Best Undergraduate Schools For Biology: The Complete Guide

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You can major in biology at just about any school you choose — but which schools are best for biology majors? There’s no one best school for every student; you need to consider which schools are best suited to you.

Consider size, location, finances, and unique offerings. Also consider the other degrees and programs that schools offer; roughly one in three undergrads change their major at least once.

In this article, we’ll cover some of the best choices for biology majors to help you in your search. All of these schools have impressive faculties, world-class facilities, and plenty of research opportunities for ambitious students. Because we believe in finding the right fit rather than choosing according to a school’s ranking, we’ve listed our top choices in alphabetical order.

What do biology majors study?

Biology is the fifth most popular major. It covers a wide range of biological sciences and opens up a whole world of potential career paths. Biology majors may go on to careers in healthcare, wildlife management, research, education, public policy, and more.

Biologists study the science of living things. This includes everything from genetics and evolution to biomedical sciences. Biologists may choose to focus on fungi, plants, or animals (including humans).

Common coursework for biology majors includes:

  • Anatomy
  • Biochemistry
  • Biostatistics
  • Botany
  • Cellular Biology
  • Ecology
  • Evolution
  • Genetics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Physiology

You can begin to prepare for a career in biology (or simply explore the possibility) by taking AP Biology in high school; this could also allow you to skip Biology 101 in college and dive right into more advanced coursework. Advanced mathematics, such as AP Statistics and Calculus, will also help prepare you to study biology in college. Many colleges require a basic knowledge of chemistry as well.

The 10 Best Schools for Biology Majors

Here are some of our top choices for students looking to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology.

Cornell University

This Ivy League university is located in Ithaca, New York. Founded in 1865, Cornell has been coeducational (accepting both men and women) and nonsectarian (not associated with a particular religion) from the very beginning. Its motto, Any Person… Any Study, comes from its founder Ezra Cornell, who said,  “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.”

The 2,300-acre campus is often hailed as one of the most beautiful in the country. An excellent option for biology majors with an interest in botany, Cornell boasts botanic gardens that span 4,300 acres. It includes an herb garden, ponds, and a 150-acre arboretum.

There are roughly 24,000 students; 15,000 of these are undergraduates. Because its undergraduate population is much larger than any other Ivy League school, Cornell also offers a higher acceptance rate than its fellows; over ten percent of applicants are admitted.

Cornell offers 14 different biology concentrations:

  1. Animal Physiology
  2. Biochemistry
  3. Biodiversity and Systematics
  4. Computational Biology
  5. Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
  6. General Biology
  7. Genetics, Geonomics and Development
  8. Human Nutrition
  9. Insect Biology
  10. Marine Biology
  11. Microbiology
  12. Molecular and Cell Biology
  13. Neurobiology and Behavior
  14. Plant Biology

Their Introductory Biology courses satisfy the application requirements for dental, medical, and veterinary schools. Students will also complete multiple Investigative Biology Laboratories, including one at the Shoals Marine Lab. Requirements for completion of the major include courses in Chemistry, Mathematics, and Physics.

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Duke University

This private research university was founded by Quakers and Methodists in 1838. In 1892, the school moved from its original location in Trinity to its current location in Durham, North Carolina. Its motto, Eruditio et Religio, means Knowledge and Faith.

The campus spans over 8,600 acres and boasts stunning gothic architecture constructed from multicolored, locally sourced stone. There are also Georgian-style buildings and a modern, glass-walled Environmental Hall.

There are over 16,000 students and approximately 6,500 undergraduates at any given time.

Students can choose between earning a Bachelor of Science in Biology or a Bachelor of Arts in Biology. There’s also the option of choosing Biology as your minor. Both the B.S. and the B.A. require Calculus and Chemistry; the B.S. also requires Laboratory Calculus II, Organic Chemistry, and Physics.

Duke offers 12 optional areas of concentration to their Biology majors:

  1. Anatomy, Physiology & Biomechanics
  2. Animal Behavior
  3. Biochemistry
  4. Cell & Molecular Biology
  5. Ecology
  6. Evolutionary Biology
  7. Genetics
  8. Genomics
  9. Marine Biology
  10. Neurobiology
  11. Pharmacology
  12. Plant Biology

Many of these concentrations, particularly Animal Behavior, would be ideal for aspiring veterinarians. Students who chose Marine Biology study at the Duke University Marine Laboratory.

Harvard University

This prestigious Ivy League university is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was established in the year 1636. Their faculty includes more Nobel laureates than any other school in the world. Their motto is simple: the Latin word Veritas, which means Truth.

The main campus is located just a few miles from downtown Boston. The campus hosts upwards of 20,000 students each year, but fewer than 7,000 of these are undergraduates. Like other Ivy League schools, Harvard does not offer athletic scholarships.

At Harvard, the Biology major is distinct from other, more specific options. Harvard undergraduates do not typically major in Biology. While Biology is available as a Bachelor of Liberal Arts program, this program is intended for professionals over the age of thirty.

If you wish to study biology at Harvard straight out of high school, you’ll need to choose a concentration. Options include:

  • Bioengineering
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Chemical and Physical Biology
  • Environmental Sciences
  • Human Development and Regenerative Biology
  • Human Evolutionary Biology
  • Integrative Biology
  • Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Neuroscience

If one or more of these concentrations appeals to you, Harvard would be an excellent choice for your undergraduate education. Because they offer so many other majors in addition to this one, you have a wide array of options open to you if you wish to explore other fields or simply socialize with people whose interests are different from your own.

Johns Hopkins University

This private research university was founded in Baltimore, Maryland in 1876. Its motto, Veritas vos liberabit, means The truth will set you free. Approximately 5,600 undergraduates attend Johns Hopkins University at any given time.

Johns Hopkins has several campuses. Undergraduates attend the Homewood Campus in northern Baltimore. Its red-brick buildings are connected by red-brick pathways and broad lawns lined with trees.

Students at Johns Hopkins University have the opportunity to earn either a Bachelor of Arts in Biology or a Bachelor of Science degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology.

The Bachelor of Arts in Biology degree requires two Calculus courses, General Physics, and extensive Chemistry coursework in addition to the following Biology courses:

  • General Biology I & II
  • Genetics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology
  • Protein Engineering Biochemistry Lab
  • Cell Biology Lab
  • Genetics
  • Developmental Biology
  • Developmental Genetics Lab

The coursework for the Bachelor of Science degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology is almost identical, but students pursuing this degree are also required to take five upper-level courses and conduct original research under the supervision of a faculty member.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

MIT is a private research university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Founded in 1861, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is one of the most selective schools in the country. Its motto Mens et Manus means Mind and Hand.

MIT hosts roughly 4,500 undergraduates each year.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology occupies 166 acres along the Charles River. Its School of Architecture is responsible for a number of modern, visually arresting buildings such as the Stata Center and the Simmons Hall.

Students wishing to major in biology have three options. You could earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology, Chemistry and Biology, or Computer Science and Molecular Biology.

Required subjects for MIT Biology majors include:

  • Organic Chemistry
  • Thermodynamics and Kinetics
  • Thermodynamics of Biomolecular Systems
  • Fundamentals of Experimental Molecular Biology
  • Applied Molecular Biology Laboratory
  • Genetics
  • General Biochemistry
  • Introduction to Biological Chemistry
  • Cell Biology
  • Communication in Experimental Biology

Biology majors must also take at least three elective courses. Choices include Principles of Human Disease and Aging, The Hallmarks of Cancer, and Developmental Neurobiology.

MIT is an excellent choice for students who wish to pursue original research during their undergraduate career. The MIT Undergraduate Research Program offers MIT students a wide range of opportunities. Students also have the opportunity to work with experts through the Student/Alumni Externship Program.

Stanford University

This private research university is located in Stanford, California. Their motto, Die Luft der Freiheit weht, means ‘The wind of freedom blows’. Founded in 1885 and referred to as “the Cornell of the West”, Stanford was one of the first universities to offer a nonsectarian education to both men and women.

Stanford offers a choice of 40 academic departments for undergraduates, all located on the same sprawling campus. Its buildings are modeled after California’s Spanish missions; they have sandstone walls and red tile roofs.

There are upwards of sixteen thousand students at any given time, with around 7,000 undergraduate students. Nearly all of Stanford’s students live on campus.

Stanford undergrads can either major or minor in Biology. Their unique introductory classes for freshmen and sophomores include:

  • Introduction to Problem Solving in Biology
  • Science as a Creative Process
  • Microbiology Experiments

Biology majors at Stanford can choose between eight areas of concentration:

  • General Major
  • Biochemistry/Biophysics Track
  • Computational Biology Track
  • Ecology and Evolution Track
  • Marine Biology Track
  • Microbes and Immunity Track
  • Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Track
  • Neurobiology Track

In their senior year, students complete Senior Reflection projects, which “join compelling scientific subjects with a passion for the arts.” See Stanford’s TSR page for more information on this unique capstone requirement.

UC Berkeley

The University of California, Berkeley, was established in 1868. UC Berkeley is a public land-grant research university. The UC motto is Fiat lux: Let there be light.

UC Berkeley is a large school with over 30,000 undergraduate students. Its urban campus includes 32 libraries, 14 colleges, and the University of California Museum of Paleontology.

Students interested in Biology can choose from a wide range of majors:

  • Bioengineering
  • Chemical Biology
  • Conservation & Resource Studies
  • Forestry & Natural Resources
  • Genetics & Plant Biology
  • Environmental Sciences
  • Integrative Biology
  • Marine Biology
  • Microbial Biology
  • Molecular and Cellular Biology with an emphasis in:
    • Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
    • Cell & Developmental Biology
    • Genetics, Genomics, and Development
    • Immunology & Pathogenesis
    • Neurobiology
  • Molecular Environmental Biology
  • Nutritional Science
  • Public Health

UC Berkeley offers a plethora of research opportunities. There are dozens of research centers, museums, and field stations all devoted to the biological sciences.

UC – San Diego

The University of California, San Diego is another public research university in the UC system. It was established in 1960 near the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The campus spans over 2,000 acres and hosts between 8,000 and 9,000 undergraduate students each year.

UCSC students have the option of majoring or minoring in Biology. The Division of Biological Sciences at UCSD offers seven different majors:

  • Bioinformatics
  • Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution
  • General Biology
  • Human Biology
  • Microbiology
  • Molecular and Cell Biology
  • Neurobiology

Bioinformatics combines biology with computer science to analyze data relating to living organisms and their communities.

University of Michigan

This public research university was founded in Detroit in 1817; it eventually moved to the city of Ann Arbor, where its first classes were held in 1841. Nearly 30,000 undergraduates attend this university each year. Its motto is Artes, Scientia, Veritas: Art, Knowledge, Truth.

The campus is huge, with over 500 major buildings. It is divided by the Huron River and connected by bus services.

The Program in Biology at the University of Michigan offers a choice of eight majors:

  • Biology
  • Biology, Health & Society
  • Molecular, Cellular, & Developmental Biology
  • Ecology, Evolution, & Biodiversity
  • General Biology
  • Microbiology
  • Plant Biology
  • Neuroscience

Students also have the option of minoring in Biology or embarking on a five-year B.S./M.S. program in Cellular and Molecular Biomedical Science.

There are also several student groups devoted to biology:

  • Biology Student Alliance
  • Michigan Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Society
  • Michigan Synthetic Biology Team
  • Botany Undergrads Doing Stuff (BUDS)
  • Michigan Microbiology & Immunology Club
  • Neuroscience Students Association
  • STEM Society

The University of Michigan offers a wide range of unique and fascinating courses and labs to students interested in biology. You’ll have the chance to study forest ecosystems, wetlands, geobiology, fungi, animal diversity, and more.

University of Pennsylvania

Founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1740, Penn predates the Declaration of Independence. This Ivy League school is located in Philadelphia. Its motto, Leges sine moribus vanae, means Laws without morals are useless.

The University of Pennsylvania has over 10,000 undergraduate students. Its campus includes a 24-acre park and a 300-acre urban forest with over 6,500 trees. Its library system consists of 15 buildings and over seven million books.

Penn offers a number of majors related to biology:

  • Biochemistry
  • Biology
  • Computational Biology
  • Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
  • General Biology
  • Mathematical Biology
  • Mechanisms of Disease
  • Molecular & Cell Biology
  • Neurobiology
  • Biophysics
  • Biotechnology and Biomedicine

It also offers a choice of five different Environmental Studies majors and seven different Health and Societies majors. The Mathematics department offers a degree in Biological Mathematics. Students could also choose to major in Biological Science (through the Physics department), Neuroscience, or Nutrition Science.

Penn also offers students the opportunity to further customize their education by creating an Individualized Major.

Conclusion: The Best School for You

Remember: finding the right college isn’t just about rankings or prestige. It’s about finding an environment that meets your needs and suits your strengths. If that process feels overwhelming, click the link below for college application help. Our team of trained professionals can create a list of schools tailored to you and help you apply.

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