best colleges for marine biology
Choosing a College,  College,  Education

7 Best Colleges for Marine Biology on the West Coast

If you’ve ever wanted to travel to picturesque beaches and cities, study on the sand, or scuba dive in magnificent kelp forests, marine biology may be your destination ticket. Where there’s marine biology, there’s usually water, and where there’s water, there’s often awe-inspiring research opportunities, scenic landscapes waiting to be explored, and some of the best colleges for science.

The west coast is home to beautiful backdrops and prestigious colleges. As a marine biology student, you may even feel like you’re on vacation most of the time (at least when you’re not toiling with the headaches and tribulations of gen ed chem class).

Choosing the right college is an essential step for prospective students. Below are a few of the best colleges and marine biology programs the west coast has to offer.

UC San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Nestled in the bluffs of La Jolla, CA, Scripps Institution of Oceanography offers top-tier degrees, faculty, and research opportunities, making it one of the best colleges for marine biology. Incoming undergrads should expect courses with an emphasis on the physical and chemical aspects of marine biology, field trips aboard the research vessels at Nimitz Marine Facility, and a close-knit community of people passionate about the ocean.

Because Scripps is located right on the beach, it offers a special opportunity for fieldwork. In many classes, you may perform surveys in the surrounding tide pools or walk the Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier and study critters. Scripps also maintains exceptional collections of 2 million marine vertebrates, over 140,000 zooplankton samples, and more than 800,000 benthic invertebrates.

As an alumni of Scripps, I feel privileged to have studied with world-renowned professors, performed hands-on research, and conducted fieldwork steps from my lecture hall. To learn more about Scripps’s degree programs, such as their contiguous bachelor’s/master’s or their doctoral degrees, visit here.

best colleges for marine biology
Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier | Photo by David deLeon on Unsplash

Stanford University, Hopkins Marine Station

Famous for its world-class alumni and competitive admissions process, Stanford University offers one of the most reputable and well respected marine biology programs. To study marine biology, Stanford undergrads can declare a bachelor’s in biology and then specialize in marine biology.

One major advantage to studying at Stanford is the access to off-campus programs. If you’re interested in getting fully immersed in marine biology, consider studying at the Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, CA, where you can learn scientific diving, research, take classes, and participate in inspiring programs, such as Stanford@SEA.

For more information on Stanford’s biology degrees and honors program, visit here.

UC Santa Cruz, Institute of Marine Sciences

There really is no other way to describe UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) other than it feels like you’re on a 4 to 6 year camping trip. Surrounded by towering redwoods, UCSC is probably one of the most unique, nature-focused campuses. To top it off, UCSC overlooks the Pacific Ocean, providing a perfect opportunity to study marine biology.

As a undergrad, students can major in marine biology and take courses at the Coastal Science Campus, which is part of the Institute of Marine Sciences and situated right along the shores of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. To best prepare students for careers in marine biology, UCSC offers a scientific diving and boating safety program. Scuba can open many doors, especially if you plan to work at aquariums or perform fieldwork.

To learn more about UC Santa Cruz’s bachelor’s degree in marine biology and graduate programs, visit here.

University of Washington, Friday Harbor Laboratories

Cherry blossoms, evergreen forest, misty rain—the University of Washington (UW) is a staple of the Pacific Northwest. Incoming students can earn a degree in aquatic and fishery sciences or a bachelor’s degree in the new marine biology major. One of the best parts of either major is you can pursue research and complete classes at Friday Harbor Laboratories (FHL), a research station on San Juan Island.

For the first two years of my undergrad, I went to UW and spent one quarter at FHL. Perhaps one of the most beautiful and research-oriented campuses in the country, UW has a lot to offer. If you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime academic experience, please study at FHL. You won’t regret it. To this day, I look for any excuse to go back there and vacation.

For more information on UW’s marine biology degree, visit here. If you’d like to know more about UW’s aquatic and fishery sciences major, visit here.

best colleges for marine biology
University of Washington | Photo by Ashley Whitlatch on Unsplash

University of Southern California, Wrigley Institute

Located in bustling LA, the University of Southern California (USC) hosts an array of opportunities for marine biology. USC undergrads can major in biological sciences with or without honors and then choose marine and environmental biology as their research section. USC also offers a progressive master’s in marine and environmental biology (only available to current USC undergrads) and a PhD in marine biology and biological oceanography.

If the beachy atmosphere of LA isn’t enough, undergrads and grad students can venture to the Wrigley Institute—a renowned research center on Santa Catalina Island. Here, students will live, research, and study in a breath-taking and interactive island setting. This change of scenery can help you excel in marine biology, offering an opportunity to get certified in regular scuba and/or scientific diving.

Interested in what kind of research you can do at the Wrigley Institute? Check out these Wrigley Institute research stories.

CSU Monterey Bay, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories

Mascot to one of the most precious sea animals in existence—the sea otter—CSU Monterey Bay (CSUMB) offers both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in marine science. Conveniently located in Monterey Bay, CSUMB is an ideal place to pursue marine biology.

To help students better engage with marine science, CSU Monterey Bay facilitates programs through Moss Landing Marine Laboratories. At this research station, both undergrad and grad students can learn more about the local and global marine ecosystem. For those planning to scientific dive, CSUMB also has a research diving program ready to train and certify you.

For more information on CSUMB’s bachelor’s degree, visit here. To learn about CSUMB’s master’s degree, visit here.

Oregon State University, Hatfield Marine Science Center

In the heart of the Pacific Northwest, Oregon State University (OSU) offers aspiring marine biology students a bachelor’s degree in biology with a marine biology option. Along the coast, OSU’s main campus is just a short day trip from the beach. However, OSU’s second home—the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, OR—provides students the rare opportunity to live and study right near the water.

One of the most appealing aspects of OSU’s marine biology program is that the department actually requires students spend one quarter at the Hatfield Marine Science Center. At this research station, students will take interactive courses, gain valuable fieldwork experience, and engage in research.

To learn more about the Hatfield Marine Science Center’s research labs, visit here.

best colleges for marine biology
Oregon State University | Photo by Casey Olsen on Unsplash

There are numerous colleges out there, and, at times, it can get overwhelming choosing the best college for you and your marine biology degree. If you’d like to get a head start and learn tips for navigating the marine biology major, read this article.

Do the research opportunities above intrigue you? Learn more about undergraduate research in 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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