Top Marine Biology Colleges

Marine biology schools bring knowledge from math, statistics, chemistry and many other disciplines to bear on the study of life in the oceans. To become a marine biologist, students must acquire an accredited college education up to the graduate level. A full Ph.D. is the standard for professional marine biology positions; it is required to conduct independent research and build a full-time career.

Most of the top marine biology colleges want students to choose a special area of focus following the completion of a bachelor’s degree. In a highly competitive field, specialization is a formative decision with major consequences for one’s employment outlook.

Best practices suggest planning a course of study based on the type of employment desired, especially given the broad and interdisciplinary scope of marine biology. Here are three East Coast universities with accredited marine biology programs to consider:

1. Duke University – Department of Marine Science and Conservation

Duke Marine Lab
Duke Marine Lab

Duke’s Department of Marine Science and Conservation, a division of the prestigious Nicholas School of the Environment, provides a number of valuable educational and research opportunities. The department gathers together one of the largest marine science communities in the U.S., regularly drawing noted influencers in the field. Many students from the U.S. and around the world come to Duke to spend just a single semester at the Department’s world-class Marine Laboratory in Beaufort, North Carolina.

Duke, not quite Ivy League, ranks highly in U.S. News & World Report, taking the #8 slot among national universities and schools with the best undergraduate teaching. The private institution is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Its ideal location in North Carolina’s Outer Banks exposes marine biology students to the wide biodiversity of the storied barrier islands.

Degree OptionsA Certificate in Marine Science and Conservation Leadership is available for students who complete a residential term at the Lab. Undergraduate students can earn a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Environmental Sciences with a concentration in marine ecosystems or, alternatively, a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or B.S. in the Earth and Ocean Sciences.

Bachelor recipients may go on to pursue the Master of Environmental Management (MEM) degree with a concentration in Coastal Environmental Management. A Professional Master’s Degree, the MEM is generally offered in place of either a master of arts or science.

Campus LocationsDuke’s main West campus, is located in Durham, North Carolina. The Marine Laboratory is found in the state’s port city of Beaufort.

AdmissionsDoctoral applicants must apply directly to one of three subject areas within Duke Graduate School: Environment, Marine Science and Conservation, or Earth and Ocean Sciences.

2. Boston University Marine Program

Boston University
Boston University

The Boston University Marine Program, commonly referred to as “BUMP,” is the private research university’s undergraduate marine science curriculum in the Department of Biology. The Department prioritizes training in advanced technologies such as microscopes, computers—even complex oceangoing vessels like submersibles. It is also recognized for its premier “Marine Semester,” on-line since 1985.

Marine Semester participants attend four consecutive intensive seminars and prepare a graduate-style research project. The successful provision of training modeled on advanced graduate studies is one reason BU is considered one of the best marine biology colleges on the Eastern seaboard. Boston University (BU) is ranked #51 among National Universities by U.S. News & World Report. BU’s Marine Program program affords desirable access to the biologically-rich watersheds stretching from Cape Ann to Cape Cod.

Degree OptionsBUMP students earn a B.A. in Marine Science. All majors must complete at least one Marine Semester to receive a degree, and more if feasible. Boston University additionally offers an esteemed Ph.D. program in Marine Biology through the Department of Biology.

Campus LocationsBUMP’s office is located on BU’s main campus, alongside the Charles River in Boston, Massachusetts. The Marine Semester takes place on the Boston campus and at field sites, as close as Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in the Massachusetts Bay and as farway as Belize in Central America.

AdmissionsThose seeking admission to the Boston University Marine Program should simply apply via the general BU application.

3. University of Maine School of Marine Sciences

Darling marine center - The Marine Laboratory of the University of Maine
Darling marine center – The Marine Laboratory of the University of Maine

Accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, the University of Maine is among the top 100 research schools in the U.S., according to the National Science Foundation. The School of Marine Sciences, or SMS, is at the heart of this distinction. Those that choose the Marine Biology track encounter interdisciplinary topics whose breadth combines the normal coursework of a B.S. in Biology with a special focus on marine species, plus input from chemistry, geology and oceanographic science.

SMS also features an in-residence “Semester-by-the-Sea” program, now in its 20th year. The Semester-by-the-Sea, or SBS, is a popular fall-term course designed to immerse undergraduates in fieldwork that integrates classroom knowledge with experiential instruction. The SBS seminar series gives students a taste of the real-world practice of marine biology before they commit to graduate school.

Degree OptionsSMS offers a B.S. in Marine Science. A capstone research project sponsored by a faculty member is necessary to finish the four-year degree. Many marine biology students choose the Semester-by-the-Sea program to fulfill this requirement.

SMS also invites candidature in both a master’s and Ph.D. program in Oceanography and Marine Biology, as well as a twin master’s diploma which joins a Policy component with a component in either Aquaculture, Marine Biology or Oceanography.

Campus LocationsUMaine has several campus locations; its School of Marine Sciences is located on the central campus in Orono, Maine, while the Darling Marine Center is in Walpole at Maine’s central shoreline.

AdmissionsA minimum of sophomore-year standing with one year each of biology and chemistry is required to participate in the Semester-by-the-Sea.

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