Marine biology is one of the most popular majors for college students who have a love of the ocean—or at least a love of the animals in it. The best marine biology colleges cater to students from all backgrounds and countries who have a passion for the creatures of the sea.
The field of marine biology draws the attention of those who want to learn about the sea and how to protect it, all while being inspired by it. What exactly do marine biologists do, though?
What Do Marine Biologists Do?
Marine biologists run tests on ocean animals and strive to understand life below the surface of the water. But what exactly do these professionals do on a daily basis? And what makes marine biology colleges a favorable destination for many future marine scientists?
Scientists working in marine biology conduct inventories of various species and perform extensive research. They monitor marine animals and information about the condition of the oceans, lakes, seas, and rivers, such as pollution levels.
In addition, marine biologists collect and test ocean samples. They also map the ranges, movements, and distribution of marine animals. Finally, they preserve samples and specimens of new and previously unknown marine species and collect information on marine diseases.
What Are the Best Marine Biology Schools?
While dozens of colleges offer marine biology as a major, some offer more comprehensive programs than others.
A good marine biology program offers students the chance to participate in hands-on, interactive activities and in-depth research opportunities. Participation in on-site educational activities and experiments is critical for every great marine biology college program.
The best marine biology schools are those that have a strong reputation, high median earnings of graduates, a large, in-depth program, and a low student-faculty ratio, among other important features.
The following are the top marine biology colleges in the U.S.
Florida Southern College
Understandably, some of the best marine biology colleges are those near bodies of water, and Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida, is no exception. Its central Florida location is within driving distance of both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.
While students participate in many off-campus excursions and research activities nearby, they also engage in various projects and independent studies.
The marine biology program enforces a strong outdoor component, during which students study everything from microscopic organisms to large ocean animals. You’ll even find students who travel to locations like the Bahamas, Costa Rica, and Jamaica to further their studies through Florida Southern College.
Florida Southern’s overall acceptance rate is 50%, it has an undergraduate enrollment of about 2,700 students, and the middle 50% SAT and ACT score ranges are 1110–1285 and 24–30, respectively.
University of South Carolina
The University of South Carolina is located in Columbia, South Carolina, with an undergraduate enrollment of approximately 26,700 students. Its acceptance rate is 68%, and the middle 50% SAT and ACT score ranges are 1140–1340 and 25–31, respectively.
The school offers students a prolific knowledge of marine biology while they gain plenty of exposure and experience with real-world applications.
If this is one of the marine biology schools you’re interested in, know that if you’re accepted, you’ll begin your studies by spending three weeks in Georgetown at the Baruch Institute. Only then will you move on to begin coursework with lab components in the program.
Students rate the SC marine biology program as one of the best because of the available research projects with faculty and routine visits to government and industry organizations.
Eckerd College is located in Saint Petersburg, Florida, and boasts one of the country’s finest marine biology college programs today. Students enjoy unprecedented personal attention from faculty during fieldwork, coursework, and real-time research projects.
The school has approximately 2,000 undergraduate students on campus, and its acceptance rate is 69%. The middle 50% SAT and ACT score ranges are 1090–1285 and 24–29.
Eckerd’s Scientist at Sea program gives students opportunities to plan and launch professional research projects. If you enroll in the Eckerd College Dolphin Project, you can learn to conduct field research by surveying Boca Ciega Bay dolphins.
Students in Eckerd College’s marine biology program also have access to internships at places like the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, the U.S. Geological Survey Center, and others.
Located in Cambridge, MA, with an enrollment of just under 10,000 undergrad students, Harvard surprises many people by being one of the best marine biology colleges in the country.
The university’s Department of Organismic & Evolutionary Biology is where you’ll find marine biology students, many of whom could also pursue a degree in biological oceanography.
Learning opportunities for marine biology students at Harvard include participating in diverse traveling expeditions. Locations include Panama, Bocas del Toro, and many others where students can explore and study diverse marine ecosystems.
Harvard has an undergraduate student population of 9,900 and an acceptance rate of about 5%. The middle 50% SAT and ACT score ranges are 1460–1580 and 33–35, respectively.
Nova Southeastern University
In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, you’ll come upon Nova Southeastern University. With almost 5,000 undergraduate students and an acceptance rate of 76%, it’s one of the best marine biology colleges in the U.S. The middle 50% SAT and ACT score ranges are 1030–1240 (SAT) and 20–27 (ACT).
NSU is an avid proponent of giving students opportunities to “learn more about the unexplored,” especially when it comes to marine sciences. If you’re interested in attending Nova Southeastern, you’ll be able to experience the famous Oceanographic Campus and the Guy Harvey Oceanographic Research Center.
You will also have a big part in the research that goes on at the campus as you study everything from sharks to coral communities.
University of California, Santa Cruz
UC Santa Cruz is one of the top marine biology schools in the state and the country for many reasons. The school has over 17,000 undergraduate students enrolled, an acceptance rate of 65%, a middle 50% SAT score range of 1150–1370, and a middle 50% ACT score range of 23–30.
Students in the marine biology program are taught core principles that are used to understand marine life environments as they experience how those environments are shaped. They also engage in research projects and field excursions at several marine facilities, including several in the Coastal Biology Building on campus.
There are quarter-long field programs and opportunities available for students to work in several applications, including:
- State agencies
- Non-profit organizations
- Marine-oriented federal agencies
In addition, students are given opportunities to become part of elite research at institutions throughout the area.
Brown University is located in Providence, Rhode Island, and has an undergraduate enrollment of about 7,000 students. This elite Ivy League college has an acceptance rate of just 8% and test scores of 1440–1560 for the SAT and 33–35 for the ACT.
In Brown’s marine biology program, students research and learn in multiple sub-disciplines. The marine biology track includes several courses and field experience opportunities as well.
In addition, the school’s Department of Earth, Environmental, and Planetary sciences offers a research program with its marine biology laboratory that exposes students to environmental science and biomedicine.
Samford University is located in Birmingham, Alabama, and is home to 3,500 undergraduate students. Its acceptance rate is 84%, its middle 50% SAT score range is 1060–1240, and its middle 50% ACT score range is 23–29.
Students in Samford’s marine biology program are prepared for careers in the field through on-site hands-on training as they participate in field studies, aquaculture, and laboratory research opportunities.
They also enjoy special opportunities to engage in internships at places like the Mote Marine Laboratory and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. If you’re interested in attending Samford University for its marine biology program, you may also find yourself studying at Dauphin Island Sea Lab!
The Boston University Marine Program (BUMP) offers students elite opportunities in its interdisciplinary program with courses across a variety of fields, including:
- Physical science
The school also offers students the Marine Semester, a four-month-long research-based experience with courses in marine biology. Students learn from BU faculty and scientists at several New England facilities as they conduct research and fieldwork engagements.
Boston University has 18,500 undergraduate students, and the acceptance rate hovers at about 20%. The middle 50% SAT and ACT score ranges for its incoming students are 1310–1500 and 30–34.
One of the best marine biology schools in the country is Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York. Students can major in biology with a specialty in marine biology; they can also choose an interdisciplinary major.
The university’s internship opportunities and research programs for its marine biology students are first-rate and difficult to beat! One program of note is the Marine Ecology of the Mediterranean Sea and North Africa course.
This course takes students through the coast of Spain to examine marine ecosystems and make comparisons between regions. Students also visit vital special interest areas, research facilities, and key ecosystems.
Syracuse University has an undergraduate enrollment of about 15,000 students, and its acceptance rate is just under 70%. The middle 50% test score ranges are 1130–1370 for the SAT and 25–30 for the ACT.
University of Oregon
The University of Oregon in Eugene, OR, is home to just over 19,000 undergrad students, and its acceptance rate is 83%. The average SAT scores of incoming students range from 1090–1290, and the average ACT scores range from 22–29.
As the home of one of the country’s most prestigious marine biology programs, the U of O offers students many once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
If you plan on enrolling in the U of O’s marine biology program, you’ll experience field-based learning that is not only hands-on but also challenging. You’ll spend your time on campus and at the renowned Oregon Institute of Marine Biology (OIMB) and have access to plenty of research opportunities and internships.
Some marine biology students travel to Panama for the renowned Tropical Marine Biology class offered every other summer. There are also many additional opportunities for students to study abroad at U of O, which offers the only marine biology degree in the Pacific Northwest.
Northeastern University is located in Boston, Massachusetts, and is home to one of the nation’s most elite bachelor of science marine biology programs. The program’s emphasis lies on climate change, but students become fully prepared for careers that span the entire breadth of marine science.
With a strong foundation in sea life studies, students are also exposed to additional marine topics, like:
- Evolution of marine organisms
- Coastal processes
- Marine biogeochemistry
- Ocean processes
Students also study issues facing marine creatures and ecosystems while they take advantage of internship and fieldwork opportunities. The Three Seas Program is an optional two-semester offering that takes students on a research experience across the Pacific Northwest, coastal Panama, and the Gulf of Maine.
Northeastern University has almost 14,000 undergraduate students on its campus, and its acceptance rate is a competitive 20%. The middle 50% SAT score range for incoming freshmen is 1410–1540 and the 50% ACT score range is 33–35.
The Best Colleges for Marine Biology
All of the top programs for marine biology at colleges and universities are designed to give students a solid foundation in the field and prepare them for a rewarding lifelong career.
Whether a student focuses on marine biogeochemistry, coastal processes, global and oceanic change, or marine organisms, they’ll learn core skills that will take them above and beyond in their field.
If you’re interested in applying to one of the top marine biology schools, you will need to earn a strong GPA and achieve high test scores. You must also participate in some extracurricular activities in high school that spark your interest. Consider activities related to your desired career path whenever possible.
The opportunities you’ll come across while studying in any one of the top programs for marine biology are unique chances to explore the world in places and ways you never dreamed of; you just have to work hard in high school and prepare for college to get there.