attend a school devoted to health sciences in the future. Students will learn biomedical concepts as well as ethics, critical thinking, strategic thinking and logical analysis. The program requires 30 credit hours to complete and students may transfer in as many as four courses, or 12 credits, from an accredited school. Along with transcripts and appropriate test scores, applicants must also provide two letters of recommendation and a 500-word personal statement regarding their aspirations and goals to gain acceptance into the program.
|2||North Carolina State University at Raleigh||96.97|
The Master of Biological and Agricultural Engineering (MBAE) degree offered online at North Carolina State University at Raleigh is designed for non-traditional students who do not plan to work as researchers. Although the program centers on environmental engineering, it also accommodate students who are interested in bioprocess engineering. Students are required to complete 30 credit hours, but they are not required to complete a thesis. Graduates may pursue careers as biological or agricultural engineers upon graduation with possible careers in soli and water conservation, ecosystem management, recycling or pollution control.
|3||George Mason University||96.53|
At George Mason University, online students can choose between two Master of Science degree programs: Biodefense or Bioinformatics and Computational Biology. The Biodefense program is one of the few graduate-level programs of its kind, and those who graduate may be recruited by organizations like the Department of Defense, The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency. It requires 36 total credits. The Bioinformatics and Computational Biology program requires 31 total core credits before graduation. Students who complete this program are qualified to become computational biologists, research scientists, biostatisticians and biological software engineers.
|4||Mississippi State University||92.48|
Students may pursue a Master of Science in General Biology degree completely online at Mississippi State University. Also called
|5||University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point||92.31|
The Professional Science Master's (PSM), Conservation Biology online degree program at University of Wisconsin Steven's Point teaches students how to observe, investigate, develop and implement programs protecting and preserving species, natural habitats and ecosystems. The blended discipline combines economics, science and resource management. Students are required to complete between 30 and 34 credits, and applicants must have already earned a bachelor's degree in biology or a related field. Students who do not have a science background may be admitted on a probationary basis.
|6||Western Kentucky University||91.94|
The Master of Science in Biology degree program is designed specifically for online students. The program is highly competitive and graduates will be qualified for careers in research, teaching or public service. The biology degree may be used as a springboard to more advanced degrees in the field of science. Before graduation, students are required to complete 30 hours of coursework and research experience. Online courses at Western Kentucky University follow the traditional, semester-based schedule and students have 24/7 access to coursework and technical assistance.
|8||Washington State University||91.38|
The online Professional Science Master's in Molecular Biosciences degree offered by Washington State University is similar to a master's degree in business administration. The program focuses on teaching students how to become leaders in a professional environment and teaches students science, but business and industry ethics. To further the theme of workplace preparation, the program requires students serve in an internship instead of a writing a thesis.
|10||University of Maryland-University College||89.64|
The Master of Science in Biotechnology degree program from the University of Maryland University College is an award-winning program offered in four different specializations: bioinformatics, biosecurity and biodefense, biotechnology management and biotechnology regulatory affairs. Students will leave the program with a full understanding of the industry's most current technology and the role of regulators in the biotechnology sector. With the addition of just a few extra courses, online students may also choose to pursue a dual degree in biotechnology or business administration.
Students who earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry or a life science with a GPA of at least 3.0 may pursue a master's degree in Molecular Biology through the online program offered by Lehigh University. Students must complete 30 credit hours of graduate work, 18 credits of 400-level courses and 18 of major coursework before graduation. 15 of the required major credits must be from the 400 level. The remaining credits are elective and all students are required to register for six credits of research.