What To Know About Becoming Biology Major

The biology major is the study of living organisms, their origins and functions in the world.

Required biology major classes include general biology, ecology, evolutionary biology, biology labs, genetics, molecular and cell biology, anatomy, physiology, science, math and chemistry. 

Biology is a difficult major for those with no previous knowledge of biology and related subjects and for those who do not quickly grasp new or complex subjects. However, less math is required than in most other science majors. The major is less challenging for those with an interest in the natural world and its living organisms.

The main careers for biology majors are many types of biologist, nurse, immunologist, allergist, research scientist, nurse practitioner, physician’s assistant, physician, surgeon, dentist, veterinarian, bioinformatic scientist, biomedical engineer and educator. 

Biology is a good pre med degree and one of the most popular for premed students.

What Is a Biology Major?

The biology major is the study of living organisms. This includes the investigation of the origins of plant and animal life, their characteristics, reproduction, functions, ecosystems, and habits.

Life from the smallest microorganisms to the largest plants and mammals are studied. The taxonomy of living organisms, including their class, order, family, genus, and species are part of the required subjects of study.

Biology is categorized as a science, the science of life and living organisms. Specifically, biology is a natural science with three major branches, which are botany, zoology and microbiology.

Biology is a STEM major. The “S” in STEM stands for science, and biology is a natural science. It is a STEM degree because STEM courses in science, chemistry and math are required.

The skills you can learn after majoring in biology, according to the University of Michigan Career Center, are investigative skills, research and quantitative skills, analytical skills, and the ability to organize and synthesize information.

Acquired skills include observation and investigation, research, defining problems, conducting studies, reasoning logically, thinking critically, organizing data and information, making projections from the data and evaluating the effects of change on organisms.

What Are Different Types Of Biology Degrees?

There are four degrees you can earn in biology:

Associate’s Degree in Biology: This is a 2-year degree typically requiring 4 semesters and 60 credit hours to complete. To receive an associate in Biology, you will study general prerequisites like English and humanities plus one or more classes in general biology, biological science, microbiology, chemistry, algebra and trigonometry. A limited number of jobs such as a lab technician are available with an associate’s degree. Many students go on to receive a bachelor’s or graduate degree after earning an associate’s degree.

Bachelor’s Degree in Biology: This is a 4-year degree consisting of 8 semesters and 120-128 credit hours. In addition to prerequisites and introductory biology classes, students in a bachelor of biology degree program study organic chemistry, biochemistry, taxonomy, animal physiology, ecology, conservation, evolutionary science, genetics, molecular biology, statistics, social and behavioral science, physics and human anatomy. A bachelor’s degree qualifies you for graduate school or for finding an entry level job in biology, conservation biology, or a field related to biology.

Master’s Degree in Biology: This is a 2-year degree with 60 credit hours that often includes a master degree thesis or research project. Topics studied are narrowly focused on subjects like molecular biology, conservation biology, biological education, microbiology, computational biology, bioinformatics, marine biology, chemical biology, agricultural biology, cell biology, and marine biology. A master’s degree program in biology makes you an attractive candidate for a wide range of careers in biology and related fields.

PhD in Biology: This degree takes 4-7 years to complete including research, summer work, publishing scientific papers, and completing a PhD dissertation or project. Coursework includes advanced studies in computational biology, microbiology, molecular biology, biology ethics, biotechnology, bioengineering or pharmaceuticals. A biology PhD opens job opportunities in research, academics and education, government and business.

What Is The Difference Between BA Degree and BS Degree in Biology?

A BA degree in biology is a Bachelor of Arts in Biology with a multidisciplinary range of study giving the student a wide base of knowledge.  

A BS degree in biology is a Bachelor of Science in Biology. The focus is on STEM courses and a full load of biology studies to provide a deeper foundation in science.

Comparing a BA in Biology and a BS in Biology, the main differences are the coursework studied and career opportunities

The Biology BS is narrower in its scope of classes than the Biology BA.

The Bachelor of Arts in Biology combines fewer core science classes with life sciences including humanities, language, philosophy or other interests the student has. The graduate with a BA will understand a broader range of subjects and will often pursue a double major or a minor in a related field. A Biology BA. It is useful to prepare students for a career or graduate school in a field other than biology.

Students who pursue a BS degree in biology will study a full load of biology and natural science courses plus more math such as algebra, calculus and statistics. The BS in Biology is designed for students who plan to attend graduate school or who prepare for technical positions in research, biotechnology, government agencies and health.  

What Are the Typical Specializations for Biology Major?

The typical specializations for a biology major are microbiology, marine biology, animal biology, behavioral biology, conservation biology, bioinformatics, biotechnology, ecology, neurobiology, biochemistry, cell biology, molecular biology, genetics, physiology, zoology, and anatomy.

Some colleges and universities group several related specialties into a single degree such as Cell Biology, Molecular Biology and Genetics or Ecology and Conservation Biology.

Biochemistry is a popular biology major that combines core biology and chemistry courses with advanced laboratory work. It focuses on how molecules work at a chemical and physical level within organisms. Consider biochemistry to prepare for a career in science or further studies in healthcare and medicine, dentistry, pharmaceuticals, and other health fields. The job opportunities for biochemists are growing “much faster than average” at a rate of 15% over the next 10 years, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook for Biochemists

Marine biology is another common biology major. The core of the education in Marine Biology is the study of organism life and processes in saltwater environments. It includes advanced courses in marine ecosystems, biodiversity, organismal processes, conservation and management of the marine environment in response to changes in the ocean. Students in Marine Biology learn knowledge and skills to prepare for graduate school or a career in marine biology, ecology, resource management, consulting or education. This is a stable but stagnant career option with about 1% growth projected in the next decade, according to the US BLS.

As you prepare for a career in biology, this table provides information on popular specialization options, the degree most commonly achieved to enter the field and the number of graduates in the field, according to the most recent data.

Biology BranchesMost Common Awarded DegreeTotal Degrees​ Awarded (2020)
NeurobiologyBachelor Degree10,508
BiochemistryBachelor Degree10,071
PhysiologyBachelor Degree7,473
BiotechnologyMaster Degree3,585
Animal BiologyBachelor Degree3,141
Marine BiologyBachelor Degree1,914
ZoologyBachelor Degree1,775
AnatomyBachelor Degree1,740
GeneticsBachelor Degree1,403

What Are the Requirements for Biology Major?

Each college and university has similar prerequisites to major in biology. This list explains common biology major requirements to consider as you research majoring in biology.

Complete general education requirements: These are required classes for all students at the university regardless of major. Taken in your first and second year these 100 and 200 level classes may include basic English, Communication, Composition, Intro to College Research, Foreign Language, and Humanities. Total credit hours are 24-30.

Fulfill biology requirements: These are required classes before becoming a biology major. The required classes differ for a BA vs a BS in Biology but may include Introductory Biology 1 & 2, Ecology, Statistics and Chemistry. Many classes have a Lab. Total credit hours for these required classes is 20-24.

Maintain a Minimum GPA: The requirement at most universities is to maintain an overall grade point average of 2.0 or a C average grade.

What Classes to Take After Majoring in Biology to Complete a Biology Degree

These required classes are 300 and 400 level courses in biology and related disciplines that prepare students for careers and grad school. 

Courses are in Physics, Genetics, Molecular and Cell Biology, Biological Evolution, Applied Statistics, Conservation Biology, Biodiversity, Neurobiology, Physiology, Microbiology etc. Many classes include a lab. Some Independent Study and Independent Field Work are part of most programs. Total credit hours are 60-70.

Is Biology a Hard Major?

Biology is considered a hard major by most students because the required courses are heavy in science and math. A lot of time and hard work is required to comprehend complex subjects and diverse fields of information. However, if you are interested in biology and related subjects and enjoy learning, then the challenges of a biology degree are easier to surmount.

Biology is a challenging major for several reasons. First, there are fewer elective classes that many consider easy classes such as Humanities, Earth Science or Anthropology. Instead, biology curriculum includes difficult courses like Microbiology, Molecular Biology, Physics, General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry. And math is required to major in biology. Requirements include Calculus and Statistics, and Physics, which demands a good understanding of mathematics.

The graduation rates for biology majors range from 45% to 97% depending on the school providing the data. For example, Grand Valley State University reports a biology major graduation rate of 45.8% while Harvard, MIT and Stanford all have graduation rates above 95%.

Is Biology a Good Major?

Biology is a good major for students who enjoy science and are interested in learning about plant and animal life. It has many benefits.  

First, a degree in biology prepares students for graduate studies in biology-related fields like microbiology, marine biology, animal biology, biotechnology, conservation biology, genetics and many others. It is also a good degree to prepare for graduate studies in nursing, nutrition, and medicine.

Secondly, a major in biology equips you for career opportunities with good salaries. These include biology, healthcare, research, and education.

What Jobs Can You Get With a Biology Major?

Biology majors are prepared for a wide range of high paying jobs in biology and related disciplines. As you research your career options in biology and plan your education, here are 10 jobs you can get when you major in biology.

  • Postsecondary Teachers: Teaching at the college or university level requires a professional or doctoral degree. But biology is a strong undergraduate major for those who prepare to be a college instructor or professor.
  • Medical Scientist: Advances in medicine are often made by medical scientists who explore new treatments and medications. And biology is the most common major for these fulfilling and high paying jobs because their education provides knowledge of human anatomy, physiology, cell biology and molecular biology.
  • Registered Nurse: Biology provides a strong foundation RNs or registered nurses in cell biology, physiology and chemistry, which all assist them in their daily treatment and care of patients. A degree in nursing is required, and nurses must pass board exams to become registered nurses.
  • Physician: A Biology major equips physicians for their work by giving them a strong foundation in anatomy, physiology, cell biology, biochemistry and genetics. These are essential to the successful practice of medicine, which is among the highest paying jobs for a biology degree. Completing medical school and passing board certification are necessary to become a medical doctor. Biology is the most common major for students applying to medical school.
  • Pharmacist: A degree in biology prepares students to be a pharmacist because it requires chemistry classes and a strong understanding of how the human body works. A graduate degree in Pharmacology is necessary to become a pharmacist.
  • Dentist: As healthcare professionals, dentists must understand anatomy, physiology and chemistry. Biology is the top major for students applying to dental school. To become dentists, students must attend dental school and pass board exams.
  • Physical Therapist: Majoring in biology gives physical therapists a good foundation in anatomy and physiology. Most physical therapists have a master’s degree.
  • Veterinary Medicine: Students gain knowledge essential for veterinarians including anatomy, cell biology and chemistry. The biology major is common for those applying to veterinary school, which is necessary to complete to become a DVM or doctor of veterinary medicine.
  • Surgeon: Biology prepares students to become surgeons with a broad knowledge of anatomy and physiology. After getting a degree in biology, the student must successfully complete medical school, become a board licensed physician and complete specialized training in surgery. 
  • Physical Scientist: Physical scientists must have a strong foundation in research, statistics, laboratory and field work and computer skills. Majoring in biology prepares physical scientists with these essential skills. Entry level jobs as a physical scientist are available, but the highest paying jobs in the field are offered to those with advanced degrees.

This table is a list of the top jobs for biology majors, the degree level needed to enter the field and average salaries for each job.

Common Jobs for Biology Major

Common Jobs For Biology MajorTypical Entry-Level DegreeAverage Wage
Medical ScientistsDoctoral or professional degree$95,310 per year ($45.82 per hour)
Postsecondary TeachersDoctoral or professional degree$79,640 per year
DentistsDoctoral or professional degree$163,220 per year ($78.47 per hour)
Registered NursesBachelor’s degree$77,600 per year$37.31 per hour
High School TeachersBachelor’s degree$61,820 per year
Kindergarten and Elementary School TeachersBachelor’s degree$61,350 per year
Physicians and SurgeonsDoctoral or professional degree$208,000 per year ($100.00 per hour)
PharmacistsDoctoral or professional degree$128,570 per year ($61.81 per hour)
Physical ScientistsDoctoral or professional degree$80,690 per year
VeterinariansDoctoral or professional degree$108,060 per year
Biological ScientistsDoctoral or professional degree$72,443 per year
Physical TherapistsDoctoral or professional degree$80,848 per year

What Are The Salaries For Biology Degrees

Average salaries for biology degrees range from $50,914 to $94,000. Salaries increase based on the level of degree.

Here is the average starting salary for each level of biology degree:

  • The average starting salary for an associate degree in biology is $50,914.
  • The average salary for a bachelor degree in biology is $59,900.
  • The average salary for a master degree in biology is $63,964.
  • The average salary for a PhD degree in biology is $94,000.

Those are average salaries for biology degrees. There are wide ranges for each degree based on the specific job held by the worker with a biology degree.

Can You Become a Nurse With a Biology Degree?

Yes, biology is a common degree for students who continue their education by attending nursing school to become registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and other types of nurses.

Common degrees to be a registered nurse are a bachelors of science in nursing and a masters of science in nursing.

What Master’s Degree Can I Get With a Bachelor In Biology

A bachelor in biology is a good foundation for many masters programs. Here are the top masters degrees you can get with a bachelors in biology.

Master of Science in Biology: This popular, general degree is good preparation for field or laboratory research, healthcare and teaching and for getting a PhD or professional degree.

Master of Arts in Biology: This broad degree emphasizes the application of biology to human interactions, environment and society. Careers for those with an MA in Biology include public health, education, conservation, teaching and environmental science.

Master of Science in Conservation Biology: An MS in Conservation Biology trains the student in natural ecosystems, biodiversity, and natural resources management.

Master of Science in Neural Engineering: This field applies neuroscientific and engineering practices to understand, support, repair and replace neural systems within the nervous system.

Master of Science in Microbiology: This professional degree focuses on the biology of microscopic organisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and archaea using techniques for field and lab research.

Masters of Public Health: Public health professionals devote their work to the prevention and control of diseases within the general population and specific at-risk groups. It involves training in epidemiology and health policy.

Masters of Science in Agricultural Biology: This degree prepares the student for a degree in plant science including the prevention of disease and maximizing yield. Areas of specialty include entomology, plant pathology and weed science.

Masters of Science in Chemical Biology: Students with this degree find jobs in research and development, pharmacology, synthetic organic chemistry and biology.

Masters of Science in Quantitative Biology: With training in research, bioinformation, data gathering and data analytics, a masters in quantitative biology prepares the student for a career in consulting, government, industry or academics.

Masters in Biomedical Engineering: A BME is an advanced biology degree that applies engineering principles to biomedical practices. Careers include those focused on improving health, preventing and fighting disease and improving the lives of those with disabilities.

Is Biology a Good Major for Medical School?

Yes, biology is a good major for medical school. In fact, biology is the most common pre med undergraduate degree. Data from the Association of American Medical Colleges shows that 58% of students entering medical school in 2020 had a degree in biological sciences, as reported by the American Medical Association. The biology major acceptance rate to medical school is 42%, which is slightly lower than math and statistics majors (46%), physical sciences majors (47.8%) and humanities majors (48%).

What Are Good Double Majors with Biology Major?

Good double majors with biology are psychology, chemistry, nursing, physics, anthropology, business, economics, computer science, philosophy, anatomy, immunology and math.

Psychology is a good double major for biology if you are interested in the connection between the physical body and the psychological mind. The combination is a good foundation for an advanced degree in healthcare, environmental biology or psychiatry.

The best double major with biology for you is one that gives you knowledge, training and skills that match your educational and career goals. For example, if you want a career in bioinformatics, then computer science is an excellent double major for biology.

What Are the Best Minors for Biology Major?

The best minors for a biology major are environmental science, psychology, business, education, chemistry, computer science, criminal justice, medical diagnostics, public health, communication, nutrition, genetics, food science, animal science and math.

Chemistry is a good minor choice if your career goals include work in laboratory and pharmaceutical research, bioengineering, healthcare, veterinary medicine, conservation biology, nutrition or genetics.

Computer science is a good minor for biology majors that plan a career in bioresearch, bioinformatics, biotechnology, computational biology, computational neuroscience, biostatistics, and physical science.

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