Biology Advising Guide

Print Friendly and PDF

What is Biology?

In the most general terms, Biology is the study of life. Biologists investigate the structure, function, growth, evolution and distribution of living organisms. There are many fields of biology, each of which consists of multiple subfields.  These major areas include:

  • Biochemistry: the study of the chemical make up living things
  • Bioinformatics: the study of biological data
  • Botany: the study of plants
  • Cellular biology: the study of the basic cellular units of living beings
  • Ecology: the study of how organisms interact with their environment
  • Evolutionary biology: the study of the origins and changes in the diversity of life over time
  • Genetics and Molecular biology: the study of heredity and control of gene expression
  • Physiology: the study of the normal functions of organisms and their parts
  • Zoology: the study of animals, including animal behavior


Senior Thesis Program:

The Biology Senior Thesis Program offers bright, academically motivated undergraduate Biology students the opportunity to develop research and communication skills in preparation for a graduate or professional career.  To apply for admission to the program, a student must:

  1. have completed BLY 121, 121L, BLY 122, 122L, CH 131, CH 132, plus one more upper division biology course.

  2. have earned a 3.25 GPA or better in biology courses attempted 

  3. have earned a 3.0 GPA or better overall. 

  4. obtained a recommendation from a faculty member.

In addition to fulfilling the requirements of the standard biology program, Senior Thesis students must:

  1. participate in the Undergraduate Senior Thesis in Biology Program for four terms: this may include summers

  2. complete a minimum of two semesters (6 cr) of directed research, three credit hours of which must be Honors Research (BLY 499)

  3. present a research prospectus including an introduction, proposed methods, and relevant literature citation (The prospectus must be submitted and approved by the advisory committee during the first term of participation in the program.)

  4. complete a written thesis, which must be approved by the advisory committee.

  5. present a oral defense of the research project in an open forum in the Department of Biology

  6. make a poster presentation at the USA Annual Research Forum or the UCUR Annual Research Forum

Students participating in the Biology Senior Thesis Program who have a 3.5 GPA will also be eligible for University Departmental Honors status.

Biology students who are part of the Honors College will meet requirements for the Undergraduate Biology Senior Thesis as well as those of the University's program.


Career Opportunities in Biology

In 2014, Biology was the 4th most popular college major in America (USA Today).  There were approximately 114,000 B.S. degrees in biology granted nationally in the 2015-16 academic year (National Center for Education Statistics)The undergraduate biology degree gives students many options upon graduating, while at the same time teaching critical skills necessary to succeed in the workforce.

Broadly, biologists with a B.S. degree are employed in academia, government, or industry.  These positions can be in a wide variety of disciplines including: environmental assessment, forensics, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, basic research in medicine or ecology, technical writing, or teaching at the K-12 levels.  Because there are so many potential options for specialization, many who study biology as undergraduates go on to do postgraduate study in either Master’s or PhD programs. Others will go on to become medical doctors, physician’s assistants, or veterinarians.


Salary Trends in Biology

Graduates with B.S. degrees in biology report average starting salaries of $37,500 and mid-career salaries of $68,700.  Some examples of salaries associated with specific fields include:

  • Research Technician (biomedical, marine, environmental) - $34K-$59K
  • High School Teacher - $31K-$56K
  • Quality Assurance Manager - $54K-$122K
  • Clinical Research Coordinator - $37K-$64K
  • Research Scientist - $36k-$99K
  • Lab Manager - $30K-$84K

Salaries will vary greatly depending on geographic location, job type, and the experience and education required for entry-level positions. Higher salaries are often found in private industry and government agencies.  While private sector jobs usually offer the highest salaries and advancement opportunities, they typically have less job security. Jobs in nonprofit groups or academic institutions may have lower salaries, but many biologists find great personal reward in working for organizations that are conducting basic research in areas of interest to them and affecting change through advocacy of environmental or social issues.

It is of note that the field of bioinformatics is an up and coming area of biology that will have enormous growth potential for employment in the future.  This is an interdisciplinary field of science combining computer science, statistics, mathematics, and engineering to analyze and interpret biological data.  It has applications in biological fields from evolutionary biology and biodiversity to biomedicine. 

Unlike more vocationally-oriented majors, such as majors in business, engineering, or the health professions, A&S majors tend to study a greater range of topics outside of their immediate major area. This greater breadth provides an interdisciplinary perspective that complements the more linear education in the student’s major area. 

As a result, A&S majors are compatible with a wide-range of career options. A large 2012 survey of employers found that 81% of employers will consider any degree, so most employers do not require a specific degree. So A&S majors typically find post-graduate employment at rates comparable to more vocationally-specific degrees, Furthermore, longitudinal studies which have followed college graduates over time have shown that Arts and Sciences graduates' rates of salary growth often exceed those of more vocationally-specific majors. For example, a 2010 longitudinal survey of college majors after graduation found that:

“Occupationally specific degrees are beneficial at the point of entry into the labor market but have the lowest growth in occupational status over time. Students earning credentials focusing on general skills, in contrast, begin in jobs with low occupational status but subsequently report the greatest growth.

Another longitudinal study concluded that:

"Employment across educational fields is almost identical for individuals aged 35-44, and beyond age 45, humanities graduates actually have higher rates of employment than those in other fields. After age 45, humanities and social science majors’ salaries overtake those of counterparts in other fields."

Finally, A&S majors have on average the highest rates of increase from starting to mid-career salary, with Math, Philosophy, International Studies, Physics, Political Science, Chemistry, and Journalism all scoring in the top 10 among all majors in rate of salary growth to mid-career.


High School Preparation for Biology

To understand the biology of organisms requires knowledge in a number of areas within biology, as well as other sciences and mathematics. For example, to have a functional knowledge of zoology, one must also know a great deal about evolution, physiology and ecology. The study of cellular biology requires expertise in biochemistry and molecular biology.  Ecologists must have skills in statistical analysis.  We are at the threshold of a revolution in biology that will rival advances seen during the last century in electronics. You can be a part of this new era! 

Here are two important things that you can do that will help you to know whether biology is the right career path for you and to prepare you for that career…

  • Take courses in math and science. Biology requires a solid understanding of math, chemistry, and physics. Taking these courses in high school will prepare you for the coursework you will take in college. Even if you want be a marine or a field biologist, you will need take math, chemistry, and physics courses in college and successfully complete broadly focused biology courses before you will take specialized upper-level biology courses in the program.  Also, exposure to these other fields of science allows you to explore the wide range of potential cross-disciplinary career paths open to you.
  • Talk to professionals with backgrounds in biology. If you are interested in a career in the health professions, visit doctors or veterinarians and see what their day to day jobs entail. Ask them about the education paths they took. If you are interested in outdoor work, talk to park rangers, land managers, and other professionals in your area.  Come to the Biology department here at South and talk with our faculty.  We have scientists with backgrounds in microbial, plant, fungal, and animal biology, ranging for bioinformatics to ecology.  They can answer questions you might have and give you a better idea of exactly what awaits you as you move through your degree and on into the workforce.

Having established some basic understanding of the core principles of biology, you’ll be able to choose an area in which to specialize. Options include: anatomy, bioinformatics, biophysics, cell and molecular biology, computational biology, ecology and evolution, environmental biology, forensic biology, genetics, marine biology, microbiology, neurobiology, plant and animal physiology, zoology and many others.


How to Major in Biology

Students desiring to major in biology must meet the general requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Science in addition to the following requirements:

  1. At least 37 semester hours of biology, including:
      1. a “C” or better in BLY 121, 121L, 122, 122L (8 hours)
      2. a “C” or better in BLY 301, 302, 303 (9 hours)
      3. at least 20 hours of biology 300-400 electives (20 hours)
        The upper-level choices will be based on career counseling provided by advisors using models of tracks including (but not limited to) Botany, Ecology and Evolution, Environmental Science, Marine Biology, Cell/Molecular Biology, and Zoology
  2. Chemistry 131, 132, and 201
  3. Physics (114, 115) or Geology (111 and 112).
  4. Mathematics through Calculus (MA 115 and MA 125) or Statistics (MA 115 and ST 210)

To minor in Biology, you will need twenty-five semester hours of biology are required, including:

  1. BLY 121, BLY 121L, BLY 122, BLY 122L, (General Biology)
  2. BLY 301, BLY 302, and BLY303 [please note that CH131 is a prerequisite for these three classes]
  3. Four hours in upper level laboratory courses taken in the Biology department at the University of South Alabama.


Special Programs, Co-Ops, and Directed Studies

Getting hands-on experience as an undergraduate is highly beneficial.  As you contemplate taking on Biology as a major, you no doubt have an idea of what it is like to be a Biologist.  This conception may have come from your coursework in high school, programs you saw on television or articles read on the internet.  As is the case for all professions, Biology can be a lot of fun, but also requires hard work and patience.  An excellent way for you to determine if the realties of Biology match your expectations is to get some hands-on experience in the lab or in the field.  In addition to labs that are associated with many of our courses, you can also get practical experience by working in faculty labs, assisting with their research, or potentially on a project of your own design.  This is done through directed studies (BLY494).  You can apply up to 6 hours of directed studies to your 300-400 level BLY course requirements.  Not only will this give you practical experience, but can also provide you with professional connections that will help you to get position after you graduate.

We also have a Senior Thesis option for well-qualified majors.  This option requires a four semester commitment an expanded research project.  With a sufficient GPA, this option also allows students to graduate with University Departmental Honors.

Co-op and internships are periodically available from outside the department for Biology students.  Some regularly offered programs include Disney internships, and summer research programs sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the Dept. of Energy, and Oakridge Laboratories.  Check the Biology website for current listings.


Study Abroad Opportunities

Since Summer 2015, the Biology department has offered international courses for both majors and non-majors.  These courses are located in Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands.  See the Biology website for more details.

Studying abroad is an exciting and meaningful experience that will contribute to your academic and personal development.  Participating on a study abroad program can be one of the most profound decisions of your college life, and can lead to many new and interesting opportunities.  It can help develop your critical thinking skills, sense of independence, and confidence.  When you depart on your study abroad program, you will go with excitement, trepidation, and uncertainty about the world and your place in it.  When you return home, your deep connection and affection for your host culture will be overwhelming, and will only be matched by a newfound respect and appreciation for your home.

Study abroad is the opportunity for USA students to spend time in a different country while earning credit towards your degree through taking classes, interning, volunteering, and more.  There are many different types of study abroad available to you at USA. They include faculty-led programs, international exchange programs, and direct-enroll and affiliate programs. 

Students on faculty-led programs will travel as a group led by USA professors and take classes in various locations. All courses taken on these programs are USA courses and offer USA credits that will apply to your degree. International Exchange programs are partnerships with specific universities around the world with which USA has a special, reciprocal relationship. Students enroll directly at the host university, and students from the host university attend USA. USA affiliate programs allow students to enroll at a partner university or program through a third-party provider. GPA requirements vary by program.

You should think of the Study Abroad Office as a one-stop shop for information related to your study abroad experience. The Study Abroad ( team is excited to assist you as you navigate through the process of choosing a program, and will help you from the advising stage until you return from your program.  You can get started by coming to meet with an advisor during Walk-In Advising hours. During an advising session, you can gain general information about the many programs available, how the application process works at USA and general guidance on where to begin.

Be sure to visit the OIE Study Abroad website at to begin your research.  The website contains information on how to get started, financing your program, and a comprehensive list of pre-approved study abroad programs and partners. While researching a passport or visa programs, consider the following: eligibility requirements, location, course offerings, and costs.  You should also meet with your faculty advisor for assistance in selecting a program based on courses related to your degree.

Studying abroad can be one of the highlights of your university career, giving you wonderful and challenging experiences that will allow you to grow both academically and professionally. Where will you study abroad?


Academic Plan

Following an academic plan will help you stay on track to graduate in four years. 

To see a sample academic plan with major milestones for this major, please click here.  Degree plans provide only a suggested schedule; make sure to meet with your academic advisor to find the actual schedule that is right for you.

For additional degree information, including milestones, visit the undergraduate bulletin.


For More Information

Call the Biology Department to set up an appointment with the Department Chair, Tim Sherman, at (251) 460-6331.

You can find us on campus at:

Department of Biology
Life Sciences Building (LSCB)
Mobile, AL 36688
(251) 460-6331

Department website