Biology Majors: Bachelor's, Associate's & Online Degree Info

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What will you learn in programs for biology majors? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of associate's and bachelor's degrees and potential careers.
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Studying Biology: Associate's and Bachelor's Degrees at a Glance

Many career options are available to you if you choose to major in biology. Biology programs for associate's and bachelor's degrees can give you either a general education in this area of life science or a more interdisciplinary education with the option to specialize in a specific subject of study. Some career options for graduates with an associate's degree include medical, veterinary and environmental science technicians. Those with a bachelor's degree in biology may pursue careers in wildlife biology, animal training, medical technology, geoscience and soil science.

The highest projected growth for jobs that require an associate's degree in biology was 52% for veterinary technicians from 2010-2020. The highest projected growth for jobs that require at least a bachelor's degree in biology was 21% for geoscientists from 2010-2020. These numbers come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Associate's Bachelor's
Who Is This Degree For? Individuals interested in applying their interest in biology to careers as technicians in the medical, veterinary, wildlife, and environmental fields Individuals who would like to earn a 4-year degree and utilize it in a career that requires knowledge of biology
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Environmental science and protection technicians ($42,000)*
-Medical and clinical laboratory technicians ($37,000)*
- Biological or wildlife technicians ($40,000)*
- Veterinary technologist and technician ($30,000 Note: this number does not specify whether it applies more to those with a 4-year technology degree or 2-year technician degree)*
Note: the following salaries may not represent entry-level jobs
-Geoscientists ($84,000)*
-Soil and plant scientists ($59,000)*
-Zoologists and wildlife biologists ($57,000)*
- Animal trainer ($26,000)*
Time to Completion Two years full-time Four years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements Some programs require certification or clinical experience in addition to required coursework Some programs might require a research project, thesis or field laboratory course
Prerequisites High school transcript
-Test scores from the certain knowledge evaluation tests
- High school transcript
- SAT or ACT scores
Online Availability Some courses available online Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate's Degrees in Biology

Many biology associate's degree programs are designed to transfer to a 4-year institution, and they might not qualify you to enter the workforce directly after graduation. If you do not plan on pursuing a 4-year degree and want to find a biology-related job right after graduation, plan on entering a program that has a choice of concentrations and specific coursework for you to become qualified for entry-level jobs in the field of biology.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Some job outlooks in the field of biology are higher for those requiring an associate's degree than those requiring a bachelor's degree (52% for veterinary technicians compared to seven percent for wildlife biologists)*
  • You may be qualified for an entry-level position in the field of biology after graduating from an interdisciplinary program
  • Most associate's degrees only take about two years to finish

Cons

  • If your biology program is very generalized, you might need more training or education in order to meet the entry-level requirements for certain jobs
  • Some jobs in the field might be physically demanding if working outdoors or with animals
  • Online options are limited

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Common Courses and Requirements

The number of required courses in biology and related fields vary widely with each program for associate's degrees. Many general biology courses have a laboratory requirement. You might also be required to take courses in other sciences, such as chemistry and physics, as well as math beyond college algebra. If your program allows for a focus or concentration in a certain area, your choice of courses may include the following subjects:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Cellular and molecular biology
  • Environmental topics
  • Geology
  • Microbiology
  • Nanotechnology

Online Course Options

Online associate's degree programs with a major in biology are extremely difficult to find. Some colleges offer core education courses online, as well as some major requirements. Some online courses that have a laboratory co-requisite might offer most of the coursework online and only require lab work to be done on-campus.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Many different kinds of technology are used in the field of biology. Wildlife technicians use GPS to track animals and then enter the information into databases. Environmental science and protection technicians measure levels of pollution with special equipment. Having experience with these technologies before you graduate might help your resume look more appealing to prospective employers. If your biology curriculum offers you some sort of hands-on experience, you might learn about technology through this route. If this option is not included in your curriculum, you might want to take a course in relevant technology that is offered through a different program or school.

Bachelor's Degrees in Biology

With a bachelor's degree in biology, you are qualified to apply for certain jobs directly after graduation. Many programs offer specializations in organismal biology, ecology and evolution. These are useful specializations if you want a career as a wildlife biologists or animal trainer. Some biology programs are designed to prepare you for entrance into a graduate program in the field. Pre-med, pre-veterinary and pre-dentistry programs are often biology programs with specialized curricula.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • You may be able to find an entry-level job directly after graduation
  • Your degree might prepare you for graduate or professional programs in the medical field
  • You might have the opportunity to work out in the field with animals

Cons

  • If your program does not have certain classes in its curriculum, you might not be qualified for certain jobs
  • Some jobs might require long hours working in a lab
  • Certain jobs might not pay as much as one that just requires an associate degree in the field ($26,000 for animals trainers with a bachelor's degree compared to $42,000 for environmental science and protection technicians with an associate's degree)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

Bachelor's degrees in biology usually require a total of 120 credit hours. The 120 credit hours are usually divided up into grouping such as general education, major and electives. Credit hour requirements for each grouping vary widely.

Major requirements usually include courses in biology and related subjects, including wildlife biology, microbiology, ecology or genetics. Elective courses may be used to direct your degree toward a certain concentrations, such as neurobiology or conservation biology.

Other science courses, such as chemistry and physics, might be part of core or major requirements. Math courses above college algebra are also part of a biology curriculum. Your program may also require you to complete a research project, a thesis or field lab courses.

Online Degree Options

Online bachelor's degrees in biology are rare. The degree might be completed if you already have college course work completed or relevant work experience to apply to the program. Most bachelor's degree programs in biology require a certain amount of coursework to have laboratory components, which make an online degree impractical. Some programs offer individual courses in an Internet format and may count towards major requirements.

Stand Out with This Degree

Some programs give you the option to do undergraduate research. This may give you hands-on experience in the field you want to enter. While you're conducting your research, certain faculty members will work closely with you to ensure you understand your subject and research outcome. The faculty members with whom you work may be able to give you recommendations for either a job or graduate degree program for which you want to apply. Internships are also a good way to get hands-on experience in your field. Because certain jobs in the field of biology require the use of technology, such as GPS, you might make your resume more appealing if you have experience with the technology.

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