5 Steps: Experience and Education Needed to Become a Marine Biologist

Woman snorkeling and conducting a marine censusMany of our students returning from Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands, or Mexico, working side-by-side with field researchers, come home with a new goal in life: become a marine biologist.

Pursuing a career in marine biology or oceanography can be a challenging road to travel, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a marine biologist with regrets. Hopefully the following tips will help you navigate the multifarious paths to becoming a marine biologist:

  1.  “Get Your Feet Wet!” Most conservation researchers – marine or otherwise – are driven to pursue their career out of a downright love of and curiosity about the natural world. It’s never too early to cultivate this type of appreciation for your surroundings. Get outside, be inquisitive and never let the walls of the classroom be the boundaries of your education!
  2. Build a Demonstrable Interest in Marine Biology: By getting involved in courses and extracurricular activities as early as high school, you stand a better chance of becoming a marine biologist in the long-run. Through volunteering with local, regional or international marine organizations and partaking in marine science programs outside of the classroom you position yourself to stand out from the crowd during the college application process. Our Baja Island Ecology, Baja Whale Ecology and Costa Rica Sea Turtle Ecology programs are great places to start!
  3. Research Colleges that Offer Marine Biology as a Major: Though not an absolute necessity, focusing on marine biology, rather than general biology, throughout your undergraduate career can provide you with a leg up on competition when it comes to marine biology fellowships, internships, jobs and graduate programs. MarineBio.org has a great list of schools by state that offer marine biology programs.
  4. Pad your Marine Biology Resume: During and shortly after college, find opportunities that allow you to build your marine biology resume: internships, jobs, research assistantships, summer courses, fellowships…etc. Graduate schools and employers value experience as highly as they value education.
    –  Marine Conservation Biology Institute has a great list of job opportunity links
      –  Columbia University department of biology offers a (far from exhaustive) list of ocean-related internships
      –  MarineBio.org also has a list of marine research laboratories that are great places to gain additional experience
  5. Pursue a Graduate degree in Marine Biology: While a graduate degree is far from a necessity en route to becoming a marine biologist or an active and contributing member to the world of conservation, most successful researchers would tell you that an M.S. or Ph.D. degree could be added to the list of education needed to be a marine biologist. By this point you’ve had ample time to explore a number of marine biology avenues and can concentrate on a narrowly-focused research interest. Find schools and professors that have research programs and focuses similar to your own interests. MarineBio.org’s list of schools also shows whether M.S. or Ph.D. degrees are available.
Read more about some of our students that have been inspired by conservation and marine biology and the paths that they’ve pursued.
EPI Students peer over bow of boat at dolphins swimming
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  1. I only have a ged but I am in love with marine life. What should I do about furthering my education? Thank you.

  2. I am still in high school but I really want to be a Marine Biologist what classes should I take to help me get accepted in to a college to become a Marine Biologist.

    • you should take a major in marine biology , your almost at the end of the school year but it would be perfect for next year

  3. I have graduated high School about a year ago and was confused about what I wanted to pursue. I realized that helping people as a nurse wasn’t what I really wanted to do. I want to help the planet, and the oceans. My only issue is getting started, I am not sure if going to a community college would be better first then to transfer to a university to pursue a career as a Marine Biologist.

  4. I am in 10th and I am really intrested in marine biology can u just tell me what options i should take in +1 and +2

  5. I am now on my summer break and next school year I will be in 10th grade. I am really interested in pursuing a career in Marine Biology, is there anything that I can do this summer to help me persue this career, also is there any specific classes that I could be taking during high school to help with my future collage? Thanks.

  6. i’m in middle school. i already researching schools and i will take my marine biology course in school. is there anything else i can do now?

    • Of course! Volunteer with local conservation groups, local scientists, or nonprofits in your area. Experience in these areas will be incredibly helpful. Get certified in Scuba diving. And check the EPI blog for updates on summer volunteer opportunities around the world and insight into careers in conservation.

  7. kinda deliberating on marine biology… Love it though but kinda scared of water bcos I can’t swing.Perhaps in Nigeria,I don’t think the practical aspect is done.what should I do?

  8. I really really want to be a marine bioligst and i m in 7 th and live in the middle of the desert how do i get started

  9. I’m in 8th grade, but have my long term goals set on becoming a marine biologist. I would like to gain experience should I volunteer with a local conservation group? Is there any classes I could take in high school to further my education? Please respond Thank you!

    • Yes, definitely volunteer or get an internship with a local conservation organization. It’s fantastic hands-on experience that will give you an edge. Marine biology is a science, so focus on science classes in high school – all the types of science offered – and you’ll really find out where your interests lie.

  10. Hi! I am in the 7th grade, and really want to become a marine biologist. Yes, I know that it is a little early to be thinking about this, but I absoultly love marine life. I know a lot already, but I want to start my studies now so when I get into college I’ll be very prepared. Does anyone know where I should start my studies?

    • Hi Naomi,

      It’s so exciting to have a passion for something! Getting a little experience in the fields of conservation or science will help you get a sense of what it’s really like to work as a marine biologist, so we recommend volunteering with a local scientist or nonprofit that focuses on science. And don’t shirk your classes! Marine biologists must have all types of skills, everything from math to writing to team work. A well-balanced education with a focus in science will put you on the right path. And, if you want some hands-on experience with whales, dolphins, marine invertebrates, or sea turtles, take a look at Ecology Project International’s field science programs: http://www.ecologyproject.org



  1. How to Become a Marine Biologist: Average Salary & Education Requirements | Learn U - […] http://www.ecologyproject.org/epiblog/5-steps-experience-and-education-needed-to-become-a-marine-bio… […]

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