Marine biology is a popular undergraduate major, which means that competition for placement in good programs can be strong. However, the popularity of this field of study also means that some of the best schools in the nation have marine biology departments, among them schools highly ranked by "U.S. News and World Report" and Kiplinger's "Best Values in Public Colleges." Aside from rankings, faculty, laboratory facilities and curricula should be considered.

Harvard University

Harvard University's department of organismic and evolutionary biology offers one of the best programs for the biology of marine systems. Stimulating classes offered here include microbial diversity, the biology of symbiosis and molecular approaches to environmental microbiology. Harvard students become leading marine biologists by working closely with professors who study significant topics in the field. The faculty conducts research on topics as diverse as seasonal variability in climate on sea productivity and the impacts of invasive species.

Stanford University

Stanford University students in the marine biology department get to study at the Hopkins Marine Station. At Hopkins, most of the classes are labs or involve hands-on experience. Independent research is highly supported at this program, credit is given to students, and many undergraduates even publish the work completed during class or summer internships. Students get to spend time sailing the South Pacific or exploring Monterey Bay or the Sea of Cortez off of Baja.

University of California Santa Barbara

The University of California Santa Barbara is ranked in the top 50 schools in the nation by "U.S. News and World Report." The university's department of ecology, evolution and marine biology devotes 25 research groups to the study of how organisms interact and change over time. UCSB has a large undergraduate body, with over 2,500 students in the EEMB department. Students here become experts in the physiological, morphological and behavioral influences of organismic ecology and evolution.

University of Oregon

The University of Oregon is one of only a few schools on the Pacific Coast to offer a baccalaureate degree in marine biology. Students spend the first two years of undergraduate study learning the fundamentals of modern biology and then take upper-division courses at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology. They benefit from small classes in which professors are able to mentor each student. Marine laboratory experience prepares these undergraduate students for work in the field or acceptance into a graduate program.

University of California San Diego

Marine biology majors at the University of California San Diego complete upper-division courses at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The biological sciences and oceanography programs at UCSD Scripps are ranked as first in the nation by the National Research Council. Students attending this program take frequent field trips to salt marshes, intertidal zones and marine ecosystems to experience the entire process of discovery, analysis and data interpretation.