Few disciplines offer opportunities for independent research and hands-on learning like biology.
The study of life can be broken down into many levels, including cellular biology, ecology, neuroscience, and bioengineering, to name a few.
Job prospects are especially promising for biology majors. Many choose to apply to graduate school to become doctors, veterinarians, or dentists.
Others elect to venture into health policy. Some return to academia with a passion for inspiring the next wave of scientists and researchers.
We have compiled a list of the best biology colleges in the United States, all of which offer exciting research opportunities, guest lecture series, and faculty mentorship to undergraduates.
Stationed all over the United States, these schools provide the ideal setting to conduct research at home (or abroad, if desired!)
The methodology for our biology colleges list was created as an “averaged” & aggregated ranking.
We assigned a score to every school on the list based on its positioning in other published ranking lists, then ranked the schools based on the aggregate score. The sources for creating this ranking are at the end of this article.
Here are the 10 best biology colleges in the US!
10. Washington University in St. Louis (St. Louis, MO)
Over 75% of Washington University in St. Louis undergraduates participate in departmental research. Currently, one group is examining circadian regulation in mammals to understand which cells generate daily cycles and how they work in conjunction with one another.
The ecology and evolution track is just one of five available tracks and seven biology-related majors at the institution.
Students in this track may enroll in exciting classes like a laboratory on DNA manipulation or the evolution of animal behavior.
Undergraduates are also required to take a minimum of three credits in upper-level writing-intensive courses, which may focus on topics like evolutionary controversies or the study of infectious diseases.
Career opportunities for Washington University in St. Louis’ biology graduates are optimistic.
In the past six years, 72% of those who have applied to medical school were accepted (compared to the national acceptance rate of 45%).
9. Princeton University (Princeton, NJ)
Molecular biology is one of the most popular concentrations at Princeton – up to 60 sophomores generally declare the major each spring.
Undergraduates may combine their degrees with certificates in interdisciplinary subjects like neuroscience, health policy, and quantitative biology.
Ecology and evolutionary biology (EEB) is another strong program. 30% of EEB majors spend a semester conducting field research, and 70% travel to places like Madagascar, Alaska, and Peru to launch their studies.
Many biology majors will devote their final two years to a senior thesis project. This preparation begins in their junior year as they search for faculty mentors, meet in weekly peer study groups, and begin collecting data.
Previous topics have included likely causes of Ebola outbreaks, competing land use pressures in Kenya, and gene chip technology.
8. Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD)
Johns Hopkins established one of the United States’ first biology departments; today, it is home to 25+ research laboratories, all of which explore a diverse range of biological issues.
Recently, a group of Johns Hopkins undergraduates who missed in-person laboratory work (due to COVID-19) created an augmented reality app that enables users to perform activities like transferring liquids between test tubes, examining DNA molecules, and operating a centrifuge.
The JHU BioREU – funded by the National Science Foundation – is a ten-week summer opportunity reserved exclusively for undergraduates interested in pursuing their own research.
Accepted participants serve as principal investigators and receive stipends to carry out their studies. All undergraduates present their findings at the end of the endeavor.
Undergraduates can obtain a BA or BS in biology. The BA and BS both prepare students for graduate studies and medical school admission, though the BS also prepares students for higher-level study in biomedical sciences.
One key difference between the two degrees is the original research project component of the BS.
7. Cornell University (Ithaca, NY)
Cornell biology alumni proceed to enjoy stimulating careers in a variety of disciplines.
From operating aquariums and teaching at the college level to working in healthcare consulting firms or promoting conservation and clean energy, there are many places you can go with a biology degree from Cornell.
All undergraduates begin their program of study with classes in six core areas. Excelling in these courses is imperative for admission to dental, veterinary, or medical school.
From there, students move on to investigate issues in genetic, molecular, and biochemical biology.
Research is paramount at Cornell, and more than 500 students earn credit for their independent research projects each semester.
Biology majors may select a faculty mentor from any department and collaborate with graduate or postdoctoral students.
6. Brown University (Providence, RI)
Brown operates several ground-breaking centers and programs in the biology realm. For example, the Brown Center for the Study of Children at Risk seeks to promote evidence-based theories of developmental pathways that lead fetuses, infants, and children to become “at-risk” for certain behaviors and problems later in life.
The Center for Alternatives to Animals in Testing uses human tissue samples to eliminate the need for animals in research studies.
Undergraduates can choose from six biology concentrations, including molecular biology, cell biology, and biochemistry (MCB). In this arm of the department, students dive into the genetics of behavior, protein synthesis, and other molecular processes.
Brown has a reputation for being at the forefront of nanotechnology development, and more than 120 undergraduates are enrolled in the school’s neuroscience track at any given time.
At the Department of Pathology and Medicine at Brown, faculty across all departments lead student teams on an interdisciplinary journey to study human disease and make appropriate recommendations for the treatment of Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and certain cancers.
Biology majors at Brown will undoubtedly spend a significant portion of their undergraduate careers conducting hands-on, real-world applicable research.
5. Yale University (Philadelphia, PA)
Yale maintains an impressive 13 departments related to the study of biology!
In the molecular, cellular, and developmental biology concentration, undergraduates customize their program of study with classes in genetics, biotechnology, and cell biology.
In their final year of study, they identify an area of interest to explore before writing a research-based essay. They spend many hours conducting research in one of Yale’s many state-of-the-art laboratories.
Undergraduates can obtain a BA or BS degree within the ecology and evolutionary biology concentration. The former is designed for students who desire to establish a career immediately following graduation, while the latter is perfect for undergraduates intending to enroll in medical or veterinary school.
The school is additionally known for its outstanding bioengineering track, which highlights the study of broad socio-political and environmental issues.
Graduates take on leadership roles in business, local and national government, and academia.
Approximately 200 undergraduates enroll in this track annually, and many will celebrate becoming the first author on a publication in collaboration with knowledgeable faculty mentors.
4. Duke University (Durham, NC)
Duke’s biology department distinguishes itself from its peer departments by way of its engaging study away programs.
The Duke in Australia summer program exposes undergraduates to the diverse ecosystems of the Great Barrier Reef, Northern Territory, and New South Wales.
Strong emphasis is devoted to the relationships between aboriginal peoples and Australian animal and plant life.
Students interested in pursuing a career in marine science should apply to study at the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort, North Carolina.
The 5,600 Marguerite Kent Repass Ocean Conservation Center is home to a cutting-edge laboratory with videoconferencing technology that connects to other classrooms and labs worldwide. The intimate class sizes and remote island setting make it a one-of-a-kind context for studying coastal marine life.
Alumni work in important roles as pediatricians, medical school professors, orthodontists, and plastic surgeons.
Duke’s graduates maintain a higher-than-average acceptance rate into medical schools than their peer biology majors.
3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA)
Biology majors at MIT frequently attend lectures in the school’s colloquium series, which features guest lecturers who expound on topics like defining transitions in a parasitic life cycle and precise gene correction without double-strand DNA breaks.
There are three courses (majors) available for undergraduates interested in pursuing a degree in biology.
The standard BS in biology prepares students for a research-based career in the biological sciences.
In contrast, the BS in computer science and molecular biology was created for those interested in working in computational biology.
There is also a BS in chemistry and biology.
Can you tell that MIT prides itself on an interdisciplinary approach?
Regardless of which course a student elects to follow, all biology majors must fulfill a communication requirement of four communication-intensive classes.
MIT seeks to matriculate thinkers who can write clearly and effectively and speakers who can deliver compelling arguments and presentations.
2. Stanford University (Stanford, CA)
Like other schools on this list, Stanford maintains top-notch research facilities in California. The Hopkins Marine Station is the oldest marine laboratory on the Pacific coast and the third-oldest in the country.
There, intimate classes of 5-10 students investigate marine biology and coastal preservation issues.
In the Santa Cruz Mountains, student researchers conduct research at the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve – the location is only five miles from campus!
Senior undergraduates choose from one of four tracks to complete a capstone experience: a senior thesis, a creative senior reflection, a senior synthesis, or an interdisciplinary capstone.
In the senior reflection, for example, students explore the intersection of biology and media to create projects utilizing digital art, installation art, dance, and even spoken word poetry.
The coterminal master’s program enables undergraduates to obtain their BS and MS degrees within five years.
Most of these students will pursue independent research at the graduate level or enter exciting positions as chemists, doctors, and statisticians.
1. Harvard University (Cambridge, MA)
Harvard undergraduates can take their pick from five engaging biology tracks, starting with chemical and physical biology (CPB). Faculty in this concentration endeavor to advance the next generation of biologists by exposing them to a quantitative understanding of animal and plant forms.
Within the human developmental and regenerative biology (HDRB) concentration, undergraduates track human development from fertilization to death.
100% of students in this pathway participate in independent research, and 60% complete a senior thesis.
Various ten-week summer research opportunities at Harvard take students all over the country and world to conduct projects in an area of interest.
For example, a student might study adaptive evolution in the tropics within the integrative biology track.
Molecular and cellular biology graduates take part in a senior thesis experience and leave Harvard to assume careers steeped in medical research, health policy, law, and education.
Here are the sources for our biology colleges’ aggregated ranking.