Is a Marine Biology Degree Right for You?

A bachelor’s degree in marine biology provides students with a broad knowledge base in the biological sciences with an emphasis in marine life, ecology, and oceanography. Degrees for marine biology incorporate a curriculum that explores the various habitats of marine life and students learn about how external factors like pollution or overfishing affect fragile marine ecosystems.

Marine biology is a hands-on field of study where you will develop lab and research skills, which will serve you well if you decide to pursue graduate study to prepare for a research career. Job prospects in the field are positive, with promising fields including marine biotechnology research with applications in the biomedical field, or in industry or defense. If you have strong capabilities in math and science, an interest in lab and research careers, and an affinity for wildlife and the natural environment, a bachelor’s degree in marine biology may be for you.

Advice for Earning Your Marine Biology Degree Online

If you plan to pursue an online degree in marine biology, you should know that most science programs are not available 100% online. While lecture-based courses can be delivered online, lab and field training must take place on site. While no marine biology programs are presently available through distance learning, students may still be able to take individual courses online.

Hybrid programs, which blend online and face-to-face instruction, may emerge to provide more flexibility to those seeking a higher education in the biological sciences. Also, students should look for programs offered by colleges and universities that are institutionally accredited by one of the six regional accreditation agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Required Courses

Marine biology bachelor’s degree programs focus on building a foundation in laboratory sciences, like biology and chemistry, and include general education classes in math, literature, social sciences, and fine arts. Topics in ecology, microbiology, genetics and more are among the major topics. Required courses may include:

  • Science of the Sea
  • Animal Ecology
  • Biochemistry
  • Marine Microbiology
  • Marine Ecology and Evolution

Common Career Paths

Some potential careers for those with a bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology include:

Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

  • Expected Growth: 7%
  • Average Annual Salary: $64,555

While job responsibilities vary greatly depending on job title, marine biologists are scientists who gather data and samples, estimate the populations of marine organisms, study how environmental pollutants affect marine health, and more. After conducting research, they often publish their findings or make recommendations to their employer as to how various factors impact marine life, how marine organisms can be protected, or even how to prevent marine life from negatively impacting activities that take place in the ocean. The above salary and employment growth figures were gathered from the BLS, and represent median incomes. Actual salaries will vary based on your experience, education level, and other factors.

Biochemists and Biophysicists

  • Expected Growth: 31%
  • Average Annual Salary: $92,735

Biochemists and biophysicists have a variety of roles and responsibilities and often need a doctoral degree. Marine biochemists may also perform specific duties that require knowledge of aquatic environments and the materials of which they are composed. Marine biochemists often conduct water quality analyses, evaluate nutrients in aquatic samples, and measure the level of certain gases in the water in an effort to determine the impact to aquatic life. Figures above were provided by the BLS.


  • Expected Growth: 13%
  • Average Annual Salary: $77,450

Microbiologists study microscopic organisms, or organisms that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Marine microbiologists specifically study the form and function of bacteria, algae, plankton, and other organisms that are found in oceans to determine how microscopic organisms contribute to the overall health of the ocean. There are many emerging applied research fields within microbiology, with applications in pharmaceuticals, antimicrobials, and alternative fuels. Figures above were provided by the BLS.

Environmental Scientists and Specialists

  • Expected Growth: 19%
  • Average Annual Salary: $72,920

Environmental scientists collect and analyze to identify threats to environmental safety. With a background in marine biology, environmental scientists can focus on developing plans to protect the ocean’s ecosystems and wildlife. A bachelor’s degree is required to work as an environmental scientist, but many have graduate or doctoral degrees. Figures above were provided by the BLS.

Natural Sciences Managers

  • Expected Growth: 8%
  • Average Annual Salary: $74,940

Natural science managers oversee and direct the work of scientists working in laboratories and research projects. They hire and evaluate staff, establish research goals, establish financing and equipment needs, provide technical assistance, and more. The job requires a bachelor’s degree, as natural science managers need a scientific background as well as strong project management skills. Figures above were provided by the BLS.


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