Online Bachelor's Degrees in Biology
Online bachelor's degrees in biology are designed to prepare students for careers in the biological sciences by building a strong foundation in cellular, ecological, evolutionary, molecular, and organismal biology. Many students choose to major in biology because they are planning to go into a medical field such as veterinary medicine, pharmacology, or nursing.
Several different biology courses are included in the curriculum, and in some programs, students can choose to specialize in one particular area of biology. Prerequisites often include calculus, physics, and statistics. There are also electives offered in various subject areas, such as psychology and physiology. Students can choose to structure their degree program in a way that leads to further medical and graduate study.
Online bachelor's degrees in biology are designed to prepare students for careers in the biological sciences by building a strong foundation in cellular, ecological, evolutionary, molecular, and organismal biology.
The bachelor’s curriculum combines content from biology, biochemistry, and chemistry. Coursework covers topics such as anatomy and physiology, cell and molecular biology, and organic chemistry. Bachelor's programs usually also require completion of a capstone course. Students may increase their future job prospects by gaining laboratory experience through internships in a biological, medical, research, or other approved facility.
How Long Does It Take To Earn a Biology Degree Online?
Online biology programs are designed to be completed in four years of full-time study, although many students take longer. Whether students are pursuing a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts in Biology, they will generally need to complete 120-126 credit hours. Typically, half of these credits are for general education courses and the other half are for biology courses.
Students may find it helpful to look at the graduation rates at individual schools and programs to gauge how long it might take to earn their degree.
Students may find it helpful to look at the graduation rates at individual schools and programs to gauge how long it might take to earn their degree. These rates indicate how many students graduate within a given time frame. Many graduation rates measure how many students have completed their degree after 6 years of enrolling in a bachelor's program. You can look for this information on individual school websites or by using the National Center for Education Statistics' College Navigator tool.
Which Is Better—a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science in Biology?
The right choice depends on what the career goals and interests of individual students are. While focused on biology, a BA also includes liberal arts classes. If you aren’t sure what you want to do with your degree, this may be a better choice for you, as the skills learned will be applicable in a wide range of careers. A BS is more focused on science and math classes, and will be good preparation for a technical or specified career path.
Common Courses in Online Biology Programs
Most biology programs encompass a wide range of fields and disciplines, from humanities courses, such as speech communications and world literature, to math courses, including calculus and statistics. Students might enroll in a Bachelor of Science degree or a Bachelor of Arts. BS programs often involve more science labs and math courses, while BA programs typically entail a more diverse set of liberal arts courses. In addition to a core set of biology courses in these programs, most feature electives such as microbiology, botany, or zoology. Students graduate with a number of valuable skills in communication, research, and analysis. Among the most common core courses required for an online biology degree are:
- General Biology. In this introductory course, typically the first in any biology program, students are given a broad overview of the study of life and living organisms. After learning how all organisms are made up of cells, students explore how hereditary information is encoded in genes. Of particular interest is the role of genes in the human body and how they influence our health and lifespan.
- Evolution. This course examines the history and development of plants, animals, and single-celled organisms. Some of the topics covered include patterns of biological diversity, genome sequencing, animal behavior, and natural selection. Students learn how species interact within ecosystems and how environmental factors can affect evolution.
- Organic Chemistry. Building upon knowledge obtained in a general biology course, students explore the molecular structure of cells. Additionally, students learn about the properties, reactions, and preparation of the carbon-containing compounds produced by living organisms.
- Organic Chemistry or General Biology Lab. Biology programs often include hands-on lab courses in biology, chemistry, or both. They give students the opportunity to observe, experience, and experiment with scientific phenomena. In the online environment, students engage in experiments by conducting them at home using everyday objects or lab kits—typically available from the school for a fee—or by watching simulations or online demonstrations.
- Physics. This course explores the most basic physical science. Coursework covers the structure of matter, how objects interact, and how energy and various types of force influence the way matter moves and behaves. Students learn to consider objects from both a macroscopic and submicroscopic level to try to understand scientific phenomena.
Applying to an Online Biology Program
The admission requirements and application process for bachelor's in biology programs are the same whether a student plans to take on-campus or online courses or some combination of the two. Some colleges require applicants to have completed a few prerequisite courses before enrolling in the biology program. The prerequisites vary by school, but may include natural sciences, calculus, physics, English, and history. Students are often required to have a minimum 2.0 GPA in these courses to qualify. Additionally, some schools require new enrollees to take placement exams before registering for courses.
The admission requirements and application process for bachelor's in biology programs are the same whether a student plans to take on-campus or online courses or some combination of the two.
To apply to an online biology program, applicants must submit an application form and may be charged an application fee. The following items may also be requested:
- Official high school transcripts showing a minimum 2.5 GPA
- Official college transcripts if some coursework has been completed elsewhere
- Test scores from standardized tests, such as the SAT or ACT
- One or more letters of recommendation
- An essay or personal statement
- A list of extracurricular activities and jobs, especially leadership positions
Students pursuing online degrees in biology should ensure the schools they're considering are accredited. For an institution of higher education as a whole, accreditation occurs when all of the college's programs, faculty, and student resources are evaluated and approved by an independent agency sanctioned by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or the U.S. Department of Education. Individual programs within a school can also be accredited by other approved agencies, and some biology programs have earned this additional programmatic accreditation from the American Society for Microchemistry and Molecular Biology.
Choosing an accredited program offers several key benefits. Perhaps most important, accreditation assures students they're enrolled in a credible online degree program that meets high standards for quality and academic rigor. Enrollment in an accredited school is also a requirement to qualify for financial aid and for acceptance into most graduate programs. Finally, depending on a student's career path, it may be a requirement for obtaining licensure.
Financial Aid for Online Students
Students planning to enroll in accredited, online biology degree programs may be eligible for financial aid from a variety of sources. To start the application process, students should submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Representatives of both the federal government and the schools review all applications and notify students of their eligibility.
Qualifying students are typically offered financial aid packages, which may include more than one type of aid. Offers may include scholarships or grants, which can come from the federal government, the state government, or the college(s) the students have applied to. These types of aid are preferred because grant and scholarship money does not have to be repaid.
Offers may also include some type of student loan, and applicants should examine the loan terms with care. Private student loans from banks or lenders typically feature higher interest rates and more stringent repayment plans than federal and state student loans. If students have any questions about financial aid, they should contact the financial aid officers at each college where they've applied.
Online biology majors may also be eligible for private scholarships, which require separate applications from the FAFSA. Some of the scholarships available to biology students include:
The National Institutes of Health provides scholarships of up to $20,000 to STEM undergraduates who have demonstrated exceptional financial need and academic excellence with a minimum 3.3 GPA.
Award amounts vary with this scholarship designed to support high school seniors from underrepresented groups who have shown academic achievement with a minimum 3.0 GPA.
Second-year minority STEM students maintaining a 3.2 or higher GPA at minority serving institutions may be eligible for up to $45,000 in total support over two years.
Career Opportunities for Biology Graduates
Although biology is a flexible major that can lead in a number of different directions, many students opt for careers in the health and medical field or in education. After earning bachelor's degrees, graduates can move directly into the workforce or continue working toward advanced degrees, such as a Master of Science in Biology or a Master of Education with a biology focus.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides a wealth of information on biology careers, and we list a few of the most popular jobs below:
Clinical Laboratory Technologist and Technician Median Annual Salary:
These professionals, who typically hold bachelor's degrees, can be found working in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Using specialized equipment, they analyze and conduct tests on samples of body fluids or tissue to help determine patients' health status. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for laboratory technologists is $54,180, and the projected growth for this occupation over the next 10 years is 7%, which is faster than the 4% average for all jobs.
Elementary School Teacher Median Annual Salary:
A bachelor's degree in biology qualifies graduates to become elementary school teachers, although some go on to earn a master's in elementary education or teaching. In elementary school, teachers create lesson plans and provide instruction in all basic subjects. The median annual wage for teachers is $60,660, and demand for teachers is expected to grow at a rate of 4% through 2029, which is the national projected average.
Medical Scientist Median Annual Salary:
Biology graduates who go on to complete a doctoral program in one of the sciences can become medical scientists. These professionals find work in research facilities within corporations, universities, and hospitals where they conduct various types of research projects designed to improve human health. Medical scientists can expect to earn a median annual wage of $91,510. Over the next decade, demand for Ph.D.s in medical science is projected to grow by 6%.
Doctor or Dentist Median Annual Salary:
$208,000 and $164,010
A bachelor's degree in biology is a good foundation for those students who want to become doctors or dentists by earning advanced professional degrees. Medical doctors earn a median annual salary of $208,000, and dentists earn a median annual salary of $164,010. The projected job growth in both fields matches the national average for all occupations at 4%.
Is an Online Biology Degree Worth It?
Deciding whether to pursue an online degree in biology requires careful consideration of a number of factors. Prospective students may want to examine some of the specific advantages and disadvantages:
- The field of biology offers many job opportunities at relatively high wages. According to the BLS, there are close to 3 million jobs in the field of biology, and the median annual wage for all biology jobs is higher than average—$65,000 as compared to $59,000 as of 2018.
- This is a versatile degree. Pursuing a bachelor's degree in biology helps students develop valuable skills, such as critical thinking, analysis, and communication, which are useful in many fields beyond healthcare.
- Online biology programs can be convenient. Studying biology online allows students to enroll in the best program that fits their academic interests and financial needs without having to move to a different location.
- A bachelor's degree may have limitations compared to more advanced degrees in this field. A fairly high number of biology professionals—59%, according to the BLS—have earned advanced degrees so graduates may need to consider earning at least a master's degree to be competitive in this field.
- Online programs can be isolating. For some students, online programs can cause them to feel isolated from classmates and instructors so they may have to work harder to connect with others through discussion forums.
Students also need to factor in their own personal circumstances, such as budget constraints and work and family obligations. Individuals must decide for themselves whether the benefits they expect to receive from earning a biology degree are worth the investment of time, money, and energy.
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