7 Best Online Master’s in Biology

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The study of biology is a singularity that explodes in almost countless directions and into an extremely long list of professional careers. The common denominator, though, is a connection to the natural world – understanding how it behaves and using it to improve people's lives. People with master's degrees in biology can study human genetics, delve into archeological mysteries, collect evidence at crime scenes, develop drugs that can extend the human lifespan, and teach biology-related subjects in high school and college. Students with graduate-level knowledge of biology also sharpen their ability to conduct research and improve their ability to communicate with the public and their peers.

As with many scientific professions, jobs based on a biology master's degree can pay well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Glassdoor, the median salary for a genetic counselor, for instance, is about $80,000. A physician's assistant can earn $62,000 and a bioinformatician can make $78,000. Other estimated salaries include $58,000 for an environmental scientist, $56,000 for a research lab manager, and $69,000 for a biotechnology researcher. High school or college instructors can earn between $45,000 and $49,000. You can step off the well-beaten path and try something like an arborist, who chooses and manages trees and plants for business and communities. That profession pays an average of $42,000 a year.

The master's degree programs on this list offer coursework that can be accessed online. Most offer fully online programs; some are hybrids that require a small amount of coursework on campus. All are designed to accommodate working professionals who have limited time available to take classes. Courses are offered in the evening and during the summer. Some of the programs here have a specific goal, such as preparing graduates to teach biology in high school or college. None of the programs listed require a thesis. Instead of a thesis students can prepare a research paper or pass a comprehensive exam. All of the programs open the door to the myriad professional options found in the field of biology.

Ranking Methodology: "It's science!"

The researchers and writers at Best Master's Degrees don't make recommendations based upon preference– we back our rankings with science. Here's a quick breakdown of how we organize ranking data:

  • Finances (40%)
  • Academic Rigor (35%)
  • Student Gratification (25%)

Nearly half of the data used to score each ranking involves finances and are acquired from sources such as the National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Education, Glassdoor, and PayScale. Financial data encompasses the cost of tuition, fees, and class supplied; the average price of living; access to financial aid and social services; and lastly, the projected annual salary acquired from degree outcomes and income for loan repayment. The second largest category of information involves the quality of education, how competitive degree applicants should be for consideration, and how exclusive a degree program is overall. The final 25 percent of collected data is dependent on student and alumni reviews from sources such as PayScale, Rate My Professor, and Students Review.

Want to Learn More?

The amount of information available for specific degrees is plentiful, and Best Master's Degrees aims to provide as many resources as we can. Check out our Methodology page for more information and resource links.


#7 – Clemson University

Masters for Science Educators in Biological Sciences (MS Nonthesis/Online)

Clemson, SC

This fully online degree program from Clemson University is aimed at science educators who want a foundation in biology. The program does not require a thesis. Instead, students develop and write about a research project. This isn't as rigorous as a thesis, but the research is expected to be original in scope. One class, consisting of an entire semester, will be devoted to collecting data for the project, and another for conducting and recording the project itself. The program has 30 credit hours, of which no more than 12 can be transferred from another institution whose academic reputation is accepted by Clemson. The program is on a fixed schedule of fall, spring, and summer courses. Classes focus on subjects such as microbiology, scientific communication, and cellular processes. The degree can be wrapped up in six semesters – two years – but students have up to six years to finish. Application requirements include GRE and TOEFL scores, a resume, and two letters of recommendation.

Graduate Tuition/Fees: $9,386 / $19,776


#6 – Alcorn State University

Master's of Biology

Lorman, MS

A Master's of Biology is one of ten graduate-level degrees offered online by Alcorn State University, public institution that runs on a semester calendar. Alcorn State, located about 70 miles southwest of Jackson, MS, is ranked No. 21 among historically black colleges and universities by U.S. News & World Report. The master's program has 33 credit hours of coursework. There are four core classes. The remaining seven classes for the degree are selected from among 18 elective courses. Students can choose a non-thesis track. It is provided fully online, using the Blackboard platform and other digital tools. Classes are offered in fall, spring and summer. The program can be completed in one year if the student enrolls full time. The online program has a non-thesis approach, which essentially means students seeking this degree aren't pursuing a research-based career. Instead of a thesis, the student writes a research paper based on faculty-selected topics in biological sciences. Applications to the program require transcripts, test scores and two letters of recommendation.

Graduate Tuition/Fees: $5,732


#5 – Worcester Polytechnic Institute

MS in Biotechnology

Worchester, MA

The master's program at Worchester Polytechnic Institute targets people who have a professional or academic background in biology or a related field and want to make a mark in the research-based field of biotechnology. The MS in Biotechnology is a hybrid program as most of the coursework can be done online but there are also lab sessions that must be carried out on campus or at sites near WPI. The labs are built to accommodate students with busy schedules. The master's program consists of 30 semester credit hours and it can be completed in two years. However, most WPI online students need three years or more to finish a graduate program. A thesis is not required. Three required classes are skills-based and five are designed to increase the student's depth of knowledge of biology and biotech. Two more classes are chosen from an approved list of electives.

Graduate Tuition/Fees: $27,234


#4 – University of Nebraska at Kearney

Master of Science in Biology

Kearney, NE

The online master's degree at the University of Nebraska at Kearney was designed for students who want an advanced education in biology but don't have the means or time to take classes on campus. The Master of Science in Biology program does not require a thesis. Instead, the student must pass a comprehensive exam that touches on everything learned in the program. This is a strong option for current biology professionals who aren't engaged in research or don't see research as part of their professional goals. The master's program consists of 36 semester credit hours. There are four required core courses and the remaining 24 credit hours are fulfilled with graduate-level biology electives. Classes have several broad areas of study including genetics, ecology, and biological tools and applications. Students must maintain a 3.0 GPA in all master's courses. Applicants to the master's program must have a bachelor's degree in biology or have completed 24 undergraduate hours in the discipline. They also must have a GPA of at least 2.75 in all undergraduate coursework and submit transcripts and a letter describing professional goals.

Graduate Tuition/Fees: $5,892 / $12,930


#3 – Texas A&M University-Commerce

Master of Science in Biological Science

Commerce, TX

This master's degree is aimed at biology teachers who wanted to expand their knowledge of the field and who are looking at getting a degree for dual credit or who want to teach biology at the college level. The Master of Science in Biological Science is not for students who plan to go on to get a Ph.D. or similar advanced degrees. The degree is offered fully online to accommodate students who need a flexible academic schedule. The programs consists of 36 hours, of which three hours is a research paper. Class subjects include pharmacology, epigenetics, virology, and hydrology. Applicants must have a bachelor's degree in biology or a related subject with a minimum GPA of 2.75 overall or 3.0 in the last 60 credit hours. Students also must have completed 12 credit hours of junior- and senior-level biology classes with a GPA of at least 3.0. Other application requirements include transcripts, two letters of recommendation, and a letter that describes academic and career goals.

Graduate Tuition/Fees: $3,630 / $11,100


#2 – Western Kentucky University

Master of Science in Biology

Bowling Green, KY

Online classes for the Master of Science in Biology degree at Western Kentucky University are offered year-round, including in the summer. The coursework is fully online and does not require a thesis. Students can design elective courses to focus on areas such as genetics, ecology, or plant biology. The master's program consists of 30 credit hours. There are three cores courses totaling nine credit hours. The remaining 22 credit hours can be taken from an extensive list of adviser-approved classes. Classes include Lab Cell Biology, Herpetology, and Molecular Genetics. Students can transfer up to 12 credit hours of graduate-level courses outside this list of courses if approved by an adviser. Application to the program requires GRE scores, a bachelor's degree in biology or related field, a 3.0 GPA in all coursework, transcripts, a statement of purpose, and letters of reference.

Graduate Tuition/Fees: $12,140 / $17,980


#1 – Illinois Institute of Technology

Master of Science in Biology

Chicago, IL

The Illinois Institute of Technology's master's degree, offered fully online, specializes in applied life sciences. The Master of Science in Biology is designed to prepare graduates for working on the front lines of technological innovation and the discovery of new drugs and treatments for serious diseases and an aging population. The program consists of 32 semester credit hours. There are 20 hours of required courses, such as Biochemistry and Good Manufacturing Practices. Elective courses such as Bioinformatics, Macromolecular Structure, and Public Engagement for Scientists take up the remaining 12 elective credit hours. Among the required coursework is a capstone project in which the student demonstrates their mastery of the discipline. The capstone can be replaced by an approved project from IIT's Interprofessional Project Program, in which students from various disciplines collaborate on solving real-world problems. Preferred applicants should have a minimum GPA of 3.0 in undergraduate work, and a GRE score of 305 in quantitative/verbal and 2.5 in analytical writing.

Graduate Tuition/Fees: $29,328