From the building blocks of life to understanding the natural world, studying biology can lead to a stunning collection of different paths. Biologists work in pharmacies and labs, researching everything from microbes to whales. In other words, jumping into this world can be exciting and overwhelming. Prospective students looking at getting a master’s in this realm should be ready for a wide variety of studies and look at the possibilities for future jobs.
In most programs, biology students can expect courses in evolution, ecology, microbiology, physiology, and more. Outside of direct science courses, students should also be prepared for classes on statistics. It’s also important for students to tailor their coursework, study the fields that interest them, and pave their own routes to make programs more enjoyable for themselves and make the job search process easier. A pharmacist and a marine biologist might both have degrees in biology, but their work is vastly different from each other.
The field of biology, which includes all life on earth, is a wide enough realm that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2022) is a bit vague on exactly what someone can expect while on the job.
Read on to discover what to expect from an online master’s degree program in biology, including the application requirements, coursework, and more.
To achieve a master’s in biology, prospective students should have an undergraduate degree in biology or a related field. For many programs, a solid GPA of 3.0 or above will also be recommended, alongside GRE scores, if significant time has passed between graduation and getting back into school.
As mentioned before, biology is such a wide and varied field that there are dozens of different jobs related to it. Prospective students may not need to have an exact plan for what they want to do, but they should do some soul-searching. Future pay, personal passions, and job placement are all vital questions to research before diving into a degree.
University of Northern Colorado – Master of Sciences in Biological Sciences
The University of Northern Colorado focuses on flexibility and accessibility, especially for current biology instructors. Current biology teachers who enter this program and complete at least 18 credits within the curriculum can teach college classes in the field.
This program requires an undergraduate degree in a similar field and a good standing GPA of 3.0 or above from that degree. Though most students will complete the course in three years, it can be done in as little as two years with hyper-focused work and increased hours, or as many as five with part-time instruction.
The basic program is divided into the research core and content elective courses. Research constitutes only three of the 30 hours, but is vital for the education and job preparation portion of the program. Students will better understand academic research in the field and how to compete in the current field of biologists.
Content elective courses make up the bulk of the program, with courses ranging from molecular genetics to statistics. This wide range of classes will help students bore down and find the parts of the field they enjoy the most.
If a student has chosen the non-thesis option for the program, they are expected to finish a comprehensive exam at the end of the degree.
Eastern Illinois University – Master of Sciences in Biology
EIU offers an online, accelerated MS in biology. The degree can be finished in one year and does not require GRE scores. However, a degree in a similar field and a GPA of over 2.75 is required for students to be accepted into the program.
The program will require a minimum of 32 credits, with the majority of them (at least 22) coming from biology-focused courses. Students will also take at least one seminar class. A maximum of 10 credits can focus on other science courses such as physiology and geology, chemistry, or in math classes like statistical models.
Students’ courses to fill the 22 required biology hours could include advanced molecular biology, plant ecology, conservation, animal behavior, and more.
Indiana State – Master of Sciences in Biology – Non-Thesis
Indian State’s program is geared toward students looking for careers in industry and government. In addition to traditional classes focusing on ecology, microbiology, and statistics, students will also be expected to work with faculty on research projects. Indiana State’s Center for Bat Research, Outreach, and Conservation is a readily available asset for students looking to study animal behaviors, virology, and conservation.
The program has a wide range of outcomes regarding how long it may take to finish. Students who can blend face-to-face and online work in a hybrid model may finish the program in two years. Those who are looking for the most flexible, part-time program could finish in up to seven years. But most students finish in between three to five years of study.
The non-thesis option is split into six parts. The first is a research requirement that can take one to ten credits. The second focuses on biology, ecology, and organismal biology, or life sciences. It’s important for students going into this program to have a good idea of what field they want to go into before joining, as Indiana State is focused on professional development more so than exploring options. The third portion is a single seminar, but students can choose to attend more. The final three parts are directed electives, coursework outside biology classes, and a cumulative exam.
University of Missouri – Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences
Although this program is hosted through the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine, it does not mean that all students should focus on animal care or behavioral science. In fact, this degree is more likely to aid those looking to go into industry work. Classes in neuroscience and cell biology will help prospective students hone their skills that can lead to a career in the biomedical or pharmaceutical fields.
The program suggests two to four classes per semester, allowing for part-time study and a more flexible schedule. The program is split into core classes and electives. Core classes are composed of veterinary sciences and biomedical studies. Electives are still in biology, but expand to toxicology, physiology, and radiation.
Prospective students should have a related degree and at least a 3.0 GPA. There are specific course prerequisites, including credit-hours completed: biology (ten), physics (three), biochemistry (three), chemistry (ten), calculus (three). A GRE is not required.
As flexible as many of these programs are, it will be extremely helpful if students know what subfield of biology they want to work in before entering. Many of these degrees include faculty members and research portions that will help the discovery process. A master’s in biology can lead to a stunning range of future jobs, so salary, work stability, and personal enjoyment will be the compass rose.
Finally, while in school, students shouldn’t solely focus on courses. Connecting with other students and professors can be just as important for future job placement. And those conversations and interactions may help narrow down what jobs are actually appetizing. Students should develop a good idea of what field within biology they want to work in, and the earlier, the better. Networking early can lead to internships, externships, and placement.
Nathan Stevens is a reporter, musician, and native Texan living in Austin. He received his degree in journalism from the University of Oregon and has worked in broadcast for over a decade. His website, the2010s.net, is a collection and retrospective of the best music of the 21st century.