Study Life Sciences: Associate, Bachelor's & Online Degree Info

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What will you learn in an undergraduate life sciences degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of an associate and bachelor's degree and potential careers.
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Life Sciences Associate and Bachelor's Degrees at a Glance

Life science is an interdisciplinary field encompassing the study of all living organisms, including plants, animals, humans and life processes. Typically, a student interested in life sciences chooses a sub-discipline, such as botany, biology or ecology. But there are a few associate and bachelor's degree programs available in the broader field that focus on the connections between sub-disciplines in life sciences.

An associate degree in life sciences can prepare you for eventual entrance into a bachelor's degree program, or for entry-level careers in allied health, laboratory research or environmental services. Research assistant and research associate careers are open to bachelor's degree graduates in life sciences. These jobs are often found in the medical, pharmaceutical, environmental or other related industries. Job growth and salaries for these positions vary greatly by industry.

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Students interested in transferring to a 4-year degree program or beginning an entry-level career Students looking for a broad foundation in life sciences to work in scientific research or to prepare for a graduate degree
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean salary*) -Agricultural and food science technician ($36,000)
- Medical and clinical laboratory technician ($39,000)
- Biological technician ($42,000)
- Medical and clinical laboratory technologist ($58,000)
Time to Completion 2 years 4 years
Common Graduation Requirements - 60-70 credit hours
- General education
- Science and math courses
- 119-124 credit hours
- General education
- Foreign language course
- Advanced science and laboratory courses
Prerequisites None Often, minimum grade requirements, such as a 2.0 GPA or completion of two science courses with a C or better
Online Availability Not at this time Some programs offer online courses, but no fully online programs

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

Associate Degrees in Life Sciences

Both Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees are available in life sciences. These programs are often designed to provide you with the prerequisites necessary to transfer to a 4-year degree program in a sub-discipline of life science, such as zoology, botany, microbiology or environmental science. Courses you'll take will cover how to set up and carry out laboratory experiments related to life sciences.

Pros and Cons


  • Many associate-level courses in life sciences can transfer to a 4-year college.
  • This degree can prepare you for immediate employment in an entry-level career in a field such as environmental science, health care or research.
  • Some programs offer internships in laboratories or allied health facilities that could provide you with practical skills.


  • There are not many careers in life sciences that you could enter with only an associate degree.
  • In 2011, medical laboratory technicians had a lower median annual salary than those with comparable education in all subjects.*
  • Associate degrees in life sciences are not widely available.

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

Courses and Requirements

The curriculum for a 2-year degree in life sciences includes general education coursework in addition to courses in biology, chemistry, advanced mathematics and organic chemistry. Most science courses have a laboratory component. You'll also need to choose 2-3 elective courses.

Online Degree Options

Science courses have hands-on laboratory components, and thus there are no fully online associate degree programs in life sciences. There are, however, some online programs in closely related subjects, such as environmental studies. You can also find blended online and on-campus programs in related subjects, like biology.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

An associate degree in life sciences is a very general degree. If you plan on going into the workforce after completing this degree, consider your career goals when choosing elective courses. For example, if you plan on an allied health career, then you might want to choose electives in health science. If you plan on transferring your credits to complete a bachelor's degree, it's recommended that you select your electives based on prerequisites you'll need for the 4-year degree program.

Degree Alternatives

Associate degrees in life sciences aren't found at many schools. You might have an easier time finding an associate degree program in biology. A 2-year degree in biology includes most of the same courses as a program in life sciences and prepares you for the same careers. Many schools offer transferrable credit in biology programs if you choose to advance to a bachelor's degree program.

Bachelor's Degrees in Life Sciences

Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts degrees are offered in life sciences. Schools that offer the Bachelor of Science note that it can serve as preparation for a graduate degree in medicine, pharmacy, veterinary science or other scientific fields. Bachelor of Arts in Life Sciences degrees can prepare you for a career in teaching.

Pros and Cons


  • A 4-year degree can prepare you for careers in many fields and for graduate study.
  • Careers in research are open to those with a bachelor's degree in life sciences.
  • Some schools offer combined bachelor's programs in life science with professional graduate programs that allow you to accelerate your education.


  • You'll need a graduate degree to pursue careers in professional fields, such as medicine.
  • This degree program is not widely available.
  • Life sciences is a very broad subject, and thus you'll need to take courses in many branches of life science, even if they don't interest you.

Courses and Requirements

Your courses may be determined by whether you are completing a Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Arts in Life Sciences. For example, a Bachelor of Science often requires more core science courses, while a Bachelor of Arts has more flexibility in course selection. Some life sciences bachelor's degree programs offer career preparation programs, such as a pre-med or environmental science track, which may include specialized concentration courses. In general, your classes may include:

  • Biology
  • Organic chemistry
  • Calculus
  • Plant physiology
  • Physics
  • Ecology

Online Degree Options

Although there aren't any fully online bachelor's degree programs in life sciences, there are programs that offer online courses, including virtual laboratory activities, though these are rare. A virtual laboratory class can be taught via an online course management system, and you'll use a lab kit to conduct experiments on your own. Most life sciences programs require on-campus attendance for laboratory courses.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

If you're interested in going into medicine, then you might choose a bachelor's degree in life sciences that has a pre-med track or a pre-vet track. Completing a prescribed track ensures that you'll meet the prerequisites for medical or veterinary school. There are also dual or accelerated degree programs in which you could combine a Bachelor of Science in Life Sciences with a graduate degree, such as a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT). This type of program can help you achieve your career goals faster than if you completed separate bachelor's and DPT degree programs.

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