Best Colleges for Biology Majors

Scientists at work in lab
Peter Muller / Getty Images

Nearly every four-year college in the country offers a biology major, and according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the biological sciences are the fifth most popular area of study in the United States. Each year, well over 100,000 students earn a bachelor's degree in biology or a similar field.

With all the options available, choosing the best college to study biology can be a challenge. Factors to consider will vary depending on what you want to do with your degree. If you want to become a high school biology teacher, for example, you should be looking at colleges that can pair biology with a strong education program. If medical school is in your future, be sure to check out the best pre-med colleges. You'll also want to figure out if a bachelor of science or bachelor of arts degree is better suited to your goals; a B.S. program will have a more rigorous core curriculum in science and math, and a B.A. will typically have a broader core curriculum across the liberal arts and sciences.

The schools below tend to top the national rankings for their undergraduate biology programs. Each one has a strong faculty with wide-ranging areas of expertise, excellent laboratory and research facilities, plenty of opportunities for students to gain hands-on experiences, and strong placement records for both employment and graduate programs.

Caltech

Beckman Institute at Caltech
Beckman Institute at Caltech. smerikal / Flickr
Biology at Caltech (2019)
Degrees Conferred (Biological Sciences/College Total) 12/241
Full-Time Faculty (Biological Sciences/College Total) 28/918
Source: National Center for Education Statistics; Caltech Website

Caltech's biology program is the smallest on this list, but that small size is one of its great assets. With professors and graduate students outnumbering undergraduate biology majors, students will have no difficulty finding a wealth of research opportunities. They will also have the benefit of attending one of the most prestigious schools for STEM fields in the world while also enjoying its enviable location in Pasadena, California.

Biology and Biological Engineering are housed within the same division at Caltech, and students enroll in one of three undergraduate programs: Bioengineering, Biology, and Computation and Neural Systems. Research areas include microbiology and immunology, neuroscience, systems biology, evolutionary and organismal biology, biochemistry, and molecular cell biology. The curriculum is grounded in both formal coursework and participation in ongoing research programs, and it would be unusual to graduate from Caltech without acquiring extensive research experience.

Cornell University

McGraw Tower and Chimes, Cornell University campus, Ithaca, New York
McGraw Tower and Chimes, Cornell University campus, Ithaca, New York. Dennis Macdonald / Getty Images
Biology at Cornell University (2019)
Degrees Conferred (Biological Sciences/College Total) 524/3,796
Full-Time Faculty (Biological Sciences/College Total) 345/2,899
Source: National Center for Education Statistics; Cornell University Website

Cornell University offers an impressive breadth of undergraduate programs in the biological sciences through both its College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Arts and Sciences. Students can choose from majors including microbiology, ecology and evolutionary biology, computational biology, plant science, animal science, chemical biology, molecular biology and genetics, and neurobiology. The university's location in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York is ideal for students who want to get out in the field to conduct hands-on research with plants, animals, and ecosystems. As one of the world's top STEM research universities and a member of the prestigious Ivy League, Cornell also has exceptional laboratory facilities.

Duke University

DUKE UNIVERSITY CHAPEL, DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA, USA
Don Klumpp / Getty Images
Biology at Duke University (2019)
Degrees Conferred (Biological Sciences/College Total) 280/1,858
Full-Time Faculty (Biological Sciences/College Total) 140/5,332
Source: National Center for Education Statistics; Duke University Website

Duke University's programs in both biology and neuroscience are popular with undergraduates. Biology majors have a wide range of options for their major concentration, including genetics, marine biology, plant biology, pharmacology, cell and molecular biology, evolutionary biology, biochemistry, and animal behavior. The school's 7,000-acre forest and marine lab are frequently used for biological research. Also, Duke University's status as one of the nation's top medical schools further enhances opportunities for undergraduate biology majors. The program emphasizes hands-on research experiences, and the university is home to over 500 Principal Investigators—faculty scientists conducting research—in the biological and biomedical sciences.

Located in Durham, North Carolina, the university is part of the "research triangle" with nearby UNC Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University.

Johns Hopkins University

Mergenthaler Hall at Johns Hopkins University
Mergenthaler Hall at Johns Hopkins University. Daderot / Wikimedia Commons
Biology at Johns Hopkins University (2019)
Degrees Conferred (Biological Sciences/College Total) 300/1,389
Full-Time Faculty (Biological Sciences/College Total) 97/4,869
Sources: National Center for Education Statistics; JHU Website

Located in Baltimore, Maryland, Johns Hopkins University has long been a leader in the biological sciences, and the university is home to 27 research laboratories in the field. Both the undergraduate biology and neuroscience majors offer a rigorous curriculum with plenty of opportunities for conducting research with graduate students and faculty members in biology, biophysics, chemistry, engineering, and the medical school. Indeed, JHU's programs in the biological sciences are bolstered significantly by the university's highly ranked medical school and its 2,300 full-time faculty members.

Harvard University

Lowell House at Harvard University

Nick Allen / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Biology at Harvard University (2019)
Degrees Conferred (Biological Sciences/College Total) 250/1,824
Full-Time Faculty (Biological Sciences/College Total) 72/4,389
Source: National Center for Education Statistics; Harvard University Website

Harvard University, like many of the schools on this list, is home to a top-ranked medical school that expands the research opportunities for undergraduates. Through the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, students can choose a field of study in chemical and physical biology, human development and regenerative biology, human evolutionary biology, integrative biology, molecular and cellular biology, or neuroscience.

Harvard's location in Cambridge, Massachusetts, places it in close proximity to some of the nation's best hospitals and biotech companies, so students will find opportunities off campus as well as in Harvard's extensive research laboratories. Realize you'll need to be an exceptional student to be admitted: Harvard accepts only 5% of all applicants.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Killian Court and the Great Dome at MIT
Killian Court and the Great Dome at MIT.

andymw91 / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Biology at MIT (2019)
Degrees Conferred (Biological Sciences/College Total) 59/1,142
Full-Time Faculty (Biological Sciences/College Total) 75/5,792
Source: National Center for Education Statistics; MIT Website

MIT often ranks #1 in the world for STEM fields, and the biology department faculty is home to three Nobel laureates, 33 members of the National Academy of Sciences, and four recipients of the National Medal of Science. Students will find a wealth of options for hands-on experience through MIT's Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), and some student researchers are invited to present their findings to the MIT community through the Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Many of MIT's engineering fields are interdisciplinary, so aspiring biologists will find further opportunities through the institute's programs in biological engineering, chemistry and biology, and computer science and molecular biology. The institute's Cambridge location also places it near several biotech companies.

Stanford

Hoover Tower, Stanford University - Palo Alto, CA
Hoover Tower, Stanford University. jejim / Getty Images
Biology at Stanford University (2019)
Degrees Conferred (Biological Sciences/College Total) 72/1,818
Full-Time Faculty (Biological Sciences/College Total) 59/6,643
Source: National Center for Education Statistics; Stanford University Website

In 2019, Stanford University's top-ranked Department of Biology moved into the state-of-the-art Bass Biology Research Building, a 133,000-square-foot facility with a range of wet labs and computational labs designed to foster collaboration between different areas of biological research. Partnerships are further enhanced by the building's proximity to the School of Medicine and the Sapp Center for Science Teaching and Learning.

Undergraduate biology majors have a choice of "tracks" including biochemistry/biophysics, computational biology, ecology and evolution, marine biology, microbes and immunity, neurobiology, and molecular/cellular/developmental. Students who wish to complete a substantial biological research project as part of their curriculum can apply to the honors program. Plenty of additional research opportunities can be found in the campus labs and at the Hopkins Marine Station. Stanford's location in California's Bay Area provides further research and internship opportunities off campus.

UC Berkeley

The University of California Berkeley
The University of California Berkeley. Charlie Nguyen / Flickr
Biology at UC Berkeley (2019)
Degrees Conferred (Biological Sciences/College Total) 916/8,727
Full-Time Faculty (Biological Sciences/College Total) 112/3,089
Source: National Center for Education Statistics; UC Berkeley Website

Molecular Biology is the most popular major at the University of California at Berkeley, with over 600 students earning a bachelor's degree annually. Aspiring biologists, however, will find plenty of other options at Berkeley, including majors in integrative biology, molecular environmental biology, genetics and plant biology, and microbial biology.

Within the undergraduate Molecular and Cell Biology (MCB) program, the curriculum has five emphases: biochemistry and molecular biology; cell and developmental biology; genetics, genomics, and development; immunology and pathogenesis; and neurobiology. Research is a central part of the Berkeley undergraduate experience, and the university has many avenues for matching students with research opportunities.

UC San Diego

Geisel Library at UCSD

RightCowLeftCoast / Wikimedia Commons /  CC BY-SA 4.0

Biology at UCSD (2019)
Degrees Conferred (Biological Sciences/College Total) 1,621/7,609
Full-Time Faculty (Biological Sciences/College Total) 187/4,105
Source: National Center for Education Statistics; UCSD Website

The University of California at San Diego's Division of Biological Sciences offers seven undergraduate majors: general biology; ecology, behavior and evolution; microbiology; bioinformatics; human biology; molecular and cell biology; and neurobiology. The university also offers a B.S. program in biochemistry/chemistry through the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and four options within the Department of Bioengineering.

UCSD has a robust undergraduate research program that fosters faculty-student collaborations, and biology majors will also find rewarding opportunities to conduct an international internship through the university's International Education Program. Strong students who want to gain teaching experience can apply to become Undergraduate Instructional Apprentices and Undergraduate Tutors. Students hoping to publish will find opportunities through Saltman Quarterly, the department's undergraduate journal focused on biology.

Yale University

The Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University
The Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University. Andriy Prokopenko / Getty Images
Biology at Yale (2019)
Degrees Conferred (Biological Sciences/College Total) 168/1,407
Full-Time Faculty (Biological Sciences/College Total) 118/5,144
Source: National Center for Education Statistics; Yale Website

The study of biology of Yale University spans many departments, including ecology and evolutionary biology; molecular, cellular and developmental biology; molecular biophysics and biochemistry; biomedical engineering; forestry and environmental science; and the School of Medicine. The university is also home to numerous centers, institutes, and programs focused on biology, including the Sackler Institute, Stem Cell Center, Chemical Biology Institute, Microbial Diversity Institute, and Nanobiology Institute.

Located in New Haven, Connecticut, Yale is one of the three Ivy League schools on this list. Biology majors will have a wealth of research opportunities both during the academic year and over the summer, but admission is remarkably selective, with a mere 6% acceptance rate.