An online biology degree provides essential knowledge and skills that graduates can apply to either an entry-level career or graduate program. The degree boasts many opportunities for specialization, including concentrations wherein students can prepare for an in-demand career. Learners without prior college experience typically earn an online bachelor's degree in biology in four years and can graduate in just three years if they take courses at an accelerated rate.
Besides in-depth biology courses, online biology bachelor's degrees include coursework in other natural sciences and provide students with a well-rounded liberal arts education. The following sections describe the biology field itself, potential careers, typical program requirements, and how to select the best program for you.
What Is Biology?
Biology is a natural science that investigates how living organisms function and interact. The field encompasses many related disciplines, and scientists in multiple specialties must understand facets of biology to succeed in their jobs. Since the Industrial Revolution, advances in biology have led to modern medicine, which has saved hundreds of millions of lives. Many professionals earn an online bachelor of science degree in biology with intentions of inventing a new vaccine, perfecting a medical treatment, or developing a new crop that grows more food. Achieving one of these goals may require years of additional training or an advanced degree.
Outside of the laboratory and university lecture hall, biologists play an essential role in society by educating policy members and the public on the importance of the latest advancements and discoveries in the field. They advocate for environmental protection, better nutrition, and many other crucial initiatives.
With so many ways to use an online biology degree, all prospective degree-seekers interested in science should consider an undergraduate biology program.
Visit our program page to learn more about how online biology degrees prepare learners for fulfilling careers that can make a positive impact on people's lives.
What You Can Do With a Bachelor's in Biology
Researching potential jobs prior to enrolling may be beneficial, as there are a variety of employment options. Determining a career path will help you select programs with coursework designed to prepare you for your chosen profession.
- Environmental Scientist or Specialist
Environmental scientists and specialists analyze ecosystem health and advocate for environmental protection. In the field, they collect and analyze data and, using the research skills they developed in the classroom, craft technical documents detailing their findings.
Median Annual Salary: $71,130
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 8%
- Occupational Health and Safety Specialist or Technician
These specialists and technicians ensure that workplaces are safe for employees. If they discover a hazard, they work with company managers to implement solutions. They also educate employees and employers on safety best practices.
Median Annual Salary: $69,370
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 6%
- High School Teacher
High school biology teachers must plan lessons, grade assignments, and communicate with parents about student progress. Many teachers participate in extracurricular activities by mentoring clubs or coaching sports. Most states require biology teachers to hold a bachelor's in biology.
Median Annual Salary: $60,320
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 4%
- Biological Technician
ajor testing labs employ biological technicians to test samples like blood, cultures, and agricultural products using advanced equipment. After running tests, technicians write detailed reports for their employers and their employers' clients. A degree in biology prepares graduates to safely work with biological samples and properly interpret scientific results.
Median Annual Salary: $44,500
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 7%
Our career page can provide you with excellent information on how to obtain your dream job. Some careers may require additional education or training.
What to Expect in a Bachelor's in Biology Program
Online biology degrees generally require approximately 120 credits to graduate, one-third of which typically relate to the major. In the other 80 credits, students take general education courses and can usually complete a minor or second major. Many online biology degrees also allow learners to choose a concentration in a biology subfield (e.g., marine biology). In their junior or senior year, students complete a capstone project. Capstone project requirements vary among programs but can include a graduate-level course or research project.
With so many careers that biology graduates can pursue, degree-seekers should start researching career paths as soon as possible. Some careers (e.g., physician) require 2-4 years of additional education. Other positions may ask applicants to possess relevant work experience. For this reason, distance learners should research internship opportunities in their community.
Online biology degrees often require the following five courses or similar classes. Course titles and academic content can vary among programs.
- General Biology
- This foundational course introduces students to many biology topics, including DNA, RNA, and how cells function. Most programs require that students complete a general biology course in the first semester.
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Another introductory course, anatomy and physiology concerns the human body's systems (e.g., muscles, the skeleton). Students planning to enter medical school usually take multiple courses on this topic.
- Organic Chemistry
- Organic chemistry describes how chemical reactions drive living organisms. Typically, biology students take two organic chemistry courses. Before starting organic chemistry, students must first pass an introductory course in chemistry.
- In a genetics course, learners analyze the science behind the ways living organisms pass down traits. Course topics include Gregor Mendel's contribution to the field, replication, and gene mapping.
- General Physics
- This course provides students insight into how physical laws influence living organisms. Learners apply algebra and trigonometry concepts to gain a better understanding of physical laws.
Jackson Higginbottom is a first-year master of public health (MPH) candidate in social and behavioral sciences at the Yale School of Public Health (YSPH). Jackson is originally from Oklahoma, where he studied biology as an undergraduate and worked with marginalized populations in various clinics within Oklahoma City. Prior to coming to Yale, he worked with a nonprofit organization in Guatemala to provide sustainable healthcare to K'iche' communities.
Jackson currently serves as secretary of the board of directors at Fundación Manos Juntas, the largest free medical clinic in Oklahoma City. Jackson also researches evidence-based approaches to improving mental health and reducing stigma at the ESTEEM Laboratory at Yale, and he works as a research assistant at Yale's Community Alliance for Research and Engagement (CARE). He is a representative on the YSPH Student Diversity Committee through his role on the Out in Public board. Jackson is interested in understanding how social interactions impact personal and community health behaviors.
- Why did you choose to pursue a bachelor's in biology? Was this a field that always interested you?
Ever since I can remember, I wanted to become a doctor. I had the notion that the only path to medical school was through a biology program. I had always excelled in the sciences growing up, so I did not have any second thoughts about pursuing this degree. The deeper I got into my core courses, the more fascinated I was by the intricacies of life. Despite the difficulty of my classes, I was always able to appreciate how necessary these fields were to my future career.
- What would you say are some of the most crucial skills you gained in your biology degree program? How do those skills apply directly to your day-to-day work?
I believe perseverance and the willingness to make mistakes are some of the most crucial skills I gained during my biology degree program. Many biology programs have a reputation for being "cutthroat" due to the misguided belief that medical schools require a perfect GPA, recommendation letters from esteemed professors, and an exorbitant amount of research experience. This belief is perpetuated by professors who weed out students they deem unworthy of medical school due to their inability to use the appropriate number of sig figs (significant figures) in scientific calculations or poor pipetting skills in the lab.
However, my school encouraged us to make mistakes in the laboratory by having a hands-off approach to the various exercises we were conducting. This enabled us as students to gain a better understanding of the material and mechanisms at work and simultaneously develop problem-solving skills. I learned that it is okay to make mistakes, but only if you can recognize and address those mistakes before moving forward.
I am currently working in the ESTEEM Laboratory at Yale, which researches evidence-based approaches to improving mental health and reducing stigma. Our research involves human participants, which requires extreme attention to detail and confidentiality to minimize the risk of harming our participants. If I were to make a mistake and try covering it up, it could harm our participants, endanger our research, and impact my career. However, if I were to make a mistake and reported it immediately, I would be able to minimize any damage that had already been done, protect our research, and save my career. We are human; it is okay to make mistakes.
- What did you learn from your experiences working with marginalized populations in Oklahoma City? How did that shape the rest of your career?
It was within clinics, like Fundación Manos Juntas and the Lighthouse Medical Clinic, that I was able to connect with patients from many different backgrounds and hear their stories. On several occasions, I sat next to healthcare providers explaining to patients how their illness is merely a consequence of an unhealthy lifestyle or poor behaviors. I have since learned that many diseases -- chronic and acute -- could have been prevented through proper health education.
Unfortunately, not every population receives the same education and support with regards to their health. These inequities are magnified upon examination of the health disparities that plague minority groups and low-income populations. As a pre-med biology student, I was not exposed to these issues in my formal biology education. My biology professors often frowned upon the amount of time I spent volunteering in free clinics. However, without these experiences, there would be a large gap in my understanding of health.
Recognizing and understanding the social and structural determinants of health changed my career path, at least temporarily, from medical school to public health. I would not be at the Yale School of Public Health if I had listened to my professors and stopped volunteering in my community. Each patient story challenged my misconceptions, expanded my mind, and instilled a passion for working with vulnerable populations.
- What advice would you give to biology students who are debating whether to earn their degrees online or on campus?
I would urge students to determine how much accountability they require to actually complete the readings and assignments. Some students need the competitive or collaborative atmosphere of on-campus biology programs. If I had chosen an online degree as a freshman in undergrad, I am not certain I would be where I am today. This is because I had not developed essential skills, like time management or how to organize my classes (much less myself).
- What advice would you give to biology students who want to get the most experience they can out of their studies? What types of extracurricular activities, internships, etc. should they consider during college?
Regardless of the format you choose, do all of the readings. Get involved with extracurriculars and gain leadership experience. Get involved in your local community and attempt to make a difference in an area you are passionate about.
It is okay to not be the stereotypical biology student. Take classes outside of your department and make friends in different fields. Take chances and be willing to make mistakes. Take care of your health, first and foremost. I always suggest students make an appointment to see a counselor at the beginning of each semester, just as you would get a checkup with your doctor. It is good to touch base with these resources and to feel comfortable with accessing them before ever needing them.
- Any final thoughts for us?
Try new things, especially if you think you won't like them. I never thought I would enjoy formal research, much less social sciences, but here I am studying social and behavioral sciences at the Yale School of Public Health, working in two research labs, and learning SAS and R statistical programming.
How to Choose a Bachelor's in Biology Program
All online biology degrees you apply to should possess regional accreditation, which demonstrates adherence to quality standards. There are six regional accrediting agencies around the country.
Although not all the best programs boast programmatic accreditation, pay close attention to those with accreditation from the American Institute of Biological Sciences or the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. These agencies employ experts to review programs' curricula. Finally, if a master's or doctoral program in biology holds accreditation from either of these agencies, you can infer that the school's bachelor's program also possesses excellent academic qualities.
Here are some other factors to keep in mind.
- Laboratory Coursework: Most online biology programs either send students material so they can complete laboratory experiments at home or ask them to attend in-person labs at a local school.
- Internships: Online schools for biology degrees should connect students with internship opportunities. An internship can make degree-seekers an attractive graduate school or job applicant.
- Student Services: Even experienced online learners need student support services. Before applying to a program, research its tutoring, career, and IT services that help online students succeed.
Bachelor's in Biology Program Admissions
Colleges and universities that offer an online biology degree want applicants who possess honed academic, time-management, and technology skills. The three prerequisites below represent these programs' common application requirements. In some cases, schools may offer conditional admission to applicants who fail to meet one requirement but excel in another area.
- GPA: Colleges and universities often use a high school GPA cutoff to attract only the most qualified applicants. Applicants with an excellent GPA may receive a scholarship or admission to an honors program.
- Recommendation Letters: Typically, online bachelor's degrees in biology require 2-3 recommendation letters. At least one letter should come from a high school science teacher.
- Essay: Nearly all colleges and universities ask freshman applicants to submit a personal statement or essay on an assigned topic. If possible, prospective biology students should discuss their passion for the subject, high school coursework, or career plans.
- Many schools allow undergraduate applicants to use the Common App, which allows you to apply to multiple schools using a single application. Even so, completing an application may take up to one week or longer, especially if schools require essays or personal statements.
- Your high school guidance office must send official transcripts to colleges and universities to which you apply.
- Letters of Recommendation
- Most schools ask undergraduate applicants to submit 2-3 letters of recommendation, preferably from high school teachers. Depending on the school, you may be able to submit a letter from a work supervisor. Ask your recommenders a few weeks in advance of the deadline.
- Test Scores
- Schools usually require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. Though schools typically do not maintain a minimum required score, they often offer information about accepted students' average scores.
- Application Fee
- Budget $50-$65 to apply to each school. Some institutions offer fee waivers to students who demonstrate financial need.
Resources for Bachelor's in Biology Students
This list of internships is updated regularly. You can filter results by location, company, and job type. Consider using this resource if your college or university does not offer undergraduate internships.
ActionBioscience offers a host of scholarly articles on all things biological science. Reading such content ensures that biology students are aware of new developments in the field from reputable professionals and professors.
Khan Academy offers a wealth of free resources for biology students, including biology reviews, quizzes, and progression trackers to monitor your performance on the site.