Why pursue a master’s degree in biology?

A master’s degree convers many benefits: access to better job opportunities, higher salaries, and greater chances of admission to more advanced studies, such as medical school and PhD programs.

As many see it, if you hold a bachelor’s degree in biology, you were a biology major; if you hold a master’s degree in biology, you are a biologist.

Whether as a terminal degree or a stepping stone to another degree, a Master of Arts (MA) in Biology from QC can bring you closer to your career goals.

Wondering if an MA in Biology is the right next step for you? Consult a Biology faculty member or the Biology Graduate Advisor, Prof. David Lahti.

Laurin Larian, QC Biology Master’s degree recipient 2017

Laurin Larian, receiving her QC Biology MA (2017)

Graduate Courses

The route to a Master’s degree involves a series of graduate (500-level and above) courses. These graduate courses are also upon to undergraduates who, for instance, with to deepen their knowledge in a given area or make up for deficiencies in their academic record, or are unsure if they want to pursue a degree.

To take graduate Biology courses, visit the QC Graduate Programs page for Biology, and click “Apply Now” to log into the online application. To take these courses as a non-degree student, use the non-matriculation application. If you decide to extend your graduate courses into a Biology Master’s degree, your courses (maximum 12 credits) will transfer.

Besides leading to a QC Master of Arts in Biology, our courses can be applied to other graduate programs:

  1. Subject to their own policies, other QC graduate programs (e.g., in Chemistry, Psychology, and Earth & Environmental Sciences) and other schools (within CUNY or not) may accept certain QC Biology courses toward their requirements.
  2. The Master’s in Science Education (MSED; here and here) is a joint degree between the QC School of Education and Youth Services and one of four QC science departments, based on your chosen certification area (for example, in Biology).
  3. The CUNY Ph.D. accepts 700-level QC courses (see Doctoral Studies), through participation in the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ph.D. in Biology, or related fields.
The Dennehy Lab in 2017, at a CUNY Biology retreat in the Poconos.

The Dennehy Lab in 2017, at a CUNY Biology retreat in the Poconos.

How to apply

To apply for the MA in Biology, you must already hold a Bachelor’s degree or be about to graduate. Most successful applicants have undergraduate GPAs of 3.0 or better and at least 20 credits in biology beyond the introductory level (besides coursework in related fields such as physics, chemistry, mathematics, and statistics).

A complete application includes a 500-word essay, two recommendation letters, and your transcript. While the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is not required, applicants whose native language is not English and whose post-secondary education was not in English must take one of three standardized English-language tests, described here.

To apply, click “Apply Now” on the QC Graduate Programs page for Biology and use the matriculation application. Find more general info on QC Master’s Programs here.

Application deadlines are April 1 and November 1 (for Fall and Spring matriculation, respectively).

Application outcomes vary. You may be accepted: (1) unconditionally; (2) on the condition that you take at one or more remedial biology courses; or (3) on a probationary basis (you will be fully accepted if you maintain a 3.0 GPA for 12 credits of coursework).

If your application is rejected, you can still improve your chances of acceptance in future by taking and succeeding in QC Biology courses as a non-matriculating graduate student.

Research Experience

We encourage all our graduate students to participate in the varied research programs of QC Biology faculty members. This is the best way to learn biology first-hand and appreciate how scientific methods are applied to big research questions (look at all the cool topics our MA students have studied!). While faculty members rarely require prior experience or specific coursework to join their labs, Biology research opportunities are competitive.

Recent funders of our research activities include federal grantors (e.g., National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health) and private foundations (e.g., American Cancer Society, American Heart Association).

Our labs and core facilities are well-equipped for research in ecology and in evolutionary, molecular, cell, and developmental biology. Opportunities are enhanced by affiliations and cooperative efforts with other CUNY divisions, city institutions and the American Museum of Natural History.

One master's student is working with a sparrow in a marsh. Another is working with DNA samples.

Our MA students’ research projects tackle questions ranging from the molecular to the whole-organism (and even ecosystem) level.

Leora Ferrari (left) is studying the cultural evolution of house-finch songs for her thesis—here, she is measuring the tarsus of a saltmarsh sparrow for a separate study of marsh birds. Disclaimer: the avian-flu and other wildlife epidemics have highlighted the need for PPE (well-fitted N95-type mask & disposable gloves) while handling wild birds (or any vertebrates).

Delroy Brockett (right) is studying virology for his MA thesis project—here he is preparing samples for PCR amplification.

What to expect (MA requirements)


Meet with the Graduate Advisor (Prof. David Lahti) to discuss your course plans and long-range goals as soon as possible upon entry into the program, and then annually thereafter to assure your continued success.

As soon as possible after acceptance, find a Biology professor (see our research interests) to mentor you. Your mentor can advise you on your research, may help you choose courses, and will guide you as you prepare the review article or research thesis that forms your capstone degree requirement (more info below).


You can apply any 600- and 700-level courses toward your degree—you create your own curriculum based on your interests! Below are some policies governing courses and credits.

  • All courses applied to the MA program (directly or by transfer) must have been graded on a letter basis (not CR or P) and at C- or better.
  • You must complete ≥10 credits of 700-level lecture courses (i.e., not including colloquium, tutorial, journal clubs, or research credit).
  • The combination of BIOL 791 (Colloquium), BIOL 792 (Tutorial), and BIOL 799 (Research), may not exceed 12 credits.
  • If you already took a 300-level QC Biology course that is also offered at the 600-level, you may not retake it at the 600-level for credit.
  • If you took 600- or 700- level courses as a QC undergraduate, you may transfer those credits (using this form) to your MA degree only if they are not needed for your bachelor’s Degree.
  • You can retake one course (≤4 credits) to improve on (replace) your prior grade.
  • You may take a course of a biological nature in another QC Department (with the Graduate Advisor’s approval).
  • You should prioritize QC Biology courses but may apply to take a course that is relevant to your path and is not offered at QC, under the e-permit system.
  • We welcome transfer students! You may transfer ≤12 credits from another school to the Biology MA program if you received a B- grade or better. To do so, submit the Advanced Standing Evaluation form, by the end of your second semester. When transferring credits from another CUNY college, your grades will transfer too and be incorporated into your GPA.
  • To graduate, you need a ≥3.0 GPA.

Two tracks

There are two tracks to fulfil the MA (Biology) degree requirements. You may choose or switch at any point, but as each track’s final requirements take time, it is best to plan and seek advice in advance.

Track name Course-intensive Research-intensive
Graduation requirement 32 credits total 30 credits total
Capstone requirement Literature-review paper on a focused biology topic Thesis on significant independent research
Maximum no. of research credits (BIOL799) 6 9
Paper/thesis preparation The paper/thesis must be prepared according to these guidelines.
Oral presentation and defense All MA candidates present and defend their research and/or theses orally. The Examination Committee is established for and by each candidate and chaired by a QC Biology faculty member.
Examination Committee members 3 QC Biology faculty members ≥ 3 QC Biology faculty members

Michelle Mendoza (left) enrolled in the course-intensive MA. At her oral defense in 2023, she presented quality independent research that merited a shift to the research-intensive track. This rare achievement made her mentor (Prof Joanna Coleman, at right) so proud.

portrait photos of 2 master's students who are studying the accelerated degree track

Delroy Brockett (left) and Michael Loccisano (right) are AGT students. Both are doing their MA-thesis research in Prof. John Dennehy’s lab. But not for long… Michael will defend in April 2024!

Accelerated Graduate Track

The Accelerated Graduate Track (AGT) option saves time and money by allowing you to obtain both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.

You are eligible if you are an undergraduate Biology major, you have taken ≥60 credits and you have maintained a minimum GPA of 3.0 in the major (in all science and math courses).

How it works. As an undergraduate, take ≤12 credits of 600- or 700-level courses (with the instructor’s permission) and count them toward your BA and MA degrees. Yes—you can double-count those credits and grades. Thus, you get 12 graduate credits (more than 1/3 of your total MA requirement), for free.

As long as you maintain a 3.0 GPA undergraduate average, you will automatically be accepted into the QC MA program when you graduate with your BA.

Below are some policies regarding the AGT.

  • You must maintain a 3.0 GPA until you receive the MA.
  • Each course you wish to count toward your MA must be graded on a letter basis (not CR or P), at B- (2.7 GPA) or better. Grades as low as C- still count toward your undergraduate degree.
  • Colloquium (BIOL791) and Research (BIOL799) are not available to undergraduates, who should instead take the 300-level versions of these courses.
  • The 600- or 700- level courses you take as an undergraduate can count toward your required 300-level undergraduate courses for the biology major, or as electives; lab and field courses can count as your undergraduate laboratory requirements.
  • As you can transfer a maximum of 12 credits into the MA program, there is no benefit to remaining an undergraduate beyond this point.

Please note that the AGT resembles but is not the same as the college-wide BA/MA program. The Biology Department only participates in the QC-wide AGT, which is described in detail here, with info on how to apply (click the “Accelerated Graduate Degree Programs” button and then select “Biology” from the list of programs).

More Information

The three most valuable documents for a Biology MA student (besides your thesis) are:

  1. The QC Graduate Handbook (all general policies that apply to the QC graduate program).
  2. The QC Graduate Bulletin (general info and specific Biology Department info, including requirements and a list of courses).
  3. Final Examination/Thesis Requirements for the Biology MA Degree

For tuition information, see here.