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What to Do With a Biology Degree & 19 Practical Alternatives

By Publisher
| Last Updated June 17, 2021

Are you wondering what to do with a biology degree? Jobs in this area of science are appealing to all kinds of people. You're not alone in wanting to pursue a career in it. But unlike other areas of study with well-defined career paths, biology's professional outcomes can sometimes be trickier to figure out, mainly because the possibilities are so wide-ranging.

For example, here's what you can do with a biology degree:

  • You can work as a research assistant, technician, or sales representative in the agricultural, food processing, pharmaceutical, or biomedical industries.
  • You can also work in the field of environmental protection. You can even become a biology teacher at the middle school or high school level.
  • You can work in the growing allied health care sector with a little extra vocational training.
  • You can pursue a graduate degree in biology and become a college instructor, research scientist, or genetic counselor.
  • Your biology degree could also help you get into medical, dentistry, or veterinary school.

Maybe you've already graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and haven't found suitable employment yet. Or perhaps you're studying this field in college right now and have doubts about the value of your current educational path. Or perhaps you enjoyed biology in high school and want to know if it would be worth majoring in at the next level.

People have different reasons for asking, "What can I do with a biology degree?" Jobs for biology majors can be hard to find unless you have a practical career plan, understand the relevant alternatives, and know how to approach the challenge.

This article explores the value of various options, including many good-paying occupations within industries that may surprise you. Check out these sections:

Average salaries are current as of June 29, 2020. Salaries are based on data from the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) program. Average yearly job openings are based on employment projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the decade between 2018 and 2028.

What You Can Do With a PhD in Biology

The main reason to get a PhD in biology is to become a biologist and perform independent research or work for post-secondary institutions, government agencies, or private employers. Generally, a biologist studies life, including its underlying processes and the relationships between living matter and the environment. Many biologists also research ways to solve practical problems for the medical field or other industries.

But when pursuing a doctorate in biology, you generally choose a special area of focus. That's because the field of biology is so broad that it's practically impossible to develop deep expertise in all aspects of it. At this level of education, people choose to study specialties such as microbiology, biochemistry, genetics, zoology, wildlife biology, biophysics, ecology, evolutionary biology, physiology, neuroscience, botany, or aquatic biology.

Your career opportunities will likely depend on your chosen specialty or sub-specialty. For example, with a degree in microbiology, you can pursue jobs related to studying viruses, bacteria, fungi, algae, microscopic parasites, or other microorganisms. You may even decide to specialize in studying one particular type of microorganism. Your career could involve pure research, or you could apply your research to developing solutions in areas like public health, agriculture, or environmental restoration.

You can also combine your biology education with other major subjects of study. For instance, with a degree in computer science, you can pursue a PhD in computational biology. As a computational biologist, your career could involve developing computerized simulations that allow studying research questions without using a traditional laboratory.

According to the OEWS program, a biologist makes, on average, $67,760 to $105,940 per year, depending on the specialty. Here are some example salaries based on nationwide averages.

  • Zoologists and wildlife biologists: $67,200
  • Botanists (i.e., plant scientists): $69,860
  • Microbiologists: $82,760
  • Biochemists and biophysicists: $108,180
  • Other biological scientists: $87,590

The Challenge of Pursuing Careers With a Biology Degree at the Undergraduate Level

Microscope beside a glass of fresh leaves on a dark textured background.Biology is often considered one of the most popular areas of study. But according to the National Center for Education Statistics, only about six percent of American college graduates majored in biological and biomedical sciences during the 2018-2019 academic year. The most popular major was business, representing over 19 percent of college graduates.

Of course, popularity is not necessarily a measure of value. After all, the world continues to need biology experts, and plenty of good occupations require a foundational knowledge of the science. The problem is that many smart, motivated believe that an undergraduate degree in biology may be all they need to qualify for the employment opportunities they want. They may not realize that those opportunities are often reserved for people with more advanced graduate-level degrees. For example, with at least a master's degree in biology, you can qualify for better teaching or research positions. And earning your graduate degree doesn't have to be as difficult as you think. (Some schools offer graduate programs that are more accessible and streamlined than what you'll find at many traditional universities.)

One common reason for pursuing a graduate degree is that an undergraduate biology education is often more knowledge-based than skills-based. And the practical skills that you do get to learn are typically very specific to actions such as performing research in a laboratory or writing technical papers. As a result, many employers may feel that biology graduates don't offer enough practical abilities relevant to their particular work settings.

That's probably why biology and life sciences majors experience the biggest increase in earnings out of all majors when they earn a graduate degree. (According to a Georgetown University report, the median salary for biology and life sciences bachelor's degree holders in 2016 was $57,000. For graduate degree holders, it was $93,000.)

But getting into a traditional graduate-level program for a master's degree or PhD can be very competitive and time-consuming. And medical school, one of the most popular options for biology grads, often has the most discriminating entrance requirements.

A More Practical Approach That's Often More Satisfying

You don't have to pursue a biology degree to attain an enjoyable or good-paying career that capitalizes on your enthusiasm for the subject.

Plus, even if you already have a bachelor's degree in biology or are currently pursuing one, you may have more options than you think. For example, some biology majors have succeeded as biomedical technologists, conservation or environmental technicians, middle or high school science teachers, or even forensic investigators, medical illustrators, or pharmaceutical sales representatives.

And the possibilities may expand even more if you're prepared to get just a little additional training at a vocational school. Colleges and trade schools that focus on preparing students for in-demand vocations tend to have relatively easy admission requirements, short programs, and convenient class schedules.

By attending career-focused training at a vocational school, you could be employment-ready in less time than it would take to earn a traditional biology degree. If you already have a biology degree, supplementing your education with career training at a trade school can help you develop employable skills.

Blonde health care professional smiling and holding a clipboard in a hospital corridorMany occupational fields have roots in biology. So, your options are not limited to scientific research, teaching, professional medicine, or other professions that require the most advanced educational credentials. You might discover that some of the most fulfilling and reliable occupations have the power to satisfy your interest in biology without requiring you to get a degree in the subject.

And many of these vocational fields can be entered with only two years or less of specialized training. For some of them, all it takes is a few months. Plus, students who've already completed college-level courses related to biology can sometimes receive credit for those courses, which can shorten their training even further.

In some cases, after completing your program, you may also need to register with your state and possibly pass a certification or licensing exam. But that process is often relatively fast, especially if you attend a school that focuses on helping you prepare for such an exam.

The following list also includes many career possibilities with significantly better job outlooks than what you might qualify for with a biology degree alone. So take a serious look at these options, and remember that they've enabled a lot of biology enthusiasts like you to have meaningful and prosperous careers.

1. Registered Nurse (RN)

Explore the real-world aspects of human biology while working alongside doctors and caring for people in your community who are at their most vulnerable. RN training typically takes from two to four years.

  • Yearly job openings: 210,400
  • Entry-level education: Associate degree
  • Average annual pay: $77,460

2. Practical or Vocational Nurse

Help patients in medical and health care settings in the most direct way while using your knowledge of human illnesses, disabilities, and much more. LVN and LPN programs take about one year for a diploma or certificate and up to two years for a degree.

  • Yearly job openings: 66,300
  • Entry-level education: Certificate or diploma
  • Average annual pay: $48,500

3. Pharmacy Technician

Help pharmacists organize, measure, package, label, and dispense prescription medications in a retail or hospital pharmacy setting. A pharmacy technician program teaches students how to assist pharmacists and perform necessary duties while complying with relevant laws and ethical standards.

  • Yearly job openings: 38,300
  • Entry-level education: Certificate, diploma, or associate degree
  • Average annual pay: $35,250

4. Medical Laboratory Technician or Technologist

Carry out laboratory tests on samples of bodily fluids, tissues, or other biological substances to help medical practitioners diagnose and treat patients. Medical lab tech programs are available at colleges and vocational schools.

  • Yearly job openings: 25,500
  • Entry-level education: Associate degree (for technicians) or bachelor's degree (for technologists)
  • Average annual pay: $54,780

5. Dental Hygienist

Provide preventive care and guidance to dental patients as a professional who understands the biological causes of gingivitis and other oral diseases. Most dental hygiene programs take from two to four years. After completing your training, you can sit for national and state or regional exams, depending on your state requirements.

  • Yearly job openings: 17,900
  • Entry-level education: Associate degree
  • Average annual pay: $77,230

6. Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) or Paramedic

Be one of the first responders to situations where you could save people's lives because of your quick actions and knowledge of first-aid treatment. You can prepare for this incredibly valuable career through formal training followed by state licensure.

  • Yearly job openings: 19,900
  • Entry-level education: Certificate or diploma
  • Average annual pay: $38,830

7. Radiologic Technologist

Use sophisticated X-ray or MRI equipment to capture diagnostic images of internal patient anatomy to help radiologists and doctors detect signs of injury or illness. Depending on the specific career and education level you choose to pursue, your training could take as little as two years. X-ray tech training is typically shorter (6 to 12 months) than training to become a radiologic technologist. Licensure is required in most states for radiologic technologists.

  • Yearly job openings: 14,000
  • Entry-level education: Certificate, diploma, or associate degree
  • Average annual pay: $63,120

8. Fitness Trainer

Build on your interest in human anatomy, body movement, and nutrition by leading and motivating people in physical activities that improve their strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular performance. Education to become a personal trainer ranges from certificate and diploma personal training programs to undergraduate and master's degrees in kinesiology and exercise science.

  • Yearly job openings: 67,600
  • Entry-level education: Certificate or diploma
  • Average annual pay: $45,110

9. Massage Therapist

Become a specialist in muscular anatomy while using the healing power of touch to help people relieve stress, ease physical tension, recover from injury, minimize pain, and more. Training to become a spa massage therapist usually takes about 300 to 1,000 hours while a licensed massage therapist program will take about 3,000 hours.

  • Yearly job openings: 24,200
  • Entry-level education: Certificate or diploma
  • Average annual pay: $47,180

10. Physical Therapist Assistant

Assist a physical therapist in helping patients manage pain or heal from illnesses or injuries that have affected physical movement, strength, flexibility, or range of motion. In addition to your post-secondary training, you will need to meet certain requirements including state licensure or certification.

  • Yearly job openings: 16,500
  • Entry-level education: Associate degree
  • Average annual pay: $58,520

11. Surgical Technologist

Transform your interest in biology into an active and fascinating career in which you can prepare sterile and efficient operating rooms and assist surgeons during medical surgeries. Surgical technology programs generally take nine to 24 months to complete depending on whether you choose a certificate, diploma, or associate degree program. Some states have certification requirements.

  • Yearly job openings: 10,400
  • Entry-level education: Certificate, diploma, or associate degree
  • Average annual pay: $50,110

12. Phlebotomist

Expand on your fascination with the circulatory system and its biological properties by becoming skilled at drawing blood from people for purposes like laboratory testing, blood donations, or transfusions. Phlebotomy training is relatively short and is often included as a component of medical assisting programs.

  • Yearly job openings: 18,100
  • Entry-level education: Certificate or diploma
  • Average annual pay: $36,480

13. Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Combine your biology and technology interests to use advanced ultrasound equipment to capture images that aid doctors in diagnosing, treating, or performing surgical procedures on their patients. Formal, post-secondary education is required.

  • Yearly job openings: 5,800
  • Entry-level education: Associate degree
  • Average annual pay: $75,780

14. Veterinary Technician

Increase your understanding of animal biology as somebody who gets to assist veterinarians with diagnostic testing and medical procedures related to the care of people's pets or other creatures. Some vet tech programs have an entrance exam, but your biology degree should prepare you well for the test.

  • Yearly job openings: 11,800
  • Entry-level education: Associate degree
  • Average annual pay: $36,670

15. Respiratory Therapist

Help physicians diagnose and treat patients who have breathing difficulties, chronic respiratory diseases like asthma, or other lung-related disorders. In addition to completing a respiratory therapist program, you will likely need to pass a certification exam administered by a national board. You may also be required to have CPR certification.

  • Yearly job openings: 10,600
  • Entry-level education: Associate degree
  • Average annual pay: $63,950

16. Esthetician

Become a skincare specialist and help people attain healthier, better-looking skin. Potential careers can even include working as an assistant to a dermatologist or other medical esthetics practitioner.

  • Yearly job openings: 9,400
  • Entry-level education: Certificate or diploma
  • Average annual pay: $38,970

17. Cardiovascular Technologist

Assist doctors by conducting diagnostic cardiovascular tests, monitoring patients, or performing other actions during essential cardiac procedures. Most cardiovascular technologist programs require one or two years to complete. Four-year bachelor's degrees are also available.

  • Yearly job openings: 3,700
  • Entry-level education: Certificate, diploma, or associate or bachelor's degree
  • Average annual pay: $59,600

18. Nutritionist or Dietitian

Provide individualized advice to patients and clients about the best foods to eat as part of an overall plan to become healthier or to better manage particular diseases.

  • Yearly job openings: 5,500
  • Entry-level education: Bachelor's degree
  • Average annual pay: $62,330

19. Occupational Therapy Assistant

Assist an occupational therapist in helping people with physical or developmental disabilities regain or develop the abilities they need to carry out routine activities for work or everyday living. Job settings are varied, and usually, just an associate degree is required.

  • Yearly job openings: 7,000
  • Entry-level education: Associate degree
  • Average annual pay: $61,880

8 Entry-Level Biology Jobs That You Can Get With a Bachelor's Degree

Pharmacy technician selecting medications from a shelf in a pharmacyEarning a four-year degree in biology can open some doors, and you just need to know where to find the opportunities. Beyond university research labs, many entry-level biology-degree jobs have become available in agriculture, food processing, pharmaceutical manufacturing, health care, and private biomedical research and development (R&D). In addition, it's often possible to find jobs in government agencies that are charged with conserving natural resources and protecting public health and the environment.

The bottom line is that this field supports many different careers. With a biology degree, you will probably enter the workforce with many valuable abilities—maybe more than you realize. Here are nine entry-level jobs for biology majors that are especially worth keeping in mind.

1. Pharmaceutical Sales Representative

You could take advantage of your scientific knowledge and outgoing personality to help drug companies sell and promote their latest breakthroughs.

  • Yearly job openings (for all sales reps of technical and scientific products): 36,000
  • Entry-level education: Bachelor's degree
  • Average annual pay: $92,980

2. Environmental Scientist or Specialist

Play a vital role in protecting our environment and people's health. Using your understanding of biology to plan and oversee efforts to clean up pollution, reduce industrial waste, make policy recommendations, and analyze air, water, and soil quality.

  • Yearly job openings: 10,300
  • Entry-level education: Bachelor's degree
  • Average annual pay: $77,940

3. Occupational Health and Safety Specialist

Help protect the health of American workers by designing strategies to prevent workplace injuries, diseases, and environmental damage and inspecting work settings to ensure that they comply with relevant government regulations.

  • Yearly job openings: 6,300
  • Entry-level education: Bachelor's degree
  • Average annual pay: $76,290

4. Conservation Scientist

Become a professional who gets to manage and monitor public or private lands to conserve natural resources or maximize the use of those resources in a way that does the least possible harm to the environment.

  • Yearly job openings: 2,600
  • Entry-level education: Bachelor's degree
  • Average annual pay: $67,040

5. High School Teacher

Make a meaningful difference in the lives of young people by teaching them about the fundamentals of biology and why it is such an important science. On top of your degree, you will need some supervised teaching experience and certification to be able to teach in public and most private institutions.

  • Yearly job openings: 80,300
  • Entry-level education: Bachelor's degree (plus teacher certification)
  • Average annual pay: $65,930

6. Environmental Technician

Assist environmental scientists by collecting samples, investigating pollution sources, monitoring areas of concern, and working to prevent violations such as toxic dumping or air, water, and soil contamination.

  • Yearly job openings: 4,600
  • Entry-level education: Associate or bachelor's degree
  • Average annual pay: $50,760

7. Biological Technician or Research Assistant

Help biologists conduct fieldwork or perform laboratory tests or experiments by carrying out tasks such as setting up equipment, collecting and preparing biological samples, and documenting results.

  • Yearly job openings: 9,800
  • Entry-level education: Bachelor's degree
  • Average annual pay: $49,110

8. Agricultural or Food Science Technician

Capitalize on your understanding of biological testing procedures by helping scientists keep track of their data, set up their laboratories, and analyze crop samples and other food products.

  • Yearly job openings: 3,800
  • Entry-level education: Associate or bachelor's degree
  • Average annual pay: $44,440

Ready to Get Practical Training for a Biology-Related Career?

You may never need to worry about what to do with a biology degree because you might not need one. Many alternative educational avenues can lead to good careers with a biological slant. But even if you've already earned a biology degree (or plan to), you can greatly boost your employment opportunities by getting some additional training that's more vocational.