The 10 Best Marine Biology Colleges in the US

More than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, and of this water, more than 96 percent is held by oceans. These statistics certainly shed some light on why the field of marine biology is incredibly important. What happens amongst animals, plants, organisms, and ecosystems under the sea can have a drastic effect on the entire planet, including human beings.

Today, students who graduate from a marine biology program are greatly in-demand. Many go on to enter enriching professional careers after their studies, working as environmental consultants, marine engineers, research scientists, policy advisors, and much more. For those who prefer the classroom, graduate and PhD opportunities abound for marine biology students eager to continue exploring the academic field.

Choosing the right university to study marine biology can give students the scholastic foundation and field experience they need to kick-start a promising career.

Here are 10 of the best colleges in the U.S. to study marine biology.

University of Miami (Coral Gables, FL)

University of Miami
Chad Cooper, Main Gate University of Miami, CC BY 2.0

Located just a few miles from the shores of southern Florida, the University of Miami’s Department of Marine Biology and Ecology gives passionate students the classroom education and hands-on training they need to become experts in the most important issues facing the world’s oceans today.

Undergraduates in the Marine Biology and Ecology track have a huge choice of degree programs, including Geological Sciences, Marine Affairs, Oceanography, and Marine Science. Students can elect a focus based on research interest or consider what’s most relevant to their intended future career: in the past, graduates of the University of Miami program have gone on to prestigious positions in conservation, environmental policy and law, business, and much more. 

For post-grad students, the university offers a Master of Professional Science with degree tracks in Marine Mammal Science, and Tropical Marine Ecosystem Management.

Boston University (Boston, MA)

Boston University
Brian Chang-Yun Hsu, Marsh Chapel, CC BY-SA 3.0

One of the top private research universities anywhere in the country, Boston University offers inspiring coursework and exciting opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students to pursue cutting-edge research in the field of marine biology.

The program emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach: bringing together faculty and resources from Boston University’s Department of Biology and its Department of Earth & Environment, so that students can get involved in a wide range of marine biology topic areas such as evolution, ecology, and conservation science. 

Moreover, hands-on research areas cover a number of critical ocean issues like climate change and overfishing. During their time at Boston University, students can continually benefit from the school’s ties with local organizations in the greater Boston area including the New England Aquarium.

Samford University (Birmingham, AL)

Samford University
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Attracting science students from across the country with its small classes, one-to-one faculty attention, and emphasis on real-world experience, the marine science bachelor’s program at Samford University gives students the foundation they need to excel in the marine biology field.

A key feature of Samford’s marine biology program is the required semester students spend working at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. 

Located off the coast of Alabama in Mobile Bay, it is the state’s primary center for marine research and education. During their time at the lab, students benefit from the mentorship of lab faculty and the chance to conduct up-close marine field research: an unparalleled experience that can benefit students immensely when it’s time to to apply for grad school or head out into the workforce. 

University of California, Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA)

b r e n t, Janss Steps, Royce Hall in Background, UCLA, CC BY 2.0

Students interested in marine animals and their environment will find a thriving marine biology program at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Coming under the college’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, the marine biology major introduces students to a robust life sciences core curriculum, along with research projects that get students out of the classroom and amongst the sea life they are studying. 

A favorite for students is the Marine Biology Quarter (MBQ) in which undergrads experience what life is really like for a marine biologist. During this hands-on time for experimentation and data collection, students will interact with not only expert science faculty members, but also a cadre of sharks, clownfish, dolphins, pufferfish, and all sorts of other non-matriculating marine visitors to their vibrant classroom-at-sea.

University of California, Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara, CA)

UC Santa Barbara
Coolcaesar, UCSB University Center and Storke Tower, CC BY-SA 4.0

One of the only colleges where undergrads can get a major in aquatic biology, the University of California, Santa Barbara, is a top choice for students seeking a broader aquatic education that encompasses not only marine organisms and oceanography, but also the study of freshwater ecosystems.

The uniqueness of the aquatic biology major sets up undergrads to enter a fulfilling career in conservation, fisheries, water quality, and more. On the other hand, many graduating students go on to complete a master’s education or join the PhD track. 

Either way, during their time at UC Santa Barbara, students will benefit from challenging science coursework complemented by field experience at outdoor labs that take learners into the Pacific Ocean, the Santa Barbara Channel, the Sierra Nevada mountains, and beyond.

Auburn University (Auburn, AL)

Auburn University
dregsplod, Auburn campus with Samford Hall, CC BY 2.0

Home to an expansive biological sciences department, Auburn University offers marine biology students the freedom to get involved with interdisciplinary research projects across campus and beyond. It’s not unusual for students to interact with local organizations like the Alabama Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit or the Auburn Group in Ecology, as well as international groups like the Organization for Tropical Studies.

Combining an academic science curriculum with cross-campus and real-world field research gives marine biology students at Auburn a head start cultivating their future careers. Key areas of focus at the program include marine evolution, genetics, ecological interactions, and much more. Wherever students choose to direct their focus, they will find passionate faculty members across the school who are eager to include undergrads in the exciting scientific work happening every day at Auburn.

Northeastern University (Boston, MA)

Northeastern University
Piotrus, Centennial Common, Northeastern University, CC BY-SA 3.0

One of the top 50 universities in the United States according to U.S. News & World Report, Northeastern University is known for its robust research opportunities, many of which emerge from the school’s significant research grants from the National Institute of Science.

Marine biology students at Northeastern will undoubtedly benefit from this substantial science funding. The school offers a marine biology bachelor’s degree, enabling students to graduate with a core foundation in marine sciences as well as specialized experience in their fields of interest – including the option to take a pre-veterinary track.

Northeastern is also known for its Three Seas Program, an elective option that lets marine biology students spend a year doing fieldwork in New England, Panama, and the U.S. Pacific Coast. 

Florida International University (Miami, FL)

Florida International University
DaveBenRoberts, Florida International University, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Marine Sciences Program at Florida International University takes spectacular advantage of the college’s location on the coast of Miami – giving students access to exciting field research opportunities amidst South Florida’s rich and varied marine ecosystem.

The interdisciplinary program at FIU offers a marine biology major and minor degree option to undergraduate students, while graduate students with an interest in marine biology can study under faculty in related departments like Biological Sciences or Earth and Environment. In addition, the school runs a selective marine biology/biology cohort program for undergrads in the marine biology or general biology departments. 

Studying together at FIU’s Biscayne Bay Campus, students accepted into the program get close mentorship from world-class faculty, priority research opportunities, and early registration for some labs.

SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (Syracuse, NY)

SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
DASonnenfeld, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, CC BY-SA 4.0

Acclaimed as the nation’s premier institution for the study of environmental science and natural resource management, the College of Environmental Science and Forestry, part of the State University of New York (SUNY), attracts many students with an academic passion for aquatic and marine biology.

The school’s aquatic program has achieved global recognition for training students to become aquatic science professionals. 

Along with studying a core curriculum of math and science, students delve deep into the world of marine and freshwater ecosystems, learning how these valuable natural systems can be understood and protected. Students are encouraged to broaden this scientific education with subjects like natural history, economics, communications, and social science, ultimately positioning graduates to pursue careers in government agencies, private consultancies, environmental NGOs, and more.

Oregon Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Oregon (Charleston, OR)

University of Oregon
Visitor7, Global Scholars Hall, CC BY-SA 3.0

One of the only places on the Pacific Coast where undergrads can get a bachelor’s degree in marine biology, the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Oregon combines rigorous in-classroom biology study with hands-on field experience at the school’s marine laboratory campus in Charleston, Oregon – famous for its spectacular scenery on the rugged Oregon coast.

A number of internship placements and research opportunities are available to students, including international options such as a Tropical Marine Biology Course in Central America. 

In addition to supporting undergraduate students to get a world-class education in marine biology, the University of Oregon also offers graduate studies in biology for masters students and PhD candidates, who can choose to focus on marine organisms and ecosystems within the broader biology department.

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