Study Genetics: Majors, Master's Degrees & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a genetics degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a bachelor's or master's degree and potential careers.
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Genetics: Degrees at a Glance

Individuals who want to study genetics will need at least a bachelor's degree from an accredited postsecondary institution, although many obtain a doctoral degree. Some career paths, such as biochemistry and biophysics, require advanced doctoral studies.

Salary and job projections vary depending on your intended career path. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that employment of biochemists and biophysicists would increase by 31% from 2010 to 2020, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, the BLS warns that the small field will create fewer than 10,000 new jobs during that ten-year period.

Alternatively, employment of agricultural and food scientists is expected to increase by ten percent during the same time period, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Regardless of specialty, applicants who have previous laboratory experience should be poised for the best job opportunities.

Bachelor's Master's
Who is this degree for? - People who want entry-level careers in genetics or biology
- Students who want to eventually pursue a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or doctoral degree in medicine, biotechnology, microbiology, genetics or a related field
Individuals who want to prepare for a related doctoral program and gain laboratory training
Common Career Paths (with approximate annual salary) -Medical and clinical laboratory technologist ($58,000 - may vary with experience)*
- Physician assistant ($89,000 - may vary with experience)*
- Biochemist or biophysicist ($88,000 - additional education may be required)*
- Animal scientist ($74,000 - additional education may be required)*
- Food scientist and technologist ($64,000)*
- Microbiologist ($71,000)*
Time to Completion Typically 4 years, full-time Typically two years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Satisfy coursework
- Maintain GPA standards
- Complete internship requirement, if applicable
- Maintain GPA standards
- Complete coursework
- Research and write a thesis
- Pass master's examination
Prerequisites - Typically a high school diploma or equivalent
- SAT/ACT test scores
- Bachelor's degree in biology, biochemistry or related major
- Meet GPA requirements
- GRE scores
- Prerequisite courses in genetics, biochemistry and calculus, if applicable
Online Availability Yes Yes

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

Genetics Bachelor's Degrees

Students in a genetics bachelor's degree program study the principles of all living processes at the molecular level. Bachelor's degree programs typically focus on general education courses, required major coursework and electives. Degree formats may slightly vary with each school, but generally award a Bachelor of Science in Molecular Genetics (or similar title).

This degree program is designed for students who want to obtain a solid foundation in math and science, including biology, chemistry or physics. Upon graduation, students who obtain bachelor's degree in genetics may choose to enter graduate programs or begin entry-level careers in research labs.

Pros and Cons


  • A bachelor's degree in genetics can lead to a variety of career paths
  • Some bachelor's degree programs recommend or require an internship, which provides practical professional experience
  • Students who plan to continue their studies in graduate school will typically need a bachelor's degree in a relevant field


  • A growing interest in biochemistry and other biological sciences at the undergraduate level may make it harder to stand out in this field
  • As a job applicant, you may be in competition with master's degree holders
  • You may need a higher degree to increase your advancement opportunities

Common Courses and Requirements

Students can expect a genetics bachelor's degree program to include variety of courses, including general education requirements, core courses and electives. Some classes may take place in a research laboratory. In addition to coursework, you may be encouraged to participate in internship opportunities to gain hands-on experience in laboratories.

Common courses may include:

  • Introduction to microbiology
  • Biochemistry laboratory
  • Bioinformatics
  • Principles of genetics
  • Molecular genetics

Online Degree Options

Online genetics degrees are available and generally feature curriculum and coursework requirements that are similar to traditional on-campus programs. If you find an online genetics bachelor's degree program, ensure that the program is part of an accredited academic institution. Commonly, online programs are reading- and writing-intensive, with a focus on independent coursework and online lectures. Curricula will vary with each school, so be sure to check if your program requires some offline components, such as laboratory courses.

Stand Out with this Degree

With a bachelor's, you may work as a technologist in a genetics laboratory. To become a more competitive job applicant, you may try to secure an internship or part-time job at a medical research facility, hospital or another health facility that contains a laboratory. If you plan to continue your studies in graduate school, this professional experience will likely also come in handy for boosting the strength of your application.

Genetics Master's Degrees

Many genetics master's degree programs offer studies in more than one area. For example, you can find programs like the Master of Science (M.S.) in Medical and Molecular Genetics and M.S. in Human Genetics. These programs typically require that you have a bachelor's degree from a related field, such as biochemistry or biology. You can expect to complete your program in two years of full-time study, and programs typically have a thesis research requirement.

Pros and Cons


  • A master's degree in this field can give you an edge over students with bachelor's degrees for jobs and admission into competitive doctoral programs
  • The lab and research experience you will develop can be beneficial during your job search
  • Aging populations and the demand for lifesaving drugs and medical procedures will likely drive the need for genetic research


  • To work as an agricultural scientist or biochemist you will likely need to obtain a doctoral degree
  • Because a large portion of research funding is from the federal government, job prospects may be tied to federal budgetary decisions
  • There may be strong competition for entry-level job openings due to a growing interest in biochemistry and biology

Common Courses and Requirements

To obtain a master's degree in genetics, you will need to maintain a satisfactory grade point average. Many programs also require a comprehensive master's examination based on the lecture and laboratory coursework. Additionally, you will likely need to research, write and defend an original thesis.

In a typical genetics master' s degree program, you will study topics similar to the following:

  • Human population genetics
  • Scientific ethics
  • Molecular genetics
  • Chromosomes and disease
  • Statistical methods

Online Course Options

Genetics master's degree programs are available, and online courses are common. Typically, admission and curriculum requirements are the same as on-campus programs. To successfully complete degree programs and online courses, you will likely devote several hours to independent study each week.

Students who are enrolled in online degree programs should keep in mind that they might need to complete some offline components, such as defending their master's thesis to a panel on-campus. You can also find related online programs that offer similar study, such as the M.S. in Forensic DNA and Serology.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

To further enhance your academic credentials, you may consider obtaining a certificate in a specialized field. For instance, if you are considering a career in the pharmaceutical industry, you may want to pursue a certificate program in forensic drug chemistry. Certificate programs can be completed in a year, which is significantly less when compared to the typical completion time of doctoral programs.

Alternatively, you may consider obtaining a certification from an accrediting organization in your field, such as the Certified Genetic Counselor credential from the American Board of Genetics Counseling. To obtain a certification, you will likely need to meet educational and professional experience requirements and pass a comprehensive exam. You may need to take continuing education courses to maintain your certification.

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