Majoring in Marine Biology

When you're ready to enter a training and education program to become a marine biologist, you will need to declare a marine biology major either as an undergraduate or a graduate student. Most students interested in pursuing a master's degree in this field end up majoring in biology at the undergraduate level and completing a minor in marine biology or a related field. Only a handful of schools offer bachelor's degree programs where you can declare a marine biology major so you will need to search for a school that meets your needs.


Choosing marine biology as your major means you will take a series of very specialized courses in the field of marine biology and ocean sciences. Students study ocean geology, marine mammals, biological habitats and the chemical makeup of water. They study how animals and marine plants behave under different oceanic conditions, how the ecological environments of our oceans affect wildlife, plants and organisms, and also how to conduct experiments and research projects using the scientific method.

Choosing a Marine Biologist Major

Before you decide to declare a marine biology major, it's important that you understand what types of courses you will need to take and what type of hands-on training you will need to complete throughout your educational career. Typically this means you will need to write a thesis paper during your last year of study, complete an internship over the summer, and may need to complete fieldwork studies at a marines science research center or other facility.

Marine biology students also need to get their SCUBA certification because they will be working underwater to collect samples and learn about ocean life. Some degree programs also include courses in underwater photography and general fieldwork protocol.

If you're interested in this major, you'll need to prepare to do the following:

  • Take advanced chemistry and natural science courses
  • Take advanced physics and mathematics courses
  • Participate in fieldwork projects to observe marine life in natural environments
  • Complete an internship - either at an aquarium or a natural history museum
  • Complete a summer research project off campus at a marine science research institute
  • Spend at least one semester at sea
  • Write a senior thesis
  • Be prepared to move to a school located in a coastal location

Deciding on a Marine Biology Major

When you're choosing marine biology as a major, you'll need to consider the following about the schools or training centers you are interested in attending:

  • What area of study does the program emphasize?
  • What type of independent research projects is required?
  • Will the cost of lab work and fieldwork studies be included in the tuition?
  • Will undergraduate studies include internship opportunities or hands-on training?

You can ask these questions when researching different marine biology schools and comparing programs from different educational institutions.