Careers for Biology Majors

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Individuals interested in beginning a biology career can explore many diverse fields, including medicine, zoology, botany, and ecology. Learners can pursue a degree in biology at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral level.

Biology majors need an analytical mind and strong critical thinking skills. They should enjoy learning about living organisms and studying biological systems. They should also enjoy working in laboratory settings and processing data.

Biologists often make discoveries and help solve major scientific challenges. This page details some potential biology careers, including salary outlook and certifications for biology professionals.

 
 

Questions Considering a Career in Biology


  • What can you do with a bachelor's degree in biology?

    Graduates can pursue a variety of careers in many workplace settings. Biology degree-holders may work as biological technicians, biochemists, biology teachers, agricultural scientists, microbiologists, or environmental scientists.


  • What are the highest-paying biology jobs?

    Microbiologists, environmental scientists, and agricultural and food scientists earn some of the highest entry-level salaries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).


  • Do biologists get paid well?

    Biological scientists earn a median annual salary of $85,290. Professionals in the highest percentile earn $137,030, significantly exceeding the median annual salary of $41,950 for all occupations.


  • Can I go to nursing school with a bachelor's in biology?

    Learners with a degree in biology can enroll in nursing school. Some colleges allow students to pursue an accelerated track. This can allow biology degree-holders to enter the nursing field in less than two years.


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Biology Specializations

Biology specializations enable learners to focus on a niche area within the field. For example, biologists who want to study wildlife may major in biology but concentrate on animal biology. These students may specialize by taking classes like mammalogy or ornithology.

Colleges and universities may call specializations concentrations or tracks. Biology majors can choose from specializations by subject area. Certain specializations may require a different degree and certification requirements. See below for some common biology specializations.

Zoology, also called animal biology, forms the branch of biology that focuses on the biological principles of animals. Learners can choose animal biology as a full major or opt for separate subject areas. For example, students can divide classes to specifically focus on herpetology, the study of reptiles and amphibians, or entomology, the study of insects. Degree-seekers who want to major in zoology can take biology, chemistry, physics, and wildlife management. Internships and volunteer work can also help students apply their classes to their chosen field.

Botany learners study plants, one-celled organisms, and plants’ environments and ecosystems. Students also learn the molecular and cellular basis of plants in-depth. Colleges and universities may categorize botany courses under plant science, plant biology, or phytology. Students who specialize in botany take courses in ecology, taxonomy, molecular biology, and plant biodiversity. They may work in a lab or outdoors.

Learners who study microbiology explore unicellular organisms and colonies and how they interact with their environment. Degree-seekers study bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and algae. Students also learn the structure and function of these microorganisms. Microbiology students take courses such as microbial physiology, virology, chemistry, and biochemistry. Many of these courses include a laboratory component. Microbiology graduates may work in labs or research institutes.

What Are the Education Requirements for Biology?



Biology majors can pursue careers in many diverse fields. A lab or internship can help students further define their career paths. Learners may pursue an associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in biology. Students should consider their career aspirations when choosing degree levels.

An associate degree in biology can offer graduates significant career opportunities. For instance, the BLS projects jobs for medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians to grow 7% between 2019 and 2029 and jobs for veterinary technicians to grow 16%. Associate degree-holders can also work as medical assistants, agricultural and food science technicians, biological technicians, and plant science technicians.

Degree-seekers take many math and science classes, including general biology, chemistry, statistics, and human anatomy. Most associate degrees require 60 total credits.

A bachelor’s degree in biology can lead to a career in research, healthcare, environmental protection, or education. Students learn fundamental biological functions. Bachelor’s degree-holders may want to begin a biology career or enroll in graduate or medical school.

Learners take courses such as ecology, genetics, biostatistics, and cell structure and function. They may also take biochemistry and molecular biology, human anatomy and physiology, or marine biology. Most biology programs require 120 credits. Full-time learners can usually complete this degree in four years. Many colleges and universities also allow students to enroll part time.

While bachelor’s degree-holders can qualify for many biology careers, master’s degree-holders can pursue higher-paying positions. Some students pursue a master’s before continuing their education in medical or veterinary school. Other learners choose to earn an advanced degree as part of their teaching careers.

Many master’s students can enroll full time or part time. They may also choose between a research-based or course-based program. A research-based master’s degree may include an independent thesis along with an oral examination. Coursework-based programs may allow students to take specific coursework and a comprehensive written exam. Most programs require 30 credits.

Students work with their thesis advisors to develop and conduct a specialized research project and write and defend a master’s thesis.

Students who choose to earn a doctorate pursue a research degree and a terminal degree in the field. Most students can choose from multiple degree offerings to further pursue their chosen biology niche.

Doctoral students refine their laboratory and research skills, learning how to properly analyze and catalog data. Enrollees can pursue a doctorate in areas such as microbiology, environmental studies, and natural sciences.

Students must complete 64 credits through lectures, laboratory sessions, or seminar courses. Depending on the institution, biology doctoral programs may involve grant-writing, pedagogy, and quantitative analysis. Additional courses may vary by specific track and student interest.

Doctoral candidates complete a dissertation and a final oral examination in which they defend their dissertation. This dissertation should demonstrate learners’ mastery of their specialization.

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How Much Does a Biology Degree Cost?



On average, tuition costs range from $8,505 at in-state public colleges to $38,585 for out-of-state private colleges. Students can often reduce their degree costs by enrolling in an online biology program. Some online programs charge in-state students less than $5,000 per year in tuition. Out-of-state students may pay $15,000-$20,000 per year.

Online institutions typically cost less overall. Some online schools offer more transfer credit options and allow students to capture credit for on-the-job training. Online courses can range from $12-$66 per credit. Prospective biology majors should account for lab fees, which vary by school.

Calculating the Cost of a College Degree



Prospective biology students can use the affordability calculator below to determine how much they can afford to pay for their degree. Learners can input their current income, cost of living, and projected scholarships and financial aid.

College Affordability Calculator

Break down your current financial situation, and receive a college tuition estimate you can afford to pay.


How Much Do Biology Majors Make?



Education and Employer


Salaries for biology graduates vary depending on many factors, including education level and employer. For example, biological technicians earn an annual median salary of $46,340 while zoologists and wildlife biologists earn $66,350. Environmental scientists and specialists earn a median annual salary of $73,230 while postsecondary educators earn $80,790.

Certification


Biologists can increase their salary potential through certifications or advanced degrees. While biology-related careers can pay well, the highest-paid positions typically require the most extensive training.


Career and Salary Outlook for a Biology Degree



Biology majors can pursue several careers that lead to varying salaries. The highest-paid positions require an extensive amount of training and education. However, professionals with an associate or bachelor’s degree can still find lucrative career opportunities.

Wildlife biologists study animal behaviors, their natural environment, and humans’ impact on animals. These professionals should enjoy spending time outdoors and systematically studying animals. Many biologists spend time working in the field and observing animals in their natural habitats. Some may work in labs or offices. Wildlife biologists typically need a bachelor’s degree.

Biological technicians typically work in labs running scientific experiments and analyzing them under biologists’ supervision. Some associate degree-holders can become biological technicians. However, this role usually requires at least a bachelor’s degree.

Microbiologists study microscopic organisms and their processes. They may analyze the growth and characteristics of bacteria, algae, and parasites. Microbiologists need a bachelor’s degree in microbiology or an area such as biochemistry or cell biology. Microbiologists typically work in hospitals, universities, medical schools, and government laboratories.

Career Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate (2019-2029)
Wildlife Biologist $66,350 4%
Biological Technician $46,340 5%
Microbiologist $84,400 3%

Source: BLS

Certifications and Licensure for Biology



Biology professionals can attain a variety of certifications and licensure for their particular career. The requirements to earn the credentials vary widely. See below for some potential certifications for specific occupations.

American Society for Clinical Pathology Certification for Laboratory Professionals


This credential from the ASCP Board of Certification demonstrates professional competency among laboratory personnel. Candidates must complete academic prerequisites and fulfill clinical laboratory education prior to the examination. Applicants must also satisfy a specified minimum of degree requirements.

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ABOR Certifications


Medical technologists, embryology laboratory scientists, andrology laboratory scientists, molecular diagnostics technologists, and medical laboratory technicians can certify their credentials through the AAB Board of Registry. Certain states require medical technologists and medical laboratory technicians to pass a certifying or licensing examination through the AAB Board of Registry examinations.

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Society of Wetland Scientists Professional Certification Program


This certification program offers the highest certification for professionals who practice wetland science. The certification upholds wetland science standards of professional ethics and fulfills both educational and experience requirements.

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Resources for Biology Majors


  • American Institute of Biological Sciences AIBS works with organizations, funding agencies, and political entities to promote the use of science to inform decision-making. The institute offers a scientific journal, professional development opportunities, and information regarding science policy.
  • Biology Classroom Resources The National Science Foundation offers this robust collection of lessons and web resources to help classroom teachers develop lesson plans.
  • Ecological Society of America ESA offers membership to professionals who research, teach, and use ecological science to address environmental issues. Students can use the ESA as a resource for natural resource management, ecological restoration, and ecosystem management.
  • Marine Careers Students can use this website to explore various marine career fields. They can also browse job responsibilities of those who work in marine-related roles at colleges and universities, state and federal agencies, and independent organizations. The site details job responsibilities in research laboratories and consulting firms.

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