college classes
College,  Education

7 College Classes to Jumpstart a Monumental Marine Biology Career

Between the random runs for ice cream at 2 in the morning and hanging out with your new dorm friends, college is first and foremost about taking college classes. Thankfully, in marine biology, you have the privilege of taking some of the coolest classes out there (of course, alongside the obligatory, dreaded weed out classes).

To start your career off on the right foot, it’s vitally important to choose these classes strategically. For instance, if you envision working with marine mammals, it would be helpful to take classes related to marine mammal biology. Or, if plankton interests you, consider taking classes in microbiology or oceanography.

Perhaps, you’re not totally sure what your path is going to be quite yet. That’s fine too! Not everyone knows where they want to end up when they start college. However, for that everyday marine biology student looking to build a well-round career and choose classes with thought and ease, browse a few of these ideas.

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Photo by Dom Fou

Get to Know Your Fishy Friends with Ichthyology Classes

Every marine biologist needs a strong background in the basics. When people think of marine biology, they oftentimes think of fish. Because of that simple fact, this class is a must.

Note: In case you’re unfamiliar with the term ichthyology, it’s the term marine biologists use for the study of fishes. It’s a long and scary-looking word, but that’s all it means.

When I was a college student, I took a class called Biology of Fishes. In this class, I studied collection specimens and learned the intricacies of fish anatomy. For example, in this class, we learned about the history of major fish groups and families. Next, we studied specimens and drew anatomical illustrations.

Overall, I suggest this kind of class for any marine biology student. Fish are a major part of any food web. To truly understand marine biology, understanding ichthyology is important.

Photo by Alexander Vasilchikov

Master Marine Mammal College Classes

Marine mammals are some of the most intelligent and intriguing creatures on the planet. Because of this, they can be a major interest for aspiring marine biologists. Whether it be seals and sea lions or dolphins and whales, there is a wide array of marine mammals out there to study.

In my experience, marine mammal biology was one of my favorite classes. During college, I took a class called Marine Mammals of the Salish Sea. As a student, I had the opportunity to go on weekly boat trips in the San Juan Islands and keep a field journal about our marine mammal discoveries.

Fortunately, marine biology is a major with an emphasis on field trips. Over the course of my time in college, I had the opportunity to travel to forests, volcanoes, deserts, islands, and the open ocean. On trips like this, you may just discover what interests you the most in marine biology.

Photo by NOAA

Get Your Hands Wet in a Marine Biology Lab Class

Speaking of the basics, you’ll want to take a general lab class in marine biology. With this class in your tool belt, you’ll better understand topics, like ecology, microbiology, chemistry, physics, and statistics.

Because general marine biology lab classes are typically very broad, you’ll get a little taste of everything. During college, I took marine biology lab classes at the University of Washington and at the University of California San Diego. Despite some major differences, these classes covered similar topics.

In both classes, I learned about the importance of fieldwork and even had the opportunity to conduct fieldwork of my own. For students who like interactive learning experiences, this kind of class will surely pique your interest.

Additionally, taking a class like this is all about exposure. With a lab class in marine biology, you’ll be able to dabble in multiple fields without fully committing to a singular class immediately. I suggest taking a class like this early on, so you can build a roadmap of what to expect in the major. Oftentimes, classes like this will be mandatory for your degree.

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Photo by Lyle Wilkinson

Open Your Mind with Oceanography College Classes

For any marine biologist, a thorough understanding of oceanography is essential. In oceanography classes, you’ll explore subjects, such as chemistry, physics, and biology. Again, this another broad kind of class.

In contrast to the other classes though, oceanography classes frequently delve into more math-heavy topics. For these courses, you’ll often need to use calculus. Therefore, it may be in your interest to build a schedule where you take calculus before embarking on this class.

Throughout college, I took several oceanography classes. For example, I took Integrative Oceanography, Biological Oceanography, and California Coastal Oceanography. For all of these classes, there was a major focus on physics and how physical forces, like tides and waves, impact the ocean.

As you start in marine biology, this is a fundamental class to take. While you progress through marine biology, the skills you learned from an oceanography class will help you no matter where you turn your focus.

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Photo by Photoholgic

Evaluate the Impact of Fisheries with Economics

Even though marine biology often focuses on the biology of marine organisms, it’s important to explore the field from all kinds of perspectives. Instead of simply focusing on biology, also try looking at economics.

Overall, fisheries are a multi-faceted and complicated topic. There’s not just biology and ecology at play, there’s economics to take into account as well.

When I was in college, I took a class called Economics of Fisheries and Oceans. In this class, I not only studied the market value of fish in-depth, but I also evaluated the fishing practices used for particular stocks of fish. With this course, I gained a broader understanding of the impacts our oceans have on the economy, and I also learned more about sustainability.

No matter what area of study you’d like to explore, this is a great class for applying what you’ve learned in marine biology. For those looking to direct their attention towards fisheries science, this is an essential topic to study.

Photo by Paul Einerhand

Investigate Ocean Legal Protections with Environmental Law College Classes

While you study marine biology, you may start to wonder what people actually do to protect the ocean. To better understand what’s going on in our ocean and how lawmakers influence our ocean, consider taking an environmental law class.

Even though I didn’t take an environmental law class specifically for credits towards my marine biology degree, I took one for my minor in environmental studies. My environmental law class was tremendously useful in understanding the legal protections in place for both freshwater and saltwater resources.

After taking this class, I feel even more prepared when talking about ocean conservation and sustainability. For those seeking a more thorough understanding of environmentalism, I highly recommend taking a class in environmental law.

Photo by Beth Jnr

Bolster Your Writing Skills with Science Communication

A scientist can know everything there is to know, but if he or she can’t explain it, does it really matter? Without a means of communication, science remains stagnant—forever at a standstill.

To ensure science is palatable to the public and even palatable to fellow scientists, it’s imperative to practice the art of science communication. With science communication classes, you’ll be able to take difficult concepts and transform them into digestible tidbits.

For me, science communication is my favorite field of study and has been for a long time. During my first couple years of college, I made a point of taking a course in science communication. Not only did I gain confidence in writing scientific articles, but I also felt more comfortable with science journalism and creative writing.

To this day, I am still pursuing science communication. At the moment, I’m working towards a specialized certificate in science communication. Even with this blog, it is, in many ways, an exercise in science communication. Everywhere you turn in marine biology, there is room to apply your skills in presenting science.

Personally, I think science communication should be on an aspiring marine biologist’s list of classes. Even if writing isn’t your forte, the challenge is well worth it in the long run. You’ll feel more confident in everything you do moving forward.

college classes
Photo by Daniel Álvasd

Final Advice for the Road

Within the marine biology major, there are myriads of paths to take. If you know a topic interests you, build a preliminary class schedule early on and try your best to stick to it. Firstly, these classes will help you build your knowledge base in the area. However, they will also afford you networking opportunities. For instance, you’ll have the opportunity to meet professors and TA’s in the field who may have lab openings available.

Upon reflection, I wish I had prioritized certain classes in college. For example, I would have loved to take a class dedicated to marine plants and seaweeds. In life, it can be easy to feel rushed, especially in college. Whether it be rushing from class to class or rushing to get your GE’s done, college is a busy place. But, take your time and make sure you’re building a plan in college that works best for you. Thankfully, amidst that rushed nature of college, I found my niche, discovering what areas genuinely interest me.

At the end of the day, dedicate ample attention to the topics that interest you. Even if those subjects aren’t exactly what you may want to study long term, those college classes may help bring out your passion for marine biology and guide you to a field you wholeheartedly want to pursue.

If you’d like to learn more about navigating the marine biology major, please read this blog. Furthermore, if you’d like to study marine biology in the most financially sound way possible, take a look at this article.

Hi, I’m a San Diego-based blogger who's passionate about marine biology, finance, and science communication. Having recently graduated from UC San Diego with a bachelor's in marine biology, I am now working on a certificate in science communication. Over the years, I’ve worked in laboratory research and science outreach at aquariums, zoos, and environmental research centers. When I’m not writing, you can find me home brewing, tide pooling, skydiving, playing DnD, or hanging out with my two adopted guinea pigs. Reach out to me anytime, and follow Sand Dollar Wallet!

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