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Humans have always been fascinated by life — its different forms and how it came to be. Biology is a broad subject that gives those interested in this field, an opportunity to study all forms of life on earth — from how they look and their behavior to the cells, systems and processes that make them what they are. Many people refer to biology as the science of life.
A degree program in biology can help you understand how various life forms affect each other in order to improve the quality of life. From discovering new medicines to improving the quality of our environment, the possibilities are endless as you study biology.
If you are fascinated by plants and animals and want to learn what makes them tick, an online biology degree program may be the one for you. An online biology degree program may work well for high school graduates, working professionals, stay-at-home parents, or career changers who may not be able to practically devote the time needed for attending a traditional on-campus program.
What can you do with a biology degree?
The wide scope of the field means you can pursue a number of different careers with a biology degree. Some potential jobs in biology and their related duties are:
- Gathering materials for and conducting biological tests and experiments
- Analyzing data, test results and interpreting and presenting their findings in reports
- Using various research methods and experiments to study bacteria, viruses, algae, fungi, and some types of parasites
- Performing laboratory experiments to understand illnesses and their treatment
- Monitoring effects of microorganisms on other life forms and the environment
- Evaluating patients at risk for specific genetic disorders and referring them to physicians
- Evaluating DNA test results and writing detailed consultation reports for physicians
- Counseling patients and their families on the various treatments available along with associated risks and benefits
Zoologist/ Wildlife Biologist:
- Studying animals, their behaviors, populations dynamics and interactions with their surroundings
- Analyzing the impact human activity has on wildlife
- Developing programs to protect and increase endangered wildlife populations and curb invasive species
Choose a degree that can help you meet your career goals
There are numerous types of biology degree programs that can lead to interesting careers in the field. Some degree programs can be highly specialized focusing on a particular aspect or lifeform while others are broader in their scope.
An associate degree program in biology can allow you to explore the different aspects of biology before choosing a focus. An online bachelor's degree in biology can offer more scope in terms of the career you want to pursue. Master's degrees or higher can allow you to work in leadership positions or conduct your own research. The electives you choose during your degree program can also help you pursue your area of interest in biology. We discuss different online biology degree programs and what you can do with them in more detail below.
Online Associate Degrees in Biology
What can I expect to learn in an online certificate program?
Online associate biology degree programs are typically designed to give students the critical thinking, analytical, mathematical and laboratory skills needed to build a strong foundation in the biological sciences.
Typical duration: Two years of full-time study
General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent
Typical coursework: Apart from core courses covering different topics in biology, you may also have to take foundational courses in subjects like chemistry, mathematics and physics that can help give a holistic understanding of different biological functions. Some courses you may take are:
- Cell biology
- General ecology
- Introductory biology
- Populations and organisms
- Statistics for life sciences
You may be required to attend laboratory classes on-campus as a part of your program requirements.
Possible electives: Medical microbiology; human anatomy and physiology; marine biology
What can I do after earning an associate degree?
An online associate degree in biology can make you eligible for entry-level positions in the field and can allow you to work as an assistant in laboratories, medical facilities or with research scientists. Some potential occupations are:
- Agricultural and food science technician
- Biological technician
- Environmental science and protection technicians
- Forest or conservation technician
- Veterinary technologist
Online Bachelor's Degrees in Biology
What can I expect to learn in an online associate degree program?
An online bachelor's degree program in biology can give you a more comprehensive overview of the subject when compared to associate degree programs. Bachelor's degree programs can help you learn the principles of scientific thought and their applications and teach you how science and everyday life are interconnected.
Typical duration: Four years of full-time study
General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent
Typical coursework: The curriculum for an online bachelor's degree program in biology builds on that taught at the associate level but tends to delve deeper into various biological topics. Some courses you may take are:
- Conceptual approaches to biology
- General genetics
You may also have to attend laboratory classes on campus and complete a thesis as a part of your bachelor's degree program.
Possible electives: Plants and civilization; animal physiology; immunology: molecular and cellular foundations
What can I do after earning a bachelor's degree?
Most biology related occupations require at least a minimum of a bachelor's degree according to data from the BLS. You may find there are careers to be had in a number of different industries. Bachelor's degree programs in biology can also prepare you to attend medical or law school if you are inclined towards those professions. Some occupations you may be able to pursue are:
- Conservation biologist
- Food safety expert
- Molecular biologist
- Park ranger
- Pharmaceutical researcher
Online Master's Degrees in Biology
What can I expect to learn in an online bachelor's degree program?
An online master's degree program in biology can teach you to apply the skills you learn in real-world scenarios, conduct your own research and build your expertise in the field of biology.
Typical duration: Two years of full-time study
General prerequisites: Bachelor's degree in biology or a related subject
Typical coursework: Curricula can explore biology topics in depth allowing you to gain advanced knowledge of biological topics. Some courses you may take are:
- Bioethical challenges
- Current issues in biology
- Invertebrate zoology
- Organic evolution
You may be required to attend laboratory sessions on campus and complete a master's thesis depending on your degree program.
Possible electives: Biological research; electron microscopy; virology; animal communication
What can I do after earning a master's degree?
An online master's degree in biology can prepare you for leadership positions in the field of biology. You may also be able to teach biology in a high school setting. Some potential occupations are:
- Biomedical engineer
- Genetic counselor
- Political scientist
Online Doctoral Degrees in Biology
What can I expect to learn in an online master's degree program?
Doctoral degree programs in biology can provide you with the opportunity to study one particular aspect of biology in detail and conduct your own, independent research on the topic.
Typical duration: Four to seven years of full-time study
General prerequisites: Master's degree in biology or related subject
Typical coursework: Doctoral degree programs usually have an intensive, research-based curriculum with topics focusing on research methodologies and advanced topics in biology. Some courses you may take are:
- Environmental toxicology
- Molecular evolution
Dissertation: After completing core coursework, students have to submit their proposals for their research topics for their doctoral dissertation. A major portion of your doctoral degree program is spent working on research for your dissertation. Once complete, you need to successfully defend your thesis to a panel of subject experts before receiving your Ph.D.
What can I do after earning a doctoral degree?
A doctorate can allow you to continue with your research career in the form of a postdoctoral degree or with independent organizations. You may also be eligible for a career as a university professor or in high-level positions in different industries and consultancies. Additionally, a doctoral degree may qualify you to serve in policy making bodies or in even biomanufacturing industries in management positions. Some potential occupations are:
- Medical scientist
The accreditation status of a school or program is an important criterion to look out for when choosing an online biology degree program as it serves to demonstrate that the education offered is on par or exceeds the standards required by professionals in the industry. Additionally, attending an accredited program can play a vital role while applying for federal funding and grants.
Schools may be accredited by regional or national accrediting bodies or by independent professional accrediting agencies. While there is no professional body that accredits biology programs overall, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) provides programmatic accreditation for bachelor's degree programs in biochemistry and molecular biology.
Specializations in Biology
As the term "biology" encompasses such a broad range of life forms and related topics, it is no surprise to find degree programs pertaining to different aspects of the subject. Specializations may be available right from the associate degree level and can get more niche as you pursue further education. Some concentrations you may find are:
- Conservation ecology
- Environmental biology
- Evolutionary biology
- Human anatomy and physiology
- Molecular biology
Scholarships and Financial Aid Programs
As with most other STEM fields, there are plenty of financial aid programs, grants and scholarships available for eligible students of biology offered by private organizations and professional bodies. Additionally, your college may also have scholarships and grants you may qualify for, so do check with your college if you are eligible for any aid. Here are a few scholarship programs to help you get started:
- ASBMB Scholarships
- The Forrest Shreve Student Research Fund
- California Waterfowl Scholarships
- Gates Millennium Scholars Program
- Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology Awards
Other resources for those aspiring to work in the field of Biology
- American Institute of Biological Sciences
- American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
- National Association of Biology Teachers
- Ecological Society of America
- Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology
Occupations and Career Outlook
Careers in biology can be found across multiple industries — from medical and research facilities, environmental agencies, governmental bodies, NGOs and even chemical, pharmaceutical and construction industries.
The table below lists the different occupations you can pursue with a biology degree along with the mean wages, employment outlook and projected job openings for each using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).