What Is a Biology Degree Like in the US?

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By Shorelight Team
Last updated on August 8, 2023

Why should you study biology at a US college or university? A biology degree program can offer a wide variety of career possibilities, both in the US and abroad.

Two female international students in a US university lab look at a petri dish for their biology class

What is biology? Biology is the study of life and living organisms. This field of natural science can include human, animal, or plant life and can range from an entire organism and its environment to its individual cells, molecules, and genetic makeup. 

For all international students who want to study biology in the US, biology and bioscience majors can work toward a bachelor or master of science degree. Earning a biology degree allows graduates to do research for universities, government agencies, or private companies in medical, environmental, and other industries — and there are many other career paths for biology majors, too. 

Read on to learn more about studying biology in the US. 

Studying Biology

There are many types of biology degrees in specializations 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 more. Some undergraduate students pursue double majors or interdisciplinary majors, such as biology and psychology, biology and computer science, biology and chemistry, and biology and public health.

Different specialties have different academic requirements, but all center around math, science, chemistry, and biology. Students spend time in the classroom as well as in a research laboratory, working independently and with lab partners to do research projects, conduct studies, and present findings. 

Most bachelor of science degree programs begin with general introductory courses on the basics of cells and organisms, with other foundational courses in cell and molecular biology, population biology and ecology, organismal biology, genetics, chemistry, and physics. Further along in the study of biology, students take upper-level coursework in their intended field from microbiology to organic chemistry. Some students choose to earn a bachelor of arts degree instead, which also incorporates liberal arts coursework.

A typical freshman-year course load might include classes in introductory biology, introductory chemistry, mathematics, English writing and composition, and other general education courses or electives. Like most university-level courses, these may include multiple exams, assignments, and final projects required in order to progress into more advanced classes each semester.

Gaining Internship and Work Experience as a Biology Major

Many students work at internships to build up their resumes before graduation. For biology majors, this can be in corporate or academic labs, field research, hospitals, and the like. Career-building work experience is available for ambitious students: the biology department at the University of Utah, for example, keeps an updated website of off-campus internships available, and Louisiana State University regularly compiles research experience opportunities for science-major undergraduates. The Career Center at the University of Kansas has a section devoted to resources and opportunities for students studying the biological sciences; Ole Miss has a similar resource especially for biomedical sciences. 

Of course, you do not have to research opportunities on your own. Many Shorelight universities offer a Career Accelerator Program (CAP) that prepares students for professional opportunities while they study. CAP includes resume prep, finding internship opportunities, and job interviewing skills. This valuable training helps students prepare for entering the workforce after graduation. 

After graduation, many biology majors spend a few years working before deciding whether to pursue an advanced degree in biology, such as an MD or PhD. Potential employers look for a combination of academic and internship experience from biology majors, so developing both is key to being a competitive candidate for top biology jobs and graduate programs.

Careers in Biology

One of the many benefits of getting a degree in biology are the varied career opportunities available to graduates. Some job titles that biology majors pursue include biomedical engineer, genetic counselor, microbiologist, environmental scientist, educator, forest ranger, botanist, nurse practitioner, biochemist, food scientist, biological technician, health communications specialist, health educator, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, and many more. 

An entry-level biologist earns an average starting salary around $40,000. One of the top-paying jobs for biology majors is for microbiologists, who earn an average salary of around $70,000 to start, and can earn upwards of $129,000 when employed by a research institution, medicine manufacturer, or government agency. Environmental scientists, along with agricultural and food scientists, are also high-paying professions, as are careers in medicine, dentistry, and pharmacy, which are also biology-based fields.

With a projected growth rate of 16% from 2016 to 2026, a biology degree is an in-demand skillset that can offer steady employment in the US and abroad. 

Speak with a Shorelight advisor today to find the best place to earn your biology degree in the US >