Best Master’s in Marine Biology and Biological Oceanography Programs

Want to study the fascinating life under the sea? Find out what colleges made our Best Master's in Marine Biology and Biological Oceanography list.

portrait of Nalea Ko
by Nalea Ko

Published July 27, 2022

Edited by Jared McMasters
Share this Article

Do you want to study at-risk species and learn about marine conservation? Out of 57,155 vertebrates — mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes — the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species identified roughly 10,437 threatened species in 2021. Earning a master's in marine biology and biological oceanography prepares graduates to work in academic research to promote marine conservation or find careers in business, consulting, policy, and teaching.

Master's level biological science degreesprepare graduates for top-level marine biology and oceanography jobs or fast-track them to a Ph.D. program. After graduation, they can work as marine biologists, who in 2021 made a median annual salary of $64,650, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

www.bestcolleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to start your journey?

The average master's level STEM degree takes two years. Some online degrees can be completed in 18 months since they have shortened semesters, which means they might cost less. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average public graduate school costs $12,410 a year. Private schools charge $26,597 a year. That said, the true cost of college can often cost more.

On this page, you'll learn about the best online and on-campus master's in marine biology and biological oceanography degrees and how you can go to college without going into debt.

Our Top Pick

University of Southern California - Los Angeles, California

Why It's #1: Based minutes from downtown Los Angeles, USC landed at No. 1 on our Best Master's in Marine Biology and Biological Oceanography list. USC's in-state graduate tuition ranks among the highest at $46,272 a year, but this school offers about 69% of students financial aid. USC features among the most selective admissions and highest graduation rates in the nation. It boasts an 11% admission rate and a 92% graduate rate. Students also get personalized attention with a student-to-teacher ratio of 9-to-1.

Read Our Rankings Methodology

Best Accredited Master's in Marine Biology and Biological

Rankings compiled by the BestColleges Ranking Team

Is your school on this list? Get the BestColleges ranking seal.

#1

University of Southern California

School Information
Location Los Angeles, California
Admission Rate 11%
Graduation Rate 92%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 17% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

On-Campus | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In-State | $2,035

Out-of-State | $2,035

Credits to Graduate

32

Program Information

Program Accreditation | N/A

USC's online master's in marine biology and biological oceanography degree offers small courses with cohorts of 8-15 students and a research-focused curriculum that prepares students to pursue a Ph.D.

Graduates work with a faculty advisor on their research that includes coastal water quality, the adaptation of marine organisms, and the conservation of marine resources. For two semesters, graduate students also work as teaching assistants. 

Applicants need at least a 3.0 GPA and one year of introductory biology, molecular biology, biochemistry, general chemistry, and organic chemistry. Candidates also must complete pre-interviews.

View School Profile
#2

Northeastern University

School Information
Location Boston, Massachusetts
Admission Rate 18%
Graduation Rate 89%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes New England Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 10% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

On-Campus | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In-State | $1,490 per credit

Out-of-State | $1,490 per credit

Credits to Graduate

40

Program Information

Program Accreditation | N/A

Northeastern's 15-month master's in marine biology and biological oceanography degree focuses on research, conservation, and policy. 

Courses include biology of corals, marine birds and mammals, conservation and restoration, marine spatial planning, and diving research methods. Students also complete an internship and independent research project. 

Learning takes place in the lab and field with the option of studying in New England, the Caribbean, or the Pacific Northwest. Students can also earn their scientific research diver certification.

About 20 students get admitted every fall. The admissions office requires a 3.0 GPA, a bachelor's degree from an accredited college, and completed prerequisites (biostatistics, marine biology, and ecology). 

View School Profile
#3

William & Mary

School Information
Location Williamsburg, Virginia
Admission Rate 38%
Graduation Rate 90%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 5% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

On-Campus | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Annual Cost

In-State | $16,776

Out-of-State | $35,136

Credits to Graduate

36

Program Information

Program Accreditation | N/A

W&M's master's in marine biology and biological oceanography program features a 42-acre Gloucester Point campus on the York River and mouth of Sarah Creek and with more than 40 research vessels. 

The two-year program offers interdisciplinary studies of oceanic, coastal, and estuarine systems. About 1-3 months before graduating, students have a seminar presentation and thesis defense. Every student reports to a major professor and an advisory committee from all School of Marine Science faculty. Promising students can petition to jump directly into a Ph.D. program.

To apply, candidates need a bachelor's degree from an accredited school with a strong science background.

View School Profile
#4

University of Miami

School Information
Location Coral Gables, Florida
Admission Rate 27%
Graduation Rate 83%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 22% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

On-Campus | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In-State | $2,213

Out-of-State | $2,213

Credits to Graduate

30

Program Information

Program Accreditation | N/A

UM's Rosenstiel School features six Ph.D. and master's programs, including the master's in marine biology and biological oceanography degree. 

Master's students have research opportunities to study coral reefs, biological oceanography, and marine biology. The school's research facilities include the National Center for Coral Reef Research hatchery, a Rescue-a-Reef citizen science initiative, and the National Resource for Aplysia — the only facility to culture California sea hares. 

Any bachelor-degree holder can apply, but most applicants usually have undergraduate degrees in biological sciences. Applicants also need a background in chemistry, physics, calculus, and basic biological sciences.

View School Profile
#5

Texas A & M University-College Station

School Information
Location College Station, Texas
Admission Rate 58%
Graduation Rate 82%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 14% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

On-Campus | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In-State | $2,675

Out-of-State | $5,852

Credits to Graduate

36

Program Information

Program Accreditation | N/A

Texas A&M offers a master's in marine biology and biological oceanography degree that lets students earn a license as a third mate through its Maritime Academy Corps of Midshipmen program. 

Degree-seekers customize their education with electives in coastal wetlands ecology, conservation, fisheries biology, mammalogy, and vertebrate zoology. They can choose from a thesis and non-thesis option. 

Applicants must have a bachelor's degree. They must submit a statement of purpose, a resume, and three letters of recommendation.

View School Profile
#6

University of San Diego

School Information
Location San Diego, California
Admission Rate 49%
Graduation Rate 81%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 8% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

On-Campus | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In-State | $1,555

Out-of-State | $1,555

Credits to Graduate

28-31

Program Information

Program Accreditation | N/A

USD's master's in marine biology and biological oceanography degree offers tracks in marine science and environmental science. 

The degree requires a thesis but lets students tailor their education with electives in maps and spatial data analysis, geographic information systems, invertebrate zoology, and biology of fishes. 

Applicants must submit three letters of recommendation from professors and a personal statement. They also need at least a 3.0 GPA and complete the prerequisites with labs.

View School Profile
#7

University of South Carolina-Columbia

School Information
Location Columbia, South Carolina
Admission Rate 69%
Graduation Rate 77%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 32% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

On-Campus | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In-State | $572

Out-of-State | $1,240

Credits to Graduate

30

Program Information

Program Accreditation | N/A

UofSC features a master's in marine biology and biological oceanography degree that offers thesis or reviewed manuscript options. Students work with an advisory committee, the Marine Science Graduate Studies Committee, and the Marine Science Program Director to complete their thesis or reviewed manuscript.

Degree seekers can work in a faculty member's laboratory studying hydrogeology, phytoplankton, aquaponics, or heritage landrace propagation. Students in the program have a faculty sponsor to serve as their research advisor. 

Admission requirements include a minimum 3.5 GPA, GRE scores, and three letters of recommendation. All students automatically qualify for teaching and research assistantships.

View School Profile
#8

University of Alaska Fairbanks

School Information
Location Fairbanks, Alaska
Admission Rate 76%
Graduation Rate 35%
Accreditation Yes Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
Percent Online Enrollment 68% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

On-Campus | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In-State | $540

Out-of-State | $1,100

Credits to Graduate

30

Program Information

Program Accreditation | N/A

Students enrolled in UAF's master's in marine biology and biological oceanography degree take advantage of the location in Fairbanks, Alaska, to gain unique research and field experience. 

The thesis-based program requires a field course with options to study in Kasitsna Bay Marine Lab near Seldovia, Alaska or take scuba diving field trips to study kelp forest ecology. Other research facilities include the Seward Marine Center, the Juneau Center, the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center, and marine vessels.

Prospective students must submit an application and GRE scores. UAF also offers a Ph.D. in marine biology.

View School Profile
#9

Montclair State University

School Information
Location Montclair, New Jersey
Admission Rate 76%
Graduation Rate 67%
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 31% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

On-Campus | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In-State | $760

Out-of-State | $760

Credits to Graduate

32

Program Information

Program Accreditation | N/A

Montclair's master's in marine biology and biological oceanography degree offers interdisciplinary studies of biology, geology, chemistry, and physics.

The core curriculum covers ecology, environmental geoscience, geochemistry, water resource management, and environmental law. Over two years, students work toward completing a thesis.

The graduate school, which offers rolling admissions, requires applicants to hold a bachelor's degree. They also must submit an application form with a fee, two letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and transcripts. GRE scores are optional. 

Montclair also offers a dual bachelor's and master's program that lets students graduate with two degrees in five years.

View School Profile
#10

University of New England

School Information
Location Biddeford, Maine
Admission Rate 84%
Graduation Rate 68%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes New England Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 47% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

On-Campus | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Annual Cost

In-State | $37,390

Out-of-State | $37,390

Credits to Graduate

36

Program Information

Program Accreditation | N/A

UNE master's in marine biology and biological oceanography degree seekers can graduate in 2-5 years. 

Students have access to seawater facilities, including the Arthur O. Girard Marine Science Center, four research vessels, and nearby Ram Island. To graduate, marine biology students need to complete and defend their thesis.  

UNE also offers a combined bachelor's and master's program in marine sciences that takes five years to finish.

View School Profile

Popular Online Marine Biology and Biological Oceanography Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

How We Rank Schools

Each year, the BestColleges Ranking Team evaluates hundreds of programs to produce our annual Best Master's in Marine Biology and Biological Oceanography ranking. In 2022, the team sourced the most recent data available from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and College Navigator, both of which are hosted by the National Center for Education Statistics. We identified 32 schools that qualify for our ranking list based on the following criteria.

To ensure the accuracy and quality of our final ranked list, the ranking team reviewed each qualifying school to ensure it met the criteria for our ranking, and then applied our proprietary ranking methodology to identify the best schools offering this program in the nation. Each school is ranked based on a formula measuring academic factors (60%) and affordability (40%).

The BestColleges Ranking Team is made up of contributors from our data science and product management teams. These contributors operate independently from the editorial team. All BestColleges school rankings are produced by the ranking team and are free of editorial influence. Read our Editorial Policy and Standards to learn more.

Frequently Asked Questions About Marine Biology and Biological Oceanography Programs

Is a master's in marine biology and biological oceanography worth it?

Yes, if you have a passion and dedication to marine ecology. A master's in marine biology and biological oceanography can help you to secure research, teaching, and policy positions.

Students learn in labs, classrooms, and in the field. They study important topics such as the human impacts on the coastal environment, plankton ecology, and climatology. Many of the nation's best master marine biology and biological oceanography programs operate out of schools situated in prime locations near the Pacific and Atlantic — and they may also offer international travel.

Colleges also offer online marine biology and biological oceanography degrees. Students can take remote courses that let students study from home, a convenience that benefits busy parents or working professionals.

What can I do with a master's in marine biology and biological oceanography?

A master's in marine biology and biological oceanography degree gives students the science background and research skills to work as marine biologists and researchers for state, national, and private environmental agencies. Graduates also apply their research skills and knowledge of marine biology to work in consulting, tech, business, and politics.

A master's in marine biology and biological oceanography degree prepares students for the rigorous research and writing required in a Ph.D. program. Colleges such as William & Mary even offer accelerated Ph.D. pathways for master's students who show promise in the field.

Are marine biology and biological oceanography graduates in demand?

While the BLS projects a slower than average employment growth for marine biologists, it projects the addition of roughly 1,700 positions each year from 2020-2030. About 40% of zoologists and wildlife biologists work in state government and 23% work for the federal government. They also work for consulting companies, colleges, and research and development.

Environmental scientists and specialists will see a projected employment growth of 8% in that decade, according to the BLS. During that time, employers should add about 9,400 openings each year.

Overall, life, physical and social science jobs should grow by 8%, with about 113,800 positions being added to the workforce in the next 10 years.

How much money can I make with a master's in marine biology and biological oceanography?

What you make after earning a master's in marine biology and biological oceanography degree depends on the job and your professional background. Graduates can become sustainability consultants, CEOs, program officers, professors, researchers, policy analysts, and marine biologists.

Professionals working in life, physical, and social sciences made a median annual salary of $72,740 in 2021, according to BLS. Marine biologists made the most working for the federal government, where they earned a median annual wage of $81,890. Wages often increase as marine biologists advance in their careers and contribute scientific research, with the top 10% making more than $103,900.

Environmental scientists and specialists earned a median annual salary of $76,530 in 2021, with the top 10% making more than $129,070.

What are the highest-paying jobs with a master's in marine biology and biological oceanography?

Marine biologists can earn a median annual salary between $81,890-$61,780, depending on where they work — well above the national average salary of $55,630.

Graduates of master's in marine biology and biological oceanography programs can also become research scientists who, according to PayScale, made an average of $84,290 a year as of June 2022. Environmental consultants earned an average annual salary of $60,180.

Another career possibility for marine biology graduates: college professors. Postsecondary teachers earned a median annual salary of $79,640 in 2021, according to the BLS. Marine science postsecondary teachers earned a median annual salary of $98,070.

Feature Image: Giordano Cipriani / The Image Bank / Getty Images

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Compare your school options.

View the most relevant school for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to find your college home.