10 Best Colleges for Biology Majors Looking to Leave Their Mark on the World

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An education in biology is one of the most flexible degrees for undergraduate students. When you attend one of the best colleges for biology, your career possibilities are endless; if you aren’t interested in becoming a teacher, researcher, or conservationist, you can pursue a graduate degree, attend medical school, or even start your own biotech company.

FAQs About the Best Colleges for Biology

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An undergraduate degree in biology is a good choice if you want a career in a scientific field. A bachelor’s degree in biology can lead to future graduate studies, but even without an advanced degree, you might get a job as a science writer or research assistant, or in sales and marketing for a scientific company. The specific major you choose will play a role in what doors are open to you after college.

1. Why a Degree in Biology?​

Undergraduates that enroll at one of the best colleges for biology will master the principles that govern life processes at all levels—from molecular and cellular to organismal and ecological. Modern biology is a vast field and has many specialized disciplines, such as ecology, zoology, and astrobiology (to name a few).

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Students that want to contribute to the next wave of life-changing STEM innovations should strive to attend one of the best colleges for biology. In addition to the world-class education you will receive, the best colleges for biology have the faculty, postdoctoral researchers, and alumni that new graduates can leverage to launch themselves into the next phase of their biology career.

2. Types of Undergraduate Biology Degrees

For students at the best colleges for biology, there are many specializations and degree combinations available, including: anatomy, biophysics, cell and molecular biology, computational biology, ecology and evolution, environmental biology, forensic biology, genetics, marine biology, microbiology, molecular biosciences, natural science, neurobiology, physiology, zoology, and many others.

Before you get overwhelmed and panic about picking the best combination of courses for your career, rest assured that the best colleges for biology will provide you with the core principles of the science before asking you to choose a specialization area.

3. Career Options for Biology Degree Holders

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Like many other STEM fields, the career options for biology graduates depends on the level of qualification attained. For example, the basic skills developed in an undergraduate program at one of the best colleges for biology are transferrable to many industries, while the most sought-after biology careers will require higher levels of academic study and research.

That being said, careers options for biology degree holders go far beyond the science and health industries. In fact, many students focus on research at academic or private companies, become investigative science journalists, or even join law firms that protect endangered wildlife and the environment. Regardless of your individual career aspirations, a degree from one of the best colleges for biology will provide a solid foundation that will ensure you land in a professional environment that is challenging and rewarding.

How We Reviewed

To help you learn more about pursuing a degree in biology, we picked 10 of the best colleges for biology based on information such as program features, pros and cons, the cost to attend, and the school’s website where you can learn more.

Overall Price Range

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The cost of an education at the best colleges for biology isn’t cheap, but the long-term payoff for your career will be well worth it. On paper, the best colleges for biology we reviewed range from $8,500 to $80,000 a year. However, all the colleges we reviewed actively work with students and families to provide financial aid so that no student turns down the opportunity to enroll because it is too expensive.

10 of the Best Colleges for Biology We Reviewed

  • Harvard University
  • Berea College
  • The University of Arkansas
  • Stanford University
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Brown University
  • Rice University
  • Princeton University
  • Duke University
  • Vanderbilt University
harverd university logo

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Features

As one of the most famous education institutions in the world, Harvard University’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology is also one of the best colleges for biology. Undergraduate students at Harvard can choose from three biology concentrations — Molecular and Cellular Biology, Neuroscience, or Chemical and Physical Biology — that combine coursework with hands-on research. In addition to Harvard’s research facilities, the school’s biology undergraduates are right across the river from Boston’s biotech startup scene, world-renowned medical centers, and industry-leading science organizations.

Pros

  • One of the “Big Three” Ivy League schools
  • The Coalition, Common, and Universal College Applications are all accepted
  • Famous classmates and well-connected alumni
  • Joint concentrations available
  • Masters and doctoral degree programs also available

Cons

  • Extremely competitive admissions (acceptance rate is only 5%)
  • High tuition costs if you don’t qualify for aid

berea college

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Features

Proudly called the college that delivers “the best education that money can’t buy,” Berea College is a small private institution that makes a no-tuition promise to every student enrolled at the school. Located in Berea, KY, Berea College’s Biology Department enables biology majors and minors to understand scientific inquiry and introduces them to the major areas of biological science.

Qualified students often serve as departmental laboratory and teaching assistants, while others engage in faculty-directed research and independent studies. The core courses for graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in biology are Modern Biology, Experimental Zoology, Botany, Genetics, and Evolution.

Pros

  • No application fee
  • Students are encouraged to study overseas through the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program
  • Admissions are fairly competitive
  • Named one of the “Best Liberal Arts Schools” by Times Higher Education

Cons

  • Does not accept the Coalition, Common, or Universal Applications
  • No graduate or doctoral programs
  • Lower than average graduation rates

university of arkansas

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Features

The University of Arkansas (often called U of A, UARK, or UA) is a large public research institution in Fayetteville, AR. Besides being the flagship location of the University of Arkansas higher education system, the Fayetteville campus is also home to the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Biological Sciences. In addition to their coursework, biology majors also take part in many types of research projects—from molecular and cellular biology to evolutionary biology and population ecology.

Pros

  • In-state residents enjoy tuition breaks
  • Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees available
  • Masters and doctoral degree programs also available

Cons

  • Out-of-state students pay more in tuition
  • Does not accept the Coalition, Common, or Universal Applications

standford university

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Features

Located in the town of Palo Alto in California’s Silicon Valley, Stanford University is one of the best colleges for biology. Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences offers bachelor’s, coterminal master’s, and doctoral degrees and all students take part in groundbreaking research and innovations.

Biology majors can choose from many tracks, including Biochemistry and Biophysics; Computational Biology; Ecology and Evolution; Marine Biology; Microbes and Immunity; Molecular and Cellular Development; and Neurobiology. Stanford’s honors program allows students to complete a substantial piece of independent Biological research and pursue a specialized field of study within the major.

Pros

  • Access to Silicon Valley and biotech companies
  • An “Ivy Plus” school
  • The Coalition and Common 
  • Applications are accepted
    Biology minors are available

Cons

  • Tuition and expenses are high if you do not qualify for aid
  • Admissions are highly competitive
  • Palo Alto and the San Francisco Bay Area have one of the highest costs of living in the world

johns hopkins university

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Features

The Department of Biology within the Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences was one of the first biology departments established in the United States and is home to 27 research laboratories that investigate a wide range of biological problems. In addition to coursework, undergraduates studying biology can earn academic credits by participating in research studies — an opportunity to get hands-on learning experience under the guidance of professors, postdoctoral fellows, and research scientists.

Graduates of Johns Hopkins bring their detailed and nuanced view of biology with them to their professional lives, showing superior knowledge at the molecular, cellular, and organismal levels.

Johns Hopkins also has a 10-week summer program called BioREU that provides intensive, mentored research experiences for undergrads — especially those attending institutions with limited research opportunities. BioREU is a Research Experiences for Undergraduates Site funded by the National Science Foundation.

Pros

  • A five-year program for a combined Bachelor’s/Master’s degree is available
  • Academic credit is given for research participation
  • The Coalition, Common, and Universal College Applications are all accepted
  • Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees in biology are available

Cons

  • Tuition and expenses are high if you don’t qualify for financial aid
  • Admissions are competitive

brown university

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Features

The Department of Biology within the Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences was one of the first biology departments established in the United States and is home to 27 research laboratories that investigate a wide range of biological problems. In addition to coursework, undergraduates studying biology can earn academic credits by participating in research studies — an opportunity to get hands-on learning experience under the guidance of professors, postdoctoral fellows, and research scientists.

Graduates of Johns Hopkins bring their detailed and nuanced view of biology with them to their professional lives, showing superior knowledge at the molecular, cellular, and organismal levels.

Johns Hopkins also has a 10-week summer program called BioREU that provides intensive, mentored research experiences for undergrads — especially those attending institutions with limited research opportunities. BioREU is a Research Experiences for Undergraduates Site funded by the National Science Foundation.

Pros

  • A five-year program for a combined Bachelor’s/Master’s degree is available
  • Academic credit is given for research participation
  • The Coalition, Common, and Universal College Applications are all accepted
  • Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees in biology are available

Cons

  • Tuition and expenses are high if you don’t qualify for financial aid
  • Admissions are competitive

rice university

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Features

Located in Houston, TX, Rice University is a private institution and one of the best colleges for biology in the country. Biology majors at Rice concentrate in either Biochemistry and Cell Biology or Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and participate in multidisciplinary degree programs in Biological Science, Environmental Science, and Neuroscience.

Research is a large part of a biology major’s life at Rice and areas of focus include animal behavior, biochemistry, biophysics, cancer biology, cell biology, computational biology, conservation biology, developmental biology, ecology, evolution, genetics, microbiology, neurobiology, plant biology, signal transduction, structural biology, synthetic biology, and systems biology.

The faculty at Rice University are prominent members of diverse scientific organizations and are routinely recognized nationally and internationally for their groundbreaking research and teaching accomplishments.

Pros

  • Rice accepts the Common Application
  • The Rice Initiative offers free tuition for families that make $130,000 or less
  • Graduate, doctoral, and post-doctoral opportunities
  • An accelerated B.A./M.A./Ph.D. program is available
  • Students can choose from two minors in biology

Cons

  • Expensive tuition if you don’t qualify for financial aid
  • Competitive admissions

princeton university

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Features

Princeton University is a private institution in Princeton, NJ and the school organizes its Department of Molecular Biology into five research areas: Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Structural Biology; Cell Biology, Development, and Cancer; Genetics and Genomics; Microbiology and Biology; and Neuroscience.

Princeton’s collegial and interactive environment also makes it easy for Biology students to pursue interdisciplinary interests, take courses, and work with faculty in chemistry, computer science, EEB, engineering, neuroscience, physics, and the Woodrow Wilson School. Upon graduation, Biology majors from Princeton pursue a wide range of careers, including biomedical research, medicine, global health and policy, industry, education, and science writing.

Biology students at Princeton can also take advantage of the school’s summer research program in Molecular and Quantitative and Computation Biology (SURP). A collaboration between Princeton’s Department of Molecular Biology, the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, and the Genentech Foundation, SURP provides intensive laboratory research experiences to a select group of undergraduates chosen from a nationwide pool.

Pros

  • One of the “Big Three” Ivy League schools
  • The Coalition, Common, and Universal College Applications are all accepted
  • A generous financial aid program allows over 80 percent of undergraduates to graduate debt free
  • World-renowned facilities and instruments

Cons

  • Admissions are extremely competitive
  • Princeton has a high cost of attendance if you do not qualify for financial aid
  • Students not covered by a family health insurance policy must purchase one

duke university

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Features

Trinity College of Arts & Sciences at Duke University has long been one of the best colleges for biology in the country. Located in Durham, NC, Duke is an elite private institution where biology students combine traditional classroom experiences with hands-on experience in the field and the laboratory — often at innovative companies and organizations right next door in North Carolina's world-famous Research Triangle.

Biology majors at Duke can concentrate in one of 12 sub-fields, including Anatomy, Physiology and Biomechanics; Animal Behavior; Biochemistry; Cell and Molecular Biology; Ecology; Evolutionary Biology; Genetics; Genomics; Marine Biology; Neurobiology; Pharmacology; and Plant Biology.

Pros

  • Duke is often called an "Ivy Plus" school
  • Students are encouraged to study abroad as undergraduates
  • The Coalition and Common Applications are accepted at Duke

Cons

  • Extremely competitive admissions
  • Duke is an expensive school to attend if you don't qualify for financial aid

vanderbilt university

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Features

Located in Nashville, TN, Vanderbilt University is a private institution that offers undergraduates three different majors within biology: molecular and cell biology, ecology, evolution, and organismal biology. Regardless of a student's field choice, Vanderbilt places heavy emphasis on independent research that is completed alongside course work.

Focused areas of research include biological clocks, genome maintenance, small RNAs, protein trafficking, vector biology, symbiosis, social evolution, microbiomes, speciation, brain asymmetry, synapse formation and plasticity, cell migration, and touch, visual, and olfactory sensory systems.

Since the Biological Sciences Department shares resources, facilities, and core institutional programs with the Medical School, Vanderbilt biology students often collaborate across different research areas when synergies exist.

Pros

  • Vanderbilt accepts the Common Application
  • Biology is one of the most popular majors at Vanderbilt
  • Students can double major or minor in biology at Vanderbilt

Cons

  • Competitive admissions
  • Tuition is expensive if you don't qualify for financial aid

The Verdict

While each of the schools on our list has competitive admissions and world-renowned science departments, biology majors will quickly realize that research is a big part of being successful. Schools with large research facilities, like Johns Hopkins and Rice Universities, make it easier for students to pursue advanced projects that would not be possible at colleges with smaller labs. And, like many other majors, proximity to other innovative research organizations (such as Duke and Research Triangle or Stanford and Silicon Valley) can also be the difference between an undergraduate biology student leaving college with valuable experience and landing a job — or not.

When it comes time to make a final decision about which of the best colleges for biology you will enroll at, it is important to consider your own unique values, skills, personality traits, and interests. A school that is a perfect fit for one biology major might not be a good choice for someone else. Remember, education is an investment and you always want to maximize your return; choosing one of the best colleges for biology will open many opportunities after you graduate and embark on your career.

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