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Duke University
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The 20 Best Colleges for Marine Biology

What’s Covered:


Do you dream of following the advice of Sebastian and exploring life “under the sea”? As the beloved crab from The Little Mermaid told Ariel, “such wonderful things surround you” in the ocean.


And if you study marine biology, you’ll learn about all the creatures, environment, and life in the sea. The science discipline draws numerous future marine biologists every year. Are you interested in exploring the world of water? If so, check out these 20 top schools for the major.


How We Made This List


This list is based on several factors, including the reputation of the program, the median earnings of graduates of the major, the popularity of the marine biology major with the institution, the size of the program relative to the size of the school, and the student-faculty ratio at the larger institution.


20 Best Marine Biology Schools


1. University of Oregon

Location: Eugene, OR

Undergrad Enrollment: 19,100

Acceptance Rate: 83%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1090-1290/22-29


The University of Oregon’s baccalaureate degree in Marine Biology is one of just a handful of its kind offered on the Pacific Coast. Along with a modern biology curriculum, students experience hands-on, field-based learning. Students spend their time at both the U of O Eugene campus and the renowned Oregon Institute of Marine Biology (OIMB), completing at least three upper-level terms at OIMB.


Marine Biology students have access to internships and research opportunities, including programs offered through OIMB. They may also travel to Panama for a Tropical Marine Biology course, which is offered every other summer. The larger university has many additional study abroad opportunities for Marine Biology students.


2. Syracuse University 

Location: Syracuse, NY

Undergrad Enrollment: 15,200

Acceptance Rate: 69%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1130-1370/25-30


Future marine biologists can major in biology at Syracuse, focusing on specialties in marine biology or other niches. Students can also choose an interdisciplinary major. Either way, they will have access to cutting-edge research experiences and internships.


One noteworthy program is the Marine Ecology of the Mediterranean Sea and North Africa course. The course examines main coastal and marine ecosystems, comparing practices between Europe and the North of Africa. Students will travel through the coast of Spain and visit key ecosystems, research facilities, and special interest areas.


3. Northeastern University

Location: Boston, MA

Undergrad Enrollment: 13,900

Acceptance Rate: 20%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1410-1540/33-35


With an emphasis on climate change, Northeastern’s Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology program seeks to prepare future professionals in the field with a foundation in sea life, allowing them to explore topics like ocean and coastal processes, marine biogeochemistry, ecology and evolution of marine organisms, and more. Students grapple with contemporary issues facing marine organisms and ecosystems and participate in experiential learning, including lab and field world and internship opportunities at Northeastern’s Marine Science Center in Nahant, Mass.


Northeastern also provides opportunities in interdisciplinary programs and several study abroad programs. The Three Seas Program, an optional, two-semester program, in particular, is known for its unique approach, combining inquiry-based, global study, fieldwork, and research across the Gulf of Maine, tropical coastal Panama, and the Pacific Northwest.


4. Florida International University 

Location: Miami, FL

Undergrad Enrollment: 48,800

Acceptance Rate: 58%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1110-1260/23-29


Through FIU’s Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology program, students gain a strong foundation in structural and evolutionary developmental biology, physiology, organismal diversity, physical oceanography, and ecology. They have the opportunity to conduct research in both the lab and in the field, exploring the diverse marine life of Florida and the Caribbean.


The Honors in Marine Biology program gives exceptional students the chance to work under faculty mentors, conducting their own original research, completing a thesis paper, and presenting their results at a departmental seminar. 


5. University of California, Santa Barbara

Location: Santa Barbara, CA

Undergrad Enrollment: 23,300

Acceptance Rate: 37%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1230-1480/26-33 (currently test-blind)


UCSB prides itself on being one of the few universities in the country to offer an undergraduate major in aquatic biology. The program combines coursework and laboratory and field experience in marine and freshwater sub-disciplines. Thanks to the university’s location, students can take advantage of the Pacific Ocean and the UC system’s protected natural land and water reserves, along with numerous other natural resources. 


Meanwhile, UCSB’s world-famous Marine Science Institute is a leader in ocean and environmental research, involving faculty and graduate students in groundbreaking studies of areas like global environmental change, biological oceanography, and more.


6. Boston University

Location: Boston, MA

Undergrad Enrollment: 18,500

Acceptance Rate: 20%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1310-1500/30-34


Offered through the BU Marine Program (BUMP), the BA in Marine Science is an interdisciplinary program with courses in biological, chemical, geological, and physical oceanography. 


Additionally, all majors complete the Marine Semester, a series of four month-long research-based courses, during which students conduct research across renowned New England facilities, along with the Belizean Barrier Reef, together with BU faculty and professional scientists.


7. University of California, Los Angeles

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Undergrad Enrollment: 31,500

Acceptance Rate: 14%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1290-1520/29-34


UCLA’s Marine Biology major focuses on the study of marine organisms and their environment. Students are required to participate in the Marine Biology Quarter (MBQ), which gives them an opportunity to “live the life of a marine biologist.” Under faculty and graduate assistant guidance, they will design their own research projects, conduct experiments, and present their work. According to the university, some undergraduates have had this research published in major peer-reviewed journals.


8. Auburn University

Location: Auburn, AL

Undergrad Enrollment: 24,600

Acceptance Rate: 85%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1160-1320/25-31


Auburn’s Marine Biology major gives students a foundation in basic biological concepts. They also choose among electives and are required to participate in summer courses offered at marine labs across the country, such as Dauphin Island Sea Lab and Gulf Coast Research Lab. Students are encouraged to undertake internships and research as undergraduates, in order to prepare for careers or advanced study of the subject.


9. Samford University 

Location: Birmingham, AL

Undergrad Enrollment: 3,500

Acceptance Rate: 84%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1060-1240/23-29


Samford’s BS in marine science program seeks to prepare students for a career in the field through hands-on training in marine biology. Students take part in field studies, laboratory research, and aquaculture. Students receive support and mentorship from faculty and have the opportunity to undertake an internship, thanks to assistance from the customizable internship program, which has placed past students at facilities like the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Mote Marine Laboratory.


One particularly noteworthy element of the program is the summer experience at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) off the Alabama coast.


10. University of Miami

Location: Coral Gables, FL

Undergrad Enrollment: 11,100

Acceptance Rate: 33%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1250-1420/28-32


The Marine Biology & Ecology (BSMAS) degree at Miami provides students with a strong background in biology and quantitative skills, while allowing them to undertake hands-on research in biomedicine, genomics, evolution, physiology, microbiology, immunology, and ecology. Students have the opportunity to work with diverse faculty in the department while learning core concepts and exploring niche topics.


11. Duke University

Location: Durham, NC

Undergrad Enrollment: 6,600

Acceptance Rate: 8%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1470-1570/34-35


Students majoring in biology at Duke may choose a concentration in marine biology, focusing on the study of organisms in a marine environment. Through the concentration, they will take courses at the acclaimed Duke University Marine Laboratory. They will also participate in lab work and complete a Capstone course.


Students who matriculated in fall 2021 or later may also pursue the Marine Science & Conservation major or minor, an interdisciplinary study of marine systems.


12. Brown University

Location: Providence, RI

Undergrad Enrollment: 7,000

Acceptance Rate: 8%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1440-1560/33-35


Students who pursue a concentration (Brown’s term for major or program of study) in Biology at Brown may choose a track in Marine biology, taking at least three courses in the sub-discipline and participating in research in the field.


Meanwhile, the Department of Earth, Environmental, and Planetary Sciences has a collaborative research program with the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), covering biomedicine and environmental science.


13. University of Washington

Location: Seattle, WA

Undergrad Enrollment: 32,000

Acceptance Rate: 56%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1200-1427/27-33


Marine biology students at UW explore the marine aspects of biodiversity, organismal processes, and ecology and ecosystems, along with the conservation and management responses to ocean change. In addition to core subjects, majors complete an integrative field experience — either research or a field course — at a site like Friday Harbor Labs. 


14. University of California, Santa Cruz

Location: Santa Cruz, CA

Undergrad Enrollment: 17,700

Acceptance Rate: 65%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1150-1370/23-30


The marine biology major at UC Santa Cruz emphasizes basic principles that help people understand the processes that shape life in marine environments. Many facilities are located in the Coastal Biology Building on the UC Santa Cruz Coastal Science Campus. Students have plenty of research and experiential learning opportunities, including quarter-long field programs, as well as opportunities to work in marine-oriented federal agencies, state agencies, research institutions, and nonprofit organizations.


15. Nova Southeastern University

Location: Fort Lauderdale, FL

Undergrad Enrollment: 4,900

Acceptance Rate: 76%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1030-1240/20-27


NSU seeks to give students the opportunity to “learn more about the unexplored.” As an A.B.S. Marine Biology student, you will experience NSU’s Oceanographic Campus, where you’ll have access to the Guy Harvey Oceanographic Research Center and see marine life right from your classroom. You will take part in research while diving into electives focusing on topics like zoology, sharks, and coral communities. 


16. Rollins College

Location: Winter Park, FL

Undergrad Enrollment: 2,500

Acceptance Rate: 61%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1120-1330/24-32


Rollins’ marine biology program takes full advantage of Rollins’ setting on the Florida peninsula. Students gain hands-on experience, conducting graduate-level lab and field research in the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, and Maine. They also receive personal attention from faculty, who help them prepare for exciting internships and volunteer work in the field. 


There are several special opportunities, such as the Student-Faculty Collaborative Program, which allows students to work alongside a faculty member on real research.


17. Harvard University 

Location: Cambridge, MA

Undergrad Enrollment: 9,900

Acceptance Rate: 5%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1460-1580/33-35


Harvard’s Department of Organismic & Evolutionary Biology is home to the Integrative Biology concentration, through which students can pursue a pathway in Marine Biology & Biological Oceanography. 


Students have a breadth of experiential learning opportunities. For example, by participating in Biology and Evolution of Invertebrate Animals, they can travel to the Archipelago of Bocas del Toro, in the Caribbean side of Panama over spring break, where they will explore diverse marine ecosystems.


18. Eckerd College

Location: Saint Petersburg, FL

Undergrad Enrollment: 2,000

Acceptance Rate: 69%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1090-1285/24-29


Eckerd’s Marine Science program gives students personal attention during coursework and fieldwork. There are numerous opportunities to conduct real-world marine biology work and research. 


The “Scientist at Sea” program, for example, allows students to plan, execute, and create professional research projects. Meanwhile, students can learn field research by conducting population surveys of bottlenose dolphins in Boca Ciega Bay through the Eckerd College Dolphin Project. They also have access to prestigious internships at institutions like the U.S. Geological Survey Center, the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, and many other organizations.


19. University of South Carolina

Location: Columbia, SC

Undergrad Enrollment: 26,700

Acceptance Rate: 68%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1140-1340/25-31


As a marine science major, students will obtain interdisciplinary knowledge in marine science, while gaining exposure to real field experiences. They will begin their studies by spending three weeks at the Baruch Institute in North Inlet Estuary in Georgetown, before completing coursework with lab components. They will also partake in research projects with faculty, seminars, and visits to industry and government organizations.


20. Florida Southern College

Location: Lakeland, FL

Undergrad Enrollment: 2,700

Acceptance Rate: 50%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1110-1285/24-30


Students learn well beyond the classroom through FSU. The college gives students the opportunity to work with faculty on independent studies, research projects, off-campus expeditions, scientific conferences, and other activities. There is a strong outdoor component, and students will constantly be in the field observing and collecting data while studying in a diverse environment.


Students can also travel to locations like Costa Rica, Jamaica, and the Bahamas to further their explorations.


What Are Your Chances of Acceptance to these Top Marine Biology Schools?


Many of the colleges and universities on this list are highly selective, and others still have competitive marine biology programs. How do you know your chances of admission? Try our free chancing engine. We’ll estimate your odds of acceptance at these and other schools, using your real data. Plus, we’ll offer tips to help you improve your profile.

Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.