What Can You Do with an Undergraduate Biology Degree?
As you probably know, biology is the study of life and living organisms. It’s a broader field than many others, including other science and life sciences. (However, you may choose to specialize in biological sciences like evolutionary biology or environmental biology.) As a biology major, you’ll master a wide range of subjects and develop highly marketable skills. As a result, you’ll find that many career options – and not just biology careers – are open to you.
If you're looking to start a biology career, this article is for you. In this blog, we will discuss what a Biology major is, and the top career choices for people who study in a biology degree program.
What will you study?
Many think that biology and chemistry require the same curriculum, but pay attention to some differences between required courses for biology vs. chemistry. As a biology major, you may complete courses such as:
- Animal behavior
- Cell structure and systems
- Chemical analysis
- Environmental biology
- General chemistry
- General physics
- Human anatomy
- Infectious disease
- Molecular biology
- Organic chemistry
- Vertebrate biology
Keep in mind that there are a number of different specialties biology students can focus on. Whether you study molecular biology, marine biology, or conservation biology, your coursework will be dependent on what kind of field you choose to study. Your coursework will also include math and other science courses (chemistry, physics, etc.).
So you've taken a course or two in biology, and maybe you've done some research. You already know you enjoy the subject. But you're wondering, What can you do with a biology degree? But the real question is, "What can't you do?"
Careers with a biology degree
What can a biology major do? Some career paths may surprise you. Below we quickly outline five very different career paths for Biology majors.
Research: Going into a research career can be extremely satisfying. Your job will be to study the world and the organisms that surround you. Most recently, you can see how important researchers have been in the health industry as we try to understand the COVID-19 pandemic. If you're interested in the public health space, you can also read our article 'What is a public health degree?' for a more in-depth explanation.
Environmental Conservation: Whether through the government, business, or non-profit sector, there are many opportunities to help solve the issues that are plaguing our environment. Whether it's fighting for clean water, reducing air pollution, or saving endangered species, a career in environmental conservation can be varied and work across many different subjects. Careers like marine biologists, nature conservation officers, or even continuing their education to become a medical examiner.
Forensic Scientist: A forensic scientist works with law enforcement to aid investigations by collecting and analyzing evidence. Even within forensic science, many choose to specialize in a certain area such as crime scene investigation, forensic anthropology, or even continuing their education to become a medical examiner.
Government: A biology career in the government would most likely focus on creating and changing policy based on the research around healthcare or changing environmental factors. Whether it is as a political advisor, political figure, or representative within a not-for-profit, the focus is on the law and how it interacts with science.
Public Sector: Whether as a pharmaceutical salesperson, a startup founder, or even as a biological engineer, more and more companies are focusing on biosciences. In recent years, for example, biotech has been at the forefront of the start-up industry. Companies like 23&Me (DNA/ancestry tests), Everlywell (diagnostic testing), and Impossible Foods (plant-based meat alternatives) are just a few companies that show the vast range of businesses and topics you can explore in the public sector with a biology degree.
These are just a few of the many paths one can take with a biology degree. A few other career opportunities include:
- Biological technician
- Environmental scientist
- Forensic scientist
- Genetic counselor
- Health communications specialist
- Health educator
- High school teacher (biology teacher or other)
- Laboratory technician
- Nature conservation officer
- Pharmaceutical / Medical product sales representative
- Physician assistant or nurse practitioner
- Research scientist
- Science writer
Keep in mind that many of these jobs require an advanced degree (not only an associate's degree or bachelor's degree, but also a master's degree, doctoral degree, professional degree, or medical school degree). If you're not interested in pursuing graduate school, you'll need to investigate the requirements for each career path. For example, if you are interested in being a pharmacist, understanding the pharmacist education requirements will be essential.
A biology degree goes beyond the traditional classroom
The variety in Biology classes tends to keep things really interesting, intellectually speaking … but you’ll also be challenged outside of the classroom. Your college or university biology program should incorporate plenty of hands-on experience in labs, fieldwork assignments, and internships. Be ready to wear a lab coat or hip waders at various times during your education! (If you prefer to study alone in your room, this may not be the major for you.)
Your hands-on experience will give you a great feel for what it’s like to work in a biology career professionally. When you conduct your own research, you’ll also show your professors – and future employers – that you think clearly, creatively, and independently; motivate yourself effectively; and work well as a member of a team (a skill that involves communication, delegation, and management). Biology students will also have to prove that they can assess and analyze data – which is vital to virtually every field. With the preparation this degree gives you, your career opportunities will be almost limitless.
Your four-year degree in biology will also prepare you well for graduate study – which is a good thing because many general biology majors who want to pursue a research-based career path will need to continue their education beyond a bachelor of science. After you earn your undergraduate degree, you may choose to pursue an advanced degree program.
Biology majors appear to have a bright future in terms of both salary and job outlook. According to ZipRecruiter, the average salary for a biologist with a bachelor’s of science in biology is $53,646. And Best Colleges reports that according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, biology careers will continue to grow through 2026. Biology-related careers hold a great deal of promise. If you think biology could be for you, consider North Central College. You’ll learn what it’s like to be a biologist in your first year by conducting research in its renowned Wentz Science Center. You’ll also have the chance to present original research at the College’s Rall Symposium for Undergraduate Research, apply for funded summer research, and work with a dedicated pre-health advisor if you’re interested in a medical, dental, veterinary or allied-health career. Visit www.northcentralcollege.edu/program/biology for more information on how this program can help you exceed your expectations.
Lauren Ford works with North Central College’s marketing and communications office. An award-winning writer, she also runs her own communications firm, serving a variety of not-for-profit organizations across the United States. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Connecticut College and her master’s from the University of Chicago.