What Can You Do with a Biology Degree: Ultimate Guide

​Biology is one of the most diverse areas of scientific study, and it is also a specialty that’s in high demand in a variety of fields, from education to opportunities to help to create innovative pharmaceuticals and other products. If you are considering specializing in biology or you are already working your biology degree, you have likely asked “What can you do with a biology degree?” This article highlights 10 cool careers that can put your biology skills to the test.

What Can You Do with a Biology Degree?

Biology is the science of life, and the skills you learn earning a biology degree are fundamental in many potential career paths, including professions in the healthcare field, environmental projects, food science, and academic prospects such as teaching or writing. When considering the careers on this list, think about what aspect of biology you enjoy the most and let that help guide you as you search for the job that would fit you best.

​Ten Cool Careers That Will Put Your Skills to the Test

Physician or Surgeon

So what can you do with a biology degree? A go-to answer is become a physician or surgeon. This is understandable as physicians and surgeons are respected and well paid. They play a vital role in improving the overall health of the populace and the need for physicians and surgeons is always high.

However, to become a physician or surgeon requires a lot more than just a bachelors degree. Years of medical school and then residency is needed, and the work itself can be difficult and present situations that might make some uncomfortable. Physicians and surgeons are also among the most highly stressful jobs, so they are not for everyone.

That being said, a biology degree is a great place to start when considering a career as a physician or surgeon. There are other careers in the healthcare and medical fields such as physician assistants, laboratory technicians, and pharmacist that are not as lucrative as being a physician or surgeon, but they aren’t as stressful and they still require the skills one learns earning a biology degree.

​​Microbiologists

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Microbiologists are scientists that study microscopic organisms such as algae, bacteria, and fungi. Most careers in microbiology only require a bachelors degree and there are several fields where microbiology is important. Most microbiologists work in the medical industry, conducting research in a lab setting on different diseases or looking to microscopic organisms to find potential treatments.

This is not the only area of research for microbiologists, however as there are several industries that use microscopic organisms. A microbiologist can find lucrative work in food science or even manufacturing.

If you are considering a career as a microbiologist, focusing on research and writing is important. Research takes up of a microbiologist’s time, but writing is of equal importance. A microbiologist must be able to write about his or her research and also write grant proposals to help fund research projects.

​​Environmental Scientist

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Environmental science is an important interdisciplinary field, and biology plays an important part in it. Other aspects of environmental science include: atmospheric science, environmental chemistry, geosciences, and ecology. A degree in biology would be most helpful in ecology, but those considering a career as an environmental scientist would be well served by studying some related fields such as geology, chemistry and meteorology.

Environmental scientists study the environment and work towards producing solutions to environmental problems such as pollution and global warming. As with microbiology, to become an environmental scientist requires only a bachelors degree.

This is a growing industry as concern for the environment and the potential damage mankind has caused, and is continuing to cause, to it continues to grow. An environmental scientist performs a variety of research focused on protecting the environment and enhancing the health of the biosphere.

​​Food Science and Technology

When one asks “What can you do with a biology degree?” a career in food science is not often expected as a first response, but a profession in food science and technology can be lucrative as the field is growing. This is a good field to consider if you want to make a real difference in the lives of both people and animals. A food scientist with a biology degree can work to develop new products or sources of food, preserve food, solve agricultural problems, and more.

Many technological breakthroughs in the world’s food supply over the last 200 years have made our food safer and healthier, increasing the shelf life and preventing contamination with microorganisms. Modern food scientists continue this work today, and with advancements in microbiology, scientists are working to create new sources of food that are more environmentally sustainable. A career in agricultural or food science requires only a bachelor’s degree and offers some of the highest entry-level salaries for any career that requires a biology degree.

​​Marine Biologist

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Marine biology is often one of the first areas of biological study that most people think about when they consider the question, “what can you do with a biology degree?” This is more than understandable as it combines the allure of the sea with a love of sea creatures. Given the environmental importance of the oceans, marine biology is not only an interesting career but can be an important one in preserving our environment.

Marine biology offers a multitude of different aspects of specialization depending on the organisms studied and even where those organisms live. Marine biologists play a part in the fishery industry as consultants in the energy industry and in environmental protection. A strong background in research, both in the lab and in the field, will help those with a biology degree get a job in marine biology. Volunteer work, research experience, and past work with animals can also be key in finding a career as there is a lot of competition in the field of marine biology.

​​Attorney

It might surprise you that “attorney” is an answer the question “what can you do with a biology degree?” but there is a great need for attorneys with a scientific background. The greatest need in the legal profession for attorneys with biology degrees is in intellectual property, specifically regarding patents. Securing a patent on a new drug, biotechnological product or medical instrument is one of the most important aspects in their creation. An attorney with a background in biology will better understand the underlying science of the patents and better to secure it for the researcher who invented it.

Other areas in which a biology degree might come in handy as an attorney is in medical and environmental litigation. Litigation focused on pharmaceuticals and environmental damage can sometimes require expert testimony. An attorney with a biology degree is in a better position to understand, question, or refute the testimony and evidence needed in these types of trials.

That said, as with physicians and surgeons, a career as an attorney requires an advanced degree. While it is a lucrative career path, it might not have as great a growth prospect as other careers. There are a lot of lawyers already, and law schools are reporting record attendances, but a background in biology might make you stand out from the crowd.

​​Science and Health Educator

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Teaching might not be the most lucrative of careers, but it is a rewarding occupation for someone with a biology degree. As a teacher, you’ll help shape the minds of the next generation. This is an excellent career path for those that love teaching or spending time around children. As with many other career choices, there are many specialties in education. You can find a teaching job at the secondary or high school level, become a professor and teach at a college or university, or become a health educator in a non-academic field.

To teach K-12, you will need to complete an education degree in addition to your biology degree. The exact requirements will differ from state to state, but the university where you study biology will have resources available to find the exact requirements for the state where you want to look for a job. Becoming a professor requires higher degrees, but also offers the opportunity for more research and writing than teaching K-12.

​Pharmaceutical and Medical Sales Representative

​This is another often overlooked answer to the question “what can you do with a biology degree?” Pharmaceutical medical sales representatives sell medicine and medical supplies to physicians, clinics, hospitals and care homes, and a strong knowledge of biology and chemistry is important to help a sales representative communicate the benefits and risks of the products. A bachelors degree is generally required to become a pharmaceutical and medical sales representative. This is a good job for an outgoing person, especially one with a charismatic attitude and the ability to persuade others.

​​Nurse Practitioner and Physician Assistant

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​​​Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are two of the most in-demand jobs in the medical field. They are often at the front line of healthcare service providers. These jobs require some advanced training though not as much as a physician or surgeon. A degree in biology will provide an excellent springboard for that advanced study. Besides a degree in biology, a strong understanding of human anatomy, physiology, and the biological systems will help in both the advanced study required and on the job.

As with a physician and surgeon, these jobs can be high stress and deal with situations that might not be comfortable for everyone. That said, they are both lucrative positions and are expected to only increase in demand. These are excellent options for people who want to get into the medical field but do not want to commit to the extensive educational and residential requirements of becoming a physician or surgeon.

​​Writer

​​Writing is one of the other unexpected answers to the question, “what can you do with the biology degree?” but there are several types of writing where a biology degree will aid the writer. The most obvious of these is scientific writing. There are several publications that have a focus on science, and a degree in biology might help you write science fiction as well.

If you are considering using your biology degree to pursue a career as a writer, a solid understanding of the English language is important. For more scientific writing, a background in research will give you experience in writing reports and make you a more attractive candidate. For those that might consider a writing career in fiction, creative writing courses will help.

​Conclusion

​Whether you are considering studying biology, are currently working toward your biology degree, or you already have one, we hope our list of 10 cool careers that will put your biology skills to the test is answered the question, “what can you do with a biology degree?” and gave you some inspiration for a future career path.

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

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).

college degree in biology

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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.