The life sciences include agriculture and forestry, biological sciences, veterinary science and sport science.
Degrees in these subjects provide a great foundation for becoming a scientist in a specialist field, for example as a vet, biotechnology researcher or conservation expert.
However, the skills you’ll pick up through such courses, like problem-solving, data analysis and research, are equally transferable to jobs that don’t require a lab coat. Non-science career paths include consultancy, teaching, political policy and law.
If you’re interested in a life sciences degree that offers flexibility and breadth, the US could be a good fit. You can choose to study across a range of courses in the life sciences and then home in on your interests in the third and fourth years.
Most veterinary medicine courses in the US are offered at the postgraduate level, and you will be expected to have completed an undergraduate degree already.
Famous US scientists include biologist Lynn Margulis, who transformed our understanding of evolution through her work on symbiosis, and Barbara McClintock, who was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1983 for her discovery of genetic transposition.
These are the best universities in the US for a life sciences degree.
Founded in 1636, Harvard University is the oldest university in the US and a member of the prestigious Ivy League.
At undergraduate level, the university offers a four-year liberal arts and sciences programme. You can study a range of courses and only need to declare your major or concentration in your second year.
Concentrations in the life sciences include biomedical engineering, human developmental and regenerative biology, human evolutionary biology, integrative biology and molecular and cellular biology among others.
The university also offers a Master of Science in a number of areas, including biostatistics, immunology and biophysics. The Harvard Integrated Life Sciences programme covers 14 different PhD programmes, which offers students the flexibility to conduct research in the areas they are most interested in.
Harvard University has one of the largest endowments of any university in the world and is well known for its generous financial aid programme.
Founded in 1861, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is an independent, co-educational, private research university based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
At MIT you can choose between eight interdisciplinary undergraduate life science programmes, including chemistry and biology, molecular biology, and humanities and science. Within these programmes you can take an array of classes in the life sciences, covering everything from human physiology to experimental biology and biostatistics. MIT even offers a new class on understanding Covid-19, run by leading experts in host cell biology, immunity and vaccine development.
There are also many options for a minor, and a range of graduate programmes specialising in the life sciences.
Among its 89 Nobel winners is current MIT professor H. Robert Horvitz, known for his research analysing the role of genes in animal development, and how this could be useful in tackling human disease.
Scientific discoveries and technological advances accredited to MIT also include the first chemical synthesis of penicillin and the development of radar.
Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, Stanford University was founded in 1885, and has one of the largest college campuses in the US, with 18 interdisciplinary research institutes and seven schools on a single site.
Stanford’s curriculum offers considerable flexibility through its liberal arts approach. All undergraduate students are required to take classes in writing, ways of thinking and a foreign language, alongside a major or joint major.
Within this structure, you can take courses across a range of life sciences disciplines, including kinesiology, marine biology, human biology, physiology, ecology and many more. Undergraduate students pursuing a biology major are encouraged to undertake research, either by working in a research lab on campus or taking part in the Biology Summer Undergraduate Research Programme.
The coterminal master’s programme is designed for undergraduates who want to participate in graduate-level programmes and refine their research skills.
Stanford University is also home to many leading research institutes in the life sciences, including Bio-X, a pioneering interdisciplinary biosciences research centre, the Baxter Laboratory in Stem Cell Biology, and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
Yale University is a private Ivy League research university in New Haven, Connecticut. It’s the third oldest higher education institution in the US, with a history tracing back to 1701. In 1861, it became the first US university to award a PhD.
Yale undergraduates follow a liberal arts and science curriculum with departmental majors. Majors in the life sciences include biomedical engineering, ecology and evolutionary biology, and molecular biophysics and biochemistry. You do not need to know your major when you apply.
Yale students also receive instruction in writing skills, quantitative reasoning and foreign languages.
About one in five Yale students are international, and more than half of all undergraduates receive scholarships or grants from the college.
The university also has a collegiate system. Modelled on the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, students are organised into colleges that each have their own dining halls, accommodation, sports teams and sense of community.
Founded in 1891, California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is a private research university in Pasadena, California.
The division of biology and biological engineering, one of six divisions that make up the college, offers a range of majors – or options as they’re known at Caltech – in the life sciences, as well as an array of graduate programmes. These include bioengineering, computation and neural systems, neurobiology, and biophysics. You can then choose to minor in courses from the institute’s other divisions.
Alumni and faculty of Caltech have been awarded 39 Nobel Prizes, including current professor David Baltimore, who is known for his research in immunology, cancer research and biotechnology. Scientific discoveries at Caltech include antimatter, the nature of the chemical bond, quarks, and the foundations of molecular biology.
Caltech has a high research output alongside many high-quality facilities, both on campus and globally. These include the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Caltech Seismological Laboratory and the International Observatory Network.
Top universities in the US for the life sciences 2021