Best Online Master's Degrees in Biology

Oct 19, 2021

What Is an Online Master's in Biology Degree?

An online master's in biology degree prepares students for teaching positions; doctoral studies; research positions; careers in biotechnology, biochemistry, genomic science, and health sciences; and other careers in microbial, plant, animal, and marine biology.

Almost every master's degree in biology is a Master of Science (MS), and the program is designed to prepare students for professional, often research-oriented careers. As such, the admission requirements as well as the coursework for this degree are stringent in comparison to other degrees, particularly if you're studying biology as a prerequisite to an advanced degree in the health professions.

While laboratory training and experience are an important part of this degree, much of the coursework can be completed online, an excellent option for many students with busy schedules.

The Best Online Masters Degree Programs in Biology

School Tuition* Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
1 Texas A & M University-Commerce $6578 43% 43% 91% No Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
2 Indiana State University $7742 90% 41% 92% Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits
3 Western Kentucky University $12140 97% 48% 98% Yes Yes AP Credits
4 University of Nebraska at Kearney $7381 85% 56% 94% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

To get a more in-depth look at our school ranking methodology, please visit Study.com's ranking methodology page.

*Tuition information is based on published tuition and required fees, per data by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Common Undergraduate Degrees for Biology

Many graduate students in biology also majored in biology in undergraduate school. As a general rule, graduate admissions boards in biology tend to prefer students with bachelor's degrees in life sciences (e.g. biology or biochemistry), and for many programs, a background in biology is a prerequisite. Other programs may accept a bachelor's in engineering or computer science, but students must demonstrate some experience in the life sciences (e.g. through work).

Post-Graduate Options After Completing a Master's in Biology

A master's in biology is often a pathway to doctoral studies in related fields such as genetics, physiology, cellular biology, and ecology. A PhD program in any of these fields usually leads to a research and/or university-level teaching position.

Many schools offer a Master of Science in Biology for Health Professions (or similar titles), in which the MS serves as a pre-medical degree for students pursuing further education in medicine, dentistry, optometry, pharmacy, and physical therapy.

It's also common to see the degree offered as a terminal degree for educators. These programs are specifically tailored to science teachers, who either (a) want to expand their knowledge while teaching at the primary or secondary level, or (b) qualify to teach at the postsecondary level. Such degrees do not lead to PhD programs, and they are not advertised as such. These programs are often titled Master of Science in Biological Science for Educators. Check the program description to find out whether your institution's MS is a terminal degree or could lead to advanced studies.

Why Should I Get an Online Biology Master's Degree?

If you're thinking about getting a master's in biology, chances are you're already working in the life sciences in some capacity. Earning your master's in biology online may be preferable to a campus experience if you're working, whether you have fixed or irregular hours, since you can mold your study schedule around your work schedule

If you're a science teacher, deepening your knowledge of biology will improve your teaching ability and broaden your students' horizons. If you're a medical professional or seeking to become one, an advanced biology degree is a gateway to professional studies in medicine, therapy, dentistry, and more. If you want to do laboratory research on any number of subfields in biology, you will need a master's to prepare you for a doctoral program.

Curriculum for Online Master's Degree Programs in Biology

There are several different concentrations in biology in graduate school, and as such, the curriculum will vary from one concentration to the next. Pre-medical programs will focus on different subtopics than biology programs with an emphasis in ecology, evolution and conservation. However, the foundational courses will be similar across the board. Additionally, most programs are about 36 credits and take between one and two years to complete.

Be advised that there are thesis and non-thesis programs. Also, there are fully online programs and there are programs that require in-person labs. Generally, the non-thesis, fully online programs are for educators, although some pre-medical programs can also be completed online with optional labs. Programs that lead into doctoral studies and research opportunities almost always require theses and in-person labs, though the remainder of the coursework may still be online.

Biology Foundational Courses

A few of the fundamental courses in nearly any master's in biology program include:

  • Molecular biology of cells
  • Developmental biology
  • Human physiology
  • Immunology
  • Bioethics
  • Microbiology
  • Biostatistics

Some of these courses have entire concentrations devoted to them; for example, microbiology and molecular biology are both popular areas within biology master's programs. Taking the early survey courses may help you decide on a specialization, but it's also important that you have at least a basic knowledge of each of these subjects.

Biology Specialist & Elective Courses

There are many specializations within the field of biology. A few of the most popular ones include the following courses.

Specialization Typical Coursework
Biotechnology Genetic Engineering
Medical and Applied Immunology
Bioinformatics
Virology
Medicinal Chemistry
Experimental Design
Molecular Biology Molecular Biology of Cells
Advanced Cell Biology
Immunology and Immunochemistry
Research Techniques
Neurobiology
Cancer Biology
Microbiology Virology
Bioinformatics
Medical Microbiology
Neurobiology
Toxicology
Advanced Human Genetics
Cancer Biology
Health Professions Ethics for Health Professions
Chemometrics and Statistics
Nutrition, Metabolism and Health
Biology of Aging
Cancer Biology
Biochemistry Graduate Laboratory Techniques
Advanced Biochemistry
Macromolecular Structure
Medicinal Chemistry
Drug Regulations
Toxicology
Endocrinology
Genomics
Pharmacogenomics
Ecology/Environmental Science Environmental Science Concepts
Environmental Regulations and Policy
Soil Ecology
Microbial Genetics
Biomechanics
Ornithology
Mammalogy
Animal Physiology
Plant Anatomy

Licensure & Certification in Biology

Many online master's in biology degrees are designed for middle and high school teachers, who need to be certified to teach according to state law. However, completing a master's program does not certify a graduate student to teach. Teaching certifications must be earned according to individual state regulations, which you can find at your state's department of education website.

If you're a biology graduate student planning to go into a health profession, you should be aware of the educational requirements, testing, and licensure you might need to practice legally in your state. For example, if you were to become a physical therapist (PT), you would need to go to PT school, graduate with your doctorate, then take the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), and finally apply for a state license and registration to practice physical therapy.

If you were to become an oncologist, you'd have to go to medical school, graduate with your doctorate, then complete a two- to five-year residency, pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), and then apply for state licensure.

In the health professions as in any other field of work, it's good to be knowledgeable about your long-term goals before embarking on your educational journey.

Admissions Requirements for Online Biology Master's Programs

A bachelor's degree in life sciences from an accredited institution will likely be a prerequisite for admission to a biology master's program, though a related field (still in the realm of the sciences) may be accepted as well.

Additionally, you will usually need to submit a GRE score of at least 290 (verbal and quantitative combined); and you'll need to submit college transcripts showing a GPA of at least 2.75. Some schools have more rigorous standards than others, so it's a good idea to aim for a GRE score of 300 and a GPA of 3.0 on a 4-point scale. You may also need letters of reference and/or a statement of purpose; visit your institution's website to make sure you have everything you need to complete your application.

Choosing an Online Master's in Biology Program

There are many different graduate degrees for biology majors. How you choose the right program greatly depends on what you want to do with your master's in biology. You should look for a program that offers the concentration you want if you're going into a highly specialized field. Some schools offer an emphasis in ecology while others offer an emphasis for health professionals; some schools allow a smooth transition between master's and PhD studies, while others only offer terminal master's degrees. Determine what interests you, and then choose the program that caters to your interests.

You may also consider schools that offer a competitive edge if you're looking to get into a PhD program later on. Esteemed faculty, school reputation, and rigorous coursework will make a difference as you advance in your education.

What Can I Do with a Biology Master's Degree?

Someone with a biology master's degree can work as a science teacher, wildlife specialist, marine biologist, clinical laboratory research technician, physician, physical therapist, oncologist or cancer researcher, drug information specialist, patent attorney, biostatistician, and more. There are dozens of research possibilities and career options in anatomy and human biology as well as hundreds of jobs in environmental science, plant and wildlife studies, and oceanography. While a number of research positions require further education, you can find many jobs with just a master's degree.

Job Outlook for a Master's in Biology

There are a number of high paying jobs in biology. Here's a look at some popular biology jobs along with their median pay and growth rate.

Job Title Median Annual Pay (2019)* Growth Rate (2019-2029)*
Zoologist/wildlife biologist $63,270 4%
Biological technician $45,860 5%
Molecular biologist $60,453** 2.71% (all microbiologists)
Biochemist/biophysicist $94,490 4%
Environmental engineer $88,860 3%
Biostatistician $91,160 (all statisticians) 33% (all statisticians)
Physician/surgeon $208,000+ 4%
High school teacher $61,660 4%
Postsecondary teacher $79,540 9%

Sources: *Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

How to Become a Marine Biologist

Step One

Earn a bachelor's degree in biology. If you can find a marine biology program that meets your needs, by all means take that route; however, standard biology degrees are more widely available. While you're studying, it's a good idea to pursue an internship or even volunteer in a coastal or marine environment where you'd want to work as a professional. Get to know the equipment and processes that you'll be using later in your career.

Step Two

Earn a master's degree in biology, preferable in marine biology, oceanography, or something closely related. If you take the general biology route, you'll want to take courses in marine zoology, ichthyology (the study of fish), marine conservation, oceanography, and marine ecology as your electives. Again, take all the opportunities you can to gain experience as an intern or volunteer.

Step Three, Option One

Earn a doctoral degree in marine biology, particularly if you want to take up a research position. A doctorate allows you to be hired at a university where you can receive funding and assistance in your research. You'll also be able to teach university students, which many people enjoy.

Step Three, Option Two

There are plenty of job options in the sphere of marine biology on both sides of a doctoral degree. If you choose not to continue beyond a master's degree, you might pursue a career as an environmental scientist, zoologist, aquarist, biological technician, or research assistant.

How to Become a Microbiologist

Step One

Earn a bachelor's degree in biology, taking a concentration in microbiology if available at your institution. The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) suggests that students pursue internships, student research experiences, and membership in scientific societies during this time.

Step Two, Option One

At this juncture, you may choose not to continue your education, but rather take a job as a biosafety specialist, laboratory technologist, or research associate in the spheres of food, agricultural, or environmental science.

Step Two, Option Two

However, you can earn the position of biosafety officer, laboratory manager, or laboratory coordinator by completing a master's degree in microbiology.

Step Two, Option Three

Or, you could go straight into a doctoral program, of which there are several choices: the ASM states that the MD, PhD, or combined MD-Phd are all typical options for microbiology students. Be advised that doctoral students must complete internships/residencies and/or continued research as a postdoctoral fellow.

With a doctoral degree, you could become a practicing doctor, university researcher and professor, laboratory director, research director, corporate executive, or even government advisor.

Professional Organizations in Biology

As a biologist, meeting other scientists and staying current with the latest research are both important components of your career. Through professional organizations, you'll have the opportunity to network with other biologists and share ideas. You may be able to attend workshops and use resources that would be otherwise unavailable. Better yet, professional organizations may sponsor your research or expose you to contacts who can help you find research grants. Because it can often be difficult to fund your research, having access to potential sponsorship can be a windfall.

In the broad field of biology, you'll have a specific niche--and there will be a specific professional organization for you. There are associations for nearly every research specialty and type of work, whether you're a geneticist, ecologist, health professional, biology teacher, or anything in between. Here are a handful of professional organizations in biology that you should consider joining in order to network with fellow scientists and learn more about your field of study.

Financial Aid, Scholarships & Grants for Online Master's in Biology Programs

There are hundreds of scholarships and grants available to biology students. While your first steps should always be to contact your institution's financial aid office and to fill out the Federal Application for Student Aid, you should also search for scholarships that are specific to your major, gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, location, and more. Many scholarships are intersectional.

One scholarship program that may be of interest for international students is the Fulbright Foreign Student Scholarship, which funds education and research for international students in the United States.

You might also look for scholarships that are contingent upon your specialization. You might be surprised at what you find. For instance, the Danone North America Fellowship Grant awards $25,000 to graduate students who show interest and potential in studying gut microbiomes, yogurt, and probiotics.

Here are a few more examples of scholarships for graduate students in biology:

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