The 8 Best Marine Biologist Programs In The US

Marine biology is the scientific field that studies life in the ocean.

The oceans cover about 71% of our home planet, so exploring the organisms and the environment they live in is a vast subject.

From coral reefs to deep-sea trenches, the ocean is home to many species and ecosystems that are still largely unknown to us.

As such, studying marine biology provides a unique opportunity to play a part in uncovering the ocean’s mysteries and gaining a deeper understanding of the complex relationships between marine life and our environment.

Higher education in the field is essential for those interested in pursuing a career in marine biology, as almost all employers require a degree-level qualification. 

Completing a degree in marine biology can provide individuals with a comprehensive understanding of the science and the skills necessary to make worthwhile contributions. 

This article will take a closer look at some of the best marine biologist programs in the US, highlighting the top schools and what they offer. 

Whether you’re just starting or looking to advance your career, your studies will be engaging and rewarding, with the potential to help you make a meaningful impact on the oceanic world.

What Is a Marine Biologist?

A marine biologist is a scientist who studies marine life. Most individuals will eventually specialize in a particular plant or animal group or a specific environment. 

What Is a Marine Biologist

Marine biologists investigate marine ecosystems, species diversity, and conservation issues. They may work in academia, government agencies, non-profit organizations, or the private sector.

A person with a degree in marine biology can pursue a variety of careers, including:

  • Marine Researcher: Researches marine organisms and their interactions with the environment
  • Marine Conservation Scientist: Works to protect and conserve marine species and their natural habitats. For example, coral reef restoration
  • Marine Educator: Teaches about the ocean and marine life to students
  • Aquarium Biologist: Works in aquariums and zoos to care for and study marine animals
  • Marine Resource Manager: Manages and conserves marine resources, such as fisheries and wildlife
  • Oceanographer: Studies the physical, chemical, and biological aspects of the ocean
  • Marine Technician: Works with scientists and researchers to collect and process data and samples
  • Marine Park Ranger: Protects and manages marine protected areas
  • Marine Sales Representative: Sells marine-related products and services
  • Oil Spill Response Specialist: Studies the effects of oil and other chemicals on marine life and researches the best ways to manage spillages to cause the least impact
  • Marine Policy Expert: Uses expertise to advise and lobby governments

The job duties of a marine biologist will vary depending on the specific role but may include the following:

  • Research, including fieldwork, lab work, and data analysis
  • Studying marine species, tracking the movements and behaviors of marine animals, conducting population surveys, and studying the genetics and evolution of marine species
  • Researching the ocean and its ecosystems, including the physical, chemical, and biological aspects of the sea and the impacts of climate change, pollution, and overfishing
  • Communicating research findings through research papers and presenting results at conferences
  • Collaborating with other scientists and stakeholders, including government agencies, non-profit organizations, and local communities, to help protect and conserve marine life

The career outlook and salary expectations for someone with a marine biology degree can vary widely depending on the individual’s level of education, practical experience, location, and specific job role.

Entry-level research assistant positions may not pay well, but they are a great place to gain experience.

When starting, it can be essential to be flexible and relocate for the best opportunities. Short to mid-length contracts are common, but you can use this to your advantage to cover a broad range of subjects in a reasonably short time.

Experienced marine biologists may still see vast differences in salaries depending on where they are working and who for.

Ph.D. holders running non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or those working as university department heads can see the highest rewards.

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Eight Top Marine Biologist Programs in the USA

Eight Top Marine Biologist Programs in the USA

The United States has a wealth of world-class marine biology programs, and as you would expect, the best schools for marine biology are focused on the east and west coasts.

Students start by studying for a bachelor of science in marine biology or a closely related specialty, which usually takes four years. Subsequently, after or even during work experience, they may choose to go further with a master’s or even a Ph.D. in marine biology.

Due to the wide area that marine biology covers, most programs focus on specific areas once the basics have been covered.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego

Undergraduate Degree – Marine Biology (BS) 

The Scripps Institution is one of the world’s most well-respected marine biology schools and is located on San Diego’s Pacific coast at La Jolla.

The school is famous for the quality of its research facilities and field trips that cover “intertidal zones, salt marshes, and other marine ecosystems.”

After students have completed the core elements, a wide choice of electives is offered, including California Coastal Oceanography, The Coral Reef Environment, and Biology of Fishes.

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University of North Carolina Wilmington

Undergraduate Degree – Marine Biology (BS) with Marine Conservation Option

UNCW – Credit to UNC Wilmington Seahawks used under the Public domain

The next of our marine biologist programs worthy of consideration is offered in North Carolina. The campus is ideally located for field activities, with access to the Atlantic Ocean and marshes, tidal flats, and estuarine habitats.

Programs include as much real research work as possible, with students often presenting at scientific meetings or contributing to research publications and, on the way, gaining valuable experience.

University laboratories are well-equipped and include well-designed wet labs and research areas. There’s even a dedicated pier for direct access to the Intracoastal Waterway and the ocean beyond.

University of Hawaii at Manoa

Credit to the University of Hawaii at Manoa used under the Public domain

Undergraduate Degree – Marine Biology (BS) 

Studying in Manoa, Honolulu sounds perfect. After all, the location in the Hawaiian Archipelago means that the stunning coral reef and central North Pacific Ocean are right on your doorstep.

It’s pretty normal for successful undergraduates to stay with the school and continue the excellent research and learning opportunities with either an MS or Ph.D. degree in Marine Biology.

But before you get to that, the four-year degree focuses on tropical marine ecology after the basics have been covered.

Naturally, there is field research in Hawaii and the surrounding Pacific islands, but make no mistake, this degree is serious and not just fun in the sun!

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The University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science

University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science Campus
The University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science Campus – Credit to UM Rosenstiel School used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0

Undergraduate Degree – Marine Biology and Ecology (BS) 

This degree course offers students the opportunity to learn a wide array of skills to give a grounding across “biomedicine, genomics, evolution, physiology, microbiology, immunology, and ecology.”

The diversity of the degree is perfect for anyone who isn’t quite sure which career path they may want to pursue while still providing enough focus to be valuable.

Research opportunities from the campus in Miami include studying coastal and oceanic ecosystems, from seagrass to corals and plankton to sharks.

Boston University

Credit to Boston University used under the Public domain

Undergraduate Degree – Marine Biology (BS) 

Boston University’s undergraduate marine biology program benefits from research professors considered world experts in fields including evolution, conservation, genetics, and ecology. 

The university has extensive relationships with facilities, including the New England Aquarium, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, the Sea Education Association, and other government and non-governmental marine conservation organizations.

This gives students excellent exposure to real-world situations they can use in their future careers.

University of California, Santa Cruz

Credit to University of California, Santa Cruz used under Public domain

Undergraduate Degree – Marine Biology (BS) 

The UC Santa Cruz Coastal Science Campus has an enviable location on the edge of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

The impressive facilities include excellent classrooms, seawater laboratory spaces, live marine research facilities, and, naturally, direct access to the Pacific Ocean.

The marine biology major at UCSC introduces students to marine coastal and oceanic ecosystems. Subsequently, fieldwork is available locally and as far afield as Costa Rica (tropical ecology) and Australia (marine sciences).

The university has excellent relations with local research institutions, marine-oriented federal agencies, state agencies, and non-profit organizations to assist students with work and research placements.

University of Maine School of Marine Sciences

School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences
This 80-foot former fishing boat is now owned by Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, which has repurposed it as a research vessel taking students on extended expeditions through the waterways of the region, sampling and studying local marine life.
Photo credit Andre Carrotflower used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0

Undergraduate Degree – Marine Science (BS) with a Concentration in Marine Biology

This school is located on the stunning Maine Coast. It offers an excellent marine science degree with options to specialize in marine biology to give “an overall appreciation and understanding of the chemical, geological, and physical environment of the ocean.”

Core subjects cover oceanography, marine policy, and climate change, amongst other topics, before specialized subjects, including conservation and ecology of marine animals, human impacts on the ocean, and deep sea biology, are chosen.

The program has one of the best-qualified faculties in the United States, with over thirty members. Graduate degrees are also available to continue your education in marine policy, marine biology, or oceanography.

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Roger Williams University – Feinstein School of Social and Natural Sciences

Roger Williams University

Undergraduate Degree – Marine Biology (BS)

Studying on the Rhode Island coast gives students direct experience of field studies in tidal zones as well as deep water in the locally situated Mount Hope Bay and Narragansett Bay.

The school is well-equipped for all areas in the field and has a 30-foot research vessel and a 200-foot-long platform stretching into the sea.

Inside, a shellfish hatchery and tropical fish aquaculture facility participates in cutting-edge research and allows students to learn the most modern techniques to carry into their careers. 

In addition to studies in the local waters, the school offers optional semesters at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences to study coral reef ecology and research diving methods.

Many students elect to participate in the internship at the  New England Aquarium, where they can gain valuable experience in aquaculture, aquarium science, and animal husbandry.

How To Choose the Best Marine Biology Program for You?

Choosing a college is one of the most critical life decisions you’ll ever make, so you should not rush into it.

Consider these points while drawing up your shortlist of marine biologist programs:

How To Choose the Best Marine Biology Program for You

Your Career Goals

At the top of the list should be what you want from the course. Your ultimate career aims, whether they’re in the industry, academia, or research, could determine which program is best for you.


The topic of marine biology is so broad that after the basics are covered, most programs diversify into different specialties.

Your career goals must align with the program’s as far as possible. If you’re interested in working in marine conservation, for example, look for a marine biology degree that includes elements on aquatic conservation and marine policy.


Accreditation means that the program meets set standards of quality and integrity as evaluated by one of several official bodies.

Attending an accredited program may be a requirement for students to access financial aid and might also be needed to transfer course credits to other institutions.

Some of the most well-known marine biology accrediting bodies include:


The best marine biology programs are located on the coast or have ready access. 

However, location can also affect the availability of specific specializations. For example, if you want to study sharks or marine mammals, you’ll want to be in a location where they live.

Facilities and Resources

Not all universities are created equal, so make sure that you evaluate the facilities and resources available to students. 

Practical Experience

Hands-on experience is critical for marine biology students, as it provides a deeper understanding of the vital skills needed in the job market.

Look for a program that offers lots of fieldwork and research opportunities. This will allow you to gain real-world experience and develop your skills.


Finally, it would be best if you thought about the cost.

Budget carefully and weigh the total cost for the program against everything else we’ve mentioned. Check out up-to-date job pages like Linkedin and Conservation Job Board to evaluate real-world salaries.


A marine biology higher education program is the best way to get into this immensely important field.

Career in Marine Biology

A qualified marine biologist can choose from many exciting and rewarding careers. However, the job market can be crowded, and picking the right program can give you a head start.

All of our top marine biologist programs have different strengths. But what they all have in common is a reputation for excellence in their facilities and research opportunities.

If you are interested in pursuing a career in marine biology, take the time to evaluate your options to find the program that best fits your interests and eventual goals.

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