Students in the natural sciences who wish to study biology have two choices: biology or biochemistry. While the two overlap considerably, biochemistry is a more focused major that is frequently more technical. Choosing between the two involves weighing important factors like curriculum, careers, research, and interest in doing quantitative work.

Curricular Focus

A typical biology curriculum focuses on giving students a broad overview of biological processes, including topics like ecology, genetics, and evolution. Biochemistry focuses narrowly on topics of genetics and molecular biology. Both majors, however, will require some math and science work outside of biology, especially for a Bachelor of Science degree. Biology, however, is sometimes offered as a Bachelor of Arts, which is generally less a quantitative program of study. Biochemistry is rarely offered as a B.A.

Graduate School

A student hoping to pursue a Ph.D. in ecology would be much better suited to a biology major, because the biochemistry major rarely touches on ecological issues. Similarly, a student interested in environmental studies or science should choose biology. A premedical student hoping to attend medical school would be better served by the more rigorously quantitative and molecular-level study of biochemistry. The two fields, however, frequently overlap and the choice of one over the other rarely eliminates graduate school options.

Career Paths

Because the two studies can vary in focus, students not continuing on to graduate school will have various career options. Both biochemistry and biology majors prepare students for teaching life sciences and working in public health. The biochemistry major, however, better prepares a student for research in the pharmaceutical, medical or food science industries. Biology better prepares students for environmental careers such as carbon trader, botanist or plant breeding technologist.

Salary Expectations

Salaries between biochemistry and biology majors will vary, but the overlap will be considerable. Generally, students can choose many of the same careers whether they major in biology or biochemistry, and so salaries will not vary. However, a few of the more technical fields in pharmaceutical or medical research will pay more than average and tend to be better suited to biochemistry majors. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a biochemist earned an annual salary of $79,390 in 2010, while a wildlife biologist earned $57,430.