Biology is a field full of career opportunities, offering roles as diverse as research scientists and nature conservationists to biotechnology, microbiology, and pharmacology. The list of career options for Biology degree holders goes on, wherever there is a need for expertise, not just in biology, but in anatomy, evolution, molecular biology and genetics, among others, in the private, public or non-profit sector.
If you have the aptitude for investigation, quantitative research and analysis, a degree in Biology may be a match. You are also expected to have good communication and collaboration skills in this discipline, as you will be likely working with a team or dealing with stakeholders.
Earning a degree through grit and commitment, you will be rewarded with good prospects down the road. The average base salary of a biologist is pegged at $60,942 (Payscale), nearly the average rate in the U.S. as is expected with STEM degrees.
You also need not limit yourself to attending an on-site campus if that is not possible. Today, you have several online bachelor's degree options that will help you realize your career goal.
In this article, you will get to know more about these programs and the online degree programs that you should expect. Moreover, we will also touch on the cost, requirements, and other things to consider before taking up an online route to an undergraduate biology degree.
Yes. Many reputable higher learning institutions offer online degree programs, including biology. This is not just due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Online education was already mainstream even before the pandemic broke out. In fact, in 2018, Gallagher found that 61% of HR leaders believed that there is not much difference between the quality of online education and that of its on-campus counterpart.
And, when it comes to biology education, such can be the case.
Biel and Brame (2016) showed this in the paper, “Traditional Versus Online Biology Courses: Connecting Course Design and Student Learning in an Online Setting” published in the Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education. The researchers found that “well-designed online courses can be effective at promoting student learning… and can be as effective as their traditional counterparts.”
Of course, the more reputable the institution, the better the education will be. Well-respected institutions like the University of Florida, The George Washington University, Colorado State University, and Clemson University offer online bachelor’s degree programs. And the more reputable the institution, the better job prospects will be for graduates.
The COVID-19 outbreak has accelerated the growth and acceptance of online degrees. But even before that, many employers did take online degrees seriously. For instance, in 2018, a survey by Gallagher showed that 71% of HR leaders have hired employees who earned their degrees or credentials online.
Recent online education statistics also show an increase in acceptance. Of course, this is partly because of the pandemic. However, depending on your field and location, local employers could be less interested in hiring people with online degrees than those who have earned them in person.
One case is in Kansas, as shown by Cole J. Engel, an Associate Professor in Accounting at Fort Hays University. Engel (2020) found that employers in Kansas do not find candidates with online credentials as attractive as those who earned their degrees in person. The study, however, is limited to the accounting profession.
But with elite institutions like Princeton University and Williams College offering fully online degree programs, online degrees are on their way to getting more accepted in the future.
Online degrees are recognized all over the world. This is especially so when top institutions offer them. Johns Hopkins offers 88 fully online programs. Boston University has 39 fully online programs. Again, the more prestigious the institution, the more reputable your online degree will be. However, it does not hurt to check whether your target school or program is accredited. You can easily check the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) directory.
Accreditation is not only the main concern for students and employers. There is also the quality of education. Of course, only quality programs are accredited and recognized. As it is, the quality of online education is set to make an exponential growth based upon spending projections in educational technology (EdTech).
In 2020, there were 130 investment deals for American EdTech companies, raising an investment capital of $2.2 billion (Wan, 2021). These grew by 23% and 29%, respectively from 2019 figures. The largest funding deals include those for Coursera ($130 million), MasterClass ($100 million), and Udacity ($75 million in debt funding).
Moreover, HolonIQ (2020) predicts that after the short-term surge of adoption, we will see a long-term transition to digital integration. With it, the digital infrastructure ‘catch-up’ being played because of the pandemic by schools and colleges will lead to a 5.5% share of digital expenditure by institutions in 2025 amounting to $404 billion. This is thanks to the post-COVID digital spend at the rate of 16.3% CAGR.
These investments and the aggressive rollouts of reputable institutions of fully online degree programs are likely to make online credentials—academic or professional—more recognized all over the world.
Source: Wan, 2021
The main difference between online and traditional education is the delivery of course materials. Online degree programs offer more flexibility and are perfect for working professionals. For 39% of 2021 college students, online education is all that was possible because of the pandemic. Online education has its advantages and disadvantages.
By choosing the online education route, students would be able to go through their studies at their own pace and from the comforts of their own homes. Going online provides more opportunities to achieve a work-life-study balance. Also, according to online education trends, technologies such as AI can provide personalized learning pathways.
However, in-person training can also have its advantages over online counterparts. This is especially so in degree programs that prepare students for the social world.
In a study titled “Competencies in business degrees: A face-to-face and online comparative study,” published in the Journal of Education for Business, Ferreras-Garcia and colleagues (2020) found that online university students are superior to their face-to-face counterparts when it comes to ICT-related competencies. However, they found that students “from the classroom-based university obtained good results in ethics-related competencies.”
Hence, there could be advantages and disadvantages to choosing an online degree program. But these can depend on the discipline. If a discipline is theory-heavy, then an online program could be a good route. But if a discipline has more to do with fieldwork and social interactions, then taking the online route will have barriers to student development.
In the case of many undergraduate biology programs, the training would be a mix of theory and lab work. Thus, some online-based programs have a hybrid learning deployment. However, since undergraduate studies are basic compared to the advanced work required for specializations in graduate programs, computer laboratory simulations could replace in-person lab work at a respectable level of effectiveness. And, a good level of technological competency is needed as software tools in many experimental settings are needed. These include lab inventory management software and the like. Of course, the quality of education really depends on the school, the program, and the active participation of students.
Typically, online degree programs are cheaper. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, thanks to the low faculty load and resources needed to deploy online programs, schools can offer more affordable online degree programs than their in-person counterparts.
Gallagher and Palmer (2020) pointed out that forward-thinking institutions like the University of Illinois and Georgia Tech are offering online programs at a discounted cost. The former, in particular, offers an entire MBA program for only $22,000. And, this led to the full retirement of their residential offering. Georgia Tech offers its pioneering online Master’s in Computer Science Degree program for only $7,000.
Secondly, taking the online route would eliminate other costs for students, such as board, lodging, and transportation. Of course, there are hybrid programs, especially in the medical disciplines, that require in-person clinical hours. However, they are still less expensive compared to attending the traditional residential offering. This is because traditional residential offerings would also require students to undergo practicum and other in-person activities.
Online degree programs are, in theory, as good as traditional offerings. This is because online programs are typically offered as an extension of the on-campus version. Hence, both deployments share the same faculty, have the same requirements, and have, more or less, the same difficulty to complete. Again, the quality of education would largely depend on the quality of the program itself, its faculty, and the use of the digital infrastructure for delivery.
The effectiveness of education is also influenced by myriad interacting factors. In a study called “Online biology degree program broadens access for women, first-generation to college, and low-income students, but grade disparities remain” published in PloS one, Mead and associates (2020) found that “the online mode of instruction is associated with lower course grades relative to the in-person mode” in the same university. This has something to do with complex socioeconomic factors. Thus, a blanket statement is not warranted as of yet. This, however, does not exclude the possibility and the potential of having select online programs being at par with their in-person versions.
In 2019, there were a total of 162,961 biology (including STEM) degrees awarded, and the number is growing at a 3.15% clip (Data USA, 2021). The median in-state tuition for public institutions is $8,505 (growing 1.6%) and the median out-of-state tuition for private tuition stands at $38,525 (growing 1.94%). This includes both traditional and online tuition fees.
As mentioned, biology degree online programs cost lower than traditional bachelor's in biology. The best online programs for full-time students cost from around $4,477 to $15,936 with an average of $8,457.25 (Affordable Colleges Online, 2021).
The biological sciences, as Burggren and colleagues (2017) in the Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity stated, has “long benefited from the intellectual and pragmatic input of ideas and techniques from other disciplines.” These include chemistry, medicine, mathematics, and engineering. The field interacts with many disciplines, including computer science, economics, and the humanities. So, if you are looking to be a researcher, biology will allow you to not just deep dive into the primary objects of study of biology, but also collaborate with other researchers from other disciplines. This alone is very rewarding.
When it comes to employment, biology majors have a median annual wage of $65,000, which is higher than the median wage of all fields at $60,000 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022).
Also, 79% of employed biology graduates work in healthcare practitioners and healthcare occupations (35%), management occupations (11%), educational instruction and library occupations (10%), life, physical, and social science occupations (10%), and business and financial operations occupations (5%). These occupations, too, are projected to grow faster than average with the healthcare occupations growing at a 15% rate. The rest are at 5%.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020
The same requirements stand for enrolling in an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Biology with traditional bachelor's in biology. These include a high school diploma or equivalent and SAT or ACT scores—although many schools waived these because of the pandemic. Here is a list of the typical requirements that you will need for enrollment.
Online students need to have a good reliable internet connection and a quality PC. These are the basic technological requirements. However, they might also need to invest in other devices and software to enhance their online learning experience. They could purchase quality sound devices like a microphone and a headphone. A good video camera would also be useful for synchronous lectures and group activities. Others also prefer to invest in other accessories like a dedicated tablet. Also, using online software tools for organizing notes, media, and schedules might be helpful.
There are two types of degrees in undergraduate programs in biology: Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and Bachelor of Science (B.S.). The former provides a more well-rounded liberal arts experience but with quality training in biology. The latter is more oriented towards science and math courses (UC Barbara, 2021).
A Bachelor of Arts in Biology degree will prepare students for career opportunities that require skills beyond pure science and mathematics (Burylo, 2020). These include careers in:
A Bachelor of Science in Biology degree program focuses on building in-depth skills in a particular field or area of study. The trade-off is that it is not as versatile as a B.A. degree (Buyrlo, 2020). However, this is a good choice for those that want to be in a research-heavy profession. These include careers in:
Genetics. This introduces students to the study of genes, their variations, and heredity. It also covers not just the structures and functions of hereditary material but also mutation and selection.
Microbiology. The course provides an overview of the field of microbiology and its sub-disciplines, including virology, mycology, immunology, and parasitology. Students are introduced to the study of microorganisms from unicellular to multicellular.
Principles of Biology. This introduces students to foundational topics in biology, including molecular organization, reproduction, evolution, and cellular structures. They will examine the different kinds and levels of life and their interactions in their specific environments.
Anatomy and Physiology. This course introduces students to the study of human anatomy and physiology. It covers topics ranging from the different functions to clinical applications.
Ecology. This focuses on the factors that influence the development of organisms and their physical environments. It introduces students to the ways of thinking about how these interactions come about and what they may lead to.
It is best for students to first check whether there are accredited programs available in their area. This is because the cost of tuition can vary for out-of-state and in-state students. Also, many online-based programs are actually hybrid programs where some courses and requirements need in-person presence. This is especially for lab work and internships.
With this in mind, prospective students should also look into the hidden costs of attending. For instance, internships cost money. And, so does research or lab work. Moreover, as programs are heavily or fully online, then one must have the basic technological needs to get to class and study. As mentioned, these include a fast and reliable internet connection and a good working computer.
Also, one of the most important things to check is the reputation of the school and its faculty in terms of specialization. Many who take up biology for their undergraduate education have graduate education in mind. And, as biology has many areas of study and research, one can do better with mentors with the right expertise.
In relation to this, one should also look at the support services that a school offers. This is not limited to academic support services like library access and the like. Prospective students should also look into the quality of a program’s influence and network. This is because a better-networked school can help connect them with other institutions for both research and employment purposes.
Biology is a wide-open field with many research and career opportunities. Biologists can find jobs in a wide variety of industries, including government institutions. And, depending on your degree type, one can also take on less research-heavy work like science communication, teaching, and as a lab technologist.
If you want to take on a research track, biology is a very vibrant field. There are many types of approaches that examine life at different levels—from a mathematical and relational standpoint to an analytic and functional focus. Also, because of its interconnectedness with other disciplines, research biologists also get to collaborate with experts working in other areas. And, as research interests in biology are vast, aspiring researchers will also find a wide-open field in terms of contributing to science—from theories to experimentations.
Likewise, an undergraduate degree in biology usually lands people in the medical field. Many become doctors and physicians. So, it is a good preparatory platform for those that want to work as medical professionals. Lastly, you can take a double degree with a related discipline. For instance, getting a bachelor's degree in Nutition will likely carry over a significant number of credits from your Biology courses.