Master's Degree in Biology: Choosing a Grad School

Choosing a graduate school for your master's in biology often depends on your discipline — the area of study in which you'll focus. Most graduate students in the biological sciences are specialized, so, with research, you can find the right graduate program. Biology majors who are pursuing a master's degree should pay attention to the following criteria when selecting a graduate program:

  • Does it offer my specialty (discipline)?

  • Does it have the resources I will need to do my research?

  • Will I have access to the key professors in my area?

  • Is the school considered one of the "highly selective" schools?

  • If "highly selective," will my grades and scores be good enough to get accepted?

  • Is it located in a place I'd want to live for several years?

Master's degree programs generally require about one year of classes; PhD programs about four years. Many master's degrees require that you write a thesis or research paper, although at some schools you can take a comprehensive exam instead. All PhD programs require that you write an original thesis.

For specific requirements, you should check individual college handbooks and catalogs. But you should be aware that some of the highly selective universities don't offer a master's degree program in biology. They offer only PhD programs.

Many universities have no specific courses required for completion of a master's degree program in general biology. Instead, the curriculum you take will be based on your background, interests, and career goals. Note, however, that colleges usually require biochemistry I and II, cell biology, and advanced genetics in your course of study because they serve as prerequisites for a number of other courses and are the basis for further study in any of the biological sciences.

Master's level programs in biology are available in a wide variety of disciplines. For example, one university states that it offers concentrations in

  • Molecular biology

  • Microbiology

  • Bioinformatics and computational biology (BCB)

  • Systematics and evolutionary biology

The university also allows students to choose the program in biological sciences that allows flexibility to specialize in additional areas.

Another leading university offers specialties in

  • Biochemistry, cell and developmental bio

  • Genetics and molecular bio

  • Immunology and molecular pathogenesis

  • Microbiology and molecular genetics

  • Molecular and systems pharmacology

  • Neuroscience

  • Nutrition and health sciences

  • Population biology, ecology, and evolution

And a third, emphasizing the interdisciplinary approach that it says has become an essential feature of modern biomedical science, states that genetics, molecular, biochemical, biophysical, and computational methods are integrated to tackle challenging problems in cellular and developmental biology, genetic regulation, macromolecular structure and function, neurobiology, and physiology.

So you see, applying to a graduate school program in biology isn't nearly as straightforward as applying for undergraduate school. Then again, after you've already completed three years or more of biology and are thinking about graduate school, chances are you'll know what each of these disciplines are about and may have already specialized.