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What is a biology degree?
What could be more fascinating than studying life itself?
Biology is one of the most popular college programs. Through lab work and lectures, this broad degree covers genetics, botany, anatomy, and more. It teaches students about everything from the tiniest bacteria to the largest mammals on earth. It also provides training in key skills like critical thinking and data interpretation. But most of all, biology opens students' eyes to the wonders of life.
An important field, biology touches on controversial issues like genetic engineering, global climate change, and GMO products. It plays an important role in driving medical developments and scientific innovation. Biological knowledge is key to our understanding of human health, animal welfare, and environmental impact. It's not hard to see why more and more students are choosing this degree.
Considering studying biology? Read on. In this article, we'll take a closer look at what biology degrees entail and where they can take you.
When it comes to biology, there are lots of degree options to choose from. At the most basic level, these include:
Associate Degree in Biology
Usually about two years long, many students use this degree as a stepping stone to a full bachelor's. It covers basic introductory courses like genetics, human biology, organic molecules, and others. Although most biology jobs require further education, some technician positions hire candidates with only an associate degree.
Bachelor's Degree in Biology
The basic entry point for most biology careers, a bachelor's degree usually takes about four years to complete. It includes courses in topics like animal and plant reproduction, ecology, taxonomy, and human physiology.
Bachelor of Arts (BA) degrees pair general biology training with liberal arts knowledge. They tend to be ideal training for public health or communication positions.
Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees are more focused on mathematics and lab work. They're ideal preparation for a future in research or medical work.
Master's Degree in Biology
A Master's Degree in Biology is a chance to deepen your knowledge in a specific area of biology. It's usually done following a bachelor's and takes about two years. A master's degree can open up opportunities to work in industry, public policy, or research.
Doctoral Degree in Biology (PhD)
Some biology students decide to specialize even further and complete a PhD. Part research, part coursework, these intensive programs are entryways to academic biology positions.
Degrees similar to biology
Many students have trouble choosing between biology and related degrees, like biochemistry, ecology, or environmental science. But although these programs overlap, there are important differences.
Biology vs Biochemistry
Like biology, biochemistry degrees are all about understanding living organisms. Students take classes in genetics, physiology, and ecology—just like biology students do. But while biology offers a broad view of life on earth, a biochemistry degree is more focused. It investigates the chemical processes and structures that make life possible. In general, that means greater emphasis on topics like organic chemistry, physics, and calculus.
Biology vs Ecology
Ecology is a branch of biology focused on how living things interact with each other and the environment. It's a similar degree to a general biology, with a more specific focus. Students who major in ecology learn more about relationships between organisms than about the characteristics of the organisms themselves.
Biology vs Environmental Science
Environmental science overlaps with biology, but also incorporates subjects like earth science and sociology. It covers the biological, chemical, physical, political, and societal processes that impact the health of the planet. Biology tends to take a detailed look at specific plants, animals, and other organisms. Environmental science explores how living and non-living things interact and what that means for our future on earth.
Skills you'll learn
A biology degree will help you develop valuable skills, no matter what path you choose. You'll gain specialized knowledge in biological concepts, specialist equipment, and laboratory techniques. This subject-specific expertise can help you thrive in many medical or research-based careers.
But biology degrees also provide important transferrable skills. This essential training helps graduates succeed in a wide range of careers, both within and outside the field.
General skills you'll gain during a biology degree include:
- written and oral communication
- time management, organization, and project management
- mathematics and numeracy
- research and data analysis
- collaboration and team work
- computer fluency and IT
- critical thinking and creative problem solving
What can you do with a biology degree?
With this strong arsenal of skills, biology graduates can excel in many industries. Here are a few of the most common ones:
Thinking about becoming a doctor one day? Many students pursue a biology degree for this same reason. But while doctor is one medical career a biology major could pursue, it isn't the only one. Positions in nursing, public health, dental care, or the veterinary field can also be a fit.
Especially at the master's level, research is a popular career option after a biology degree. As researchers, biology graduates can work in anything from genomics to pharmacology. Typical employers include government agencies, non-profit research centers, biotechnology firms, and medical schools.
A biology degree provides a basis in biology, chemistry, microbiology, and life sciences. With this foundation, graduates can choose to enter the pharmaceutical industry. Many become sales agents, selling medical supplies or IT products to clinics and hospitals. Others conduct pharmaceutical research. Still others pursue a career as a pharmacist, starting with an entry-level job like pharmacy assistant.
Genetics counselor is an increasingly popular career choice for biology graduates. In this role, they'll work with clients who are concerned about transmitting or developing a genetic disease. But genetics is a fast-growing field with many exciting professional opportunities. Positions in forensic science, food and agriculture, and academia are all options to consider.
Do you have a way with words? Or a knack for visual storytelling? Science communication might be for you. Working as journalists, public relations specialists, communications managers, or social media influencers, biology majors can share important information about health or sustainability with the public.
Global climate change is on everyone's mind. Biology majors understand many of the essential sustainability challenges we face today. They can use their knowledge of different species, ecology, and the environment to become sustainability consultants, conservation officers, air quality analysts, and more.
Biology graduates can end up working in almost any level of education. Some teach at universities or high schools. Others work as private tutors or health educators. Still others become youth workers at summer camps or outdoors schools. Whatever the specifics, a teaching career is a great way to open others' eyes to the wonders of biology.
It can seem like a long shot, but some biology graduates end up in finance jobs. With their strong skills in math, analysis, and data interpretation, they can become financial analysts or business analysts. They are especially well-suited to positions at biotechnology, medical services, environmental, or pharmaceutical companies.
Didn't see anything you like? Don't worry. Biology students aren't limited to the career areas outlined above. Becoming a medical lawyer is one fascinating option that's often overlooked by recent graduates. These highly trained professionals have expertise in medicine, law, ethics, and professional conduct. They handle medical malpractice claims and other medical lawsuits for pharmaceutical companies, insurers, doctors, hospitals, and other clients. Although this career requires law school, a degree in biology is a perfect foundation. Meaningful, mentally engaging, and well-paid, medical law can be a very rewarding career for a biology graduate.
The career trajectory of people with a Biology degree appears to be focused around a few careers. The most common career that users with Biology degrees have experience in is Biologist, followed by Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technician, Veterinary Assistant, Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologist, Medical Assistant, Clinical Research Coordinator, Pharmacy Technician, Molecular Biologist, Chemical Technician, and Zoologist.
|Career||% of graduates||% of population||Multiple|
|Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technician||7.3%||0.1%||49.4×|
|Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologist||4.6%||0.1%||61.5×|
|Clinical Research Coordinator||5.6%||0.1%||52.6×|
Biology graduates earn on average $33k, putting them in the 20th percentile of earners with a degree.
|Percentile||Earnings after graduation ($1000s USD)|
|25th (bottom earners)||$24k|
|Median (average earners)||$33k|
|75th (top earners)||$45k|
Biology graduates are moderately employed compared to other graduates. We have collected data on three types of underemployment. Part-time refers to work that is less than 30 hours per week. Non-college refers to work that does not require a college degree. Low-paying includes a list of low-wage service jobs such as janitorial work, serving, or dishwashing.
|Employment Type||Proportion of graduates|
|Jobs that don't require college||48%|