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The basics
Study abroad : Subject Guides

What are the life sciences?

Find out more about studying a subject within the life sciences at university with our in-depth guide on biology, medicine, and zoology.

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Put simply, the life sciences refer to the study of ‘organisms’ and life processes. This can involve the study of animals, plants, humans, microbes, cells and so on. From foxes to fungi to freesias, the life sciences inspect all living things in the world. Subjects like biology, ecology, zoology, botany, medicine, marine biology, and biomedical sciences all fall under the term ‘life sciences’. These subjects also help us understand, prevent, and treat disease, informing life-saving treatments.


A biomedical engineer for example can design and construct prosthetic limbs and artificial organs, while a zoologist helps to keep an ecosystem in balance. All of these careers are important for the development and protection of humans and the planet. If you’ve always had a keen interest in biology and want to develop your knowledge, learning in a laboratory environment at times, a life sciences degree might just be the perfect course for you. Use this guide to find out more about life sciences degrees and where they could take you.




Biology is the study of living organisms, focusing on their chemical processes, physical anatomy, physiology, and evolution. A degree in biology can be a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BSc) and will tend to explore the following topics in detail:


  • Bacteria
  • Cells
  • Molecular biology
  • Human and plant physiology
  • Disease
  • Genetics 
  • Immunology
  • Biochemistry 
  • Evolution
  • Neuroscience


An undergraduate degree in biology can take three to four years depending on the study destination and whether you choose to study full-time or part-time. You may also have the opportunity to select optional modules to further your interests on a particular topic. 


Check out the following universities for biology degrees:



Read more about biology.




A particularly popular course among students around the world, medicine is the study of health and the practice of the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease. This is what makes medicine a life science as it studies living organisms, namely humans. Medicine degrees can be highly competitive due to their popularity and top grades are generally required. Medicine is an extremely important profession within society to improve and save people’s lives through healthcare. 


So, what could you expect to learn when studying medicine at university?


  • Healthcare for patients and communities
  • Medicine and prevention
  • Surgery
  • General practice
  • Women’s health
  • Child health
  • Biology of disease
  • Human reproduction
  • Ethics of healthcare
  • Neurobiology
  • Biology of disease
  • Nutrition and metabolism
  • Cancer


These are just some examples of modules that you might cover in a medical degree but make sure you check the specific course content when comparing universities to see which you prefer.


Most medicine degrees are known as MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery). Some courses may also include a BSc within the programme. An undergraduate degree in medicine typically takes five to six years to complete depending on the study destination. For example, medicine in the U.S. is only available as a postgraduate degree, taking an additional four years to graduate plus a further three to seven for a residency. 


Universities offering medicine courses in major study destinations:





According to our data, zoology is another popular life sciences degree among international students. But what does zoology involve? The clue is kind of in the name as it is the study of animals, including their conservation and care. Zoology also incorporates other disciplines such as psychology, biology, and environmental science.


So, if you’re an animal lover looking to spend your days studying and caring for animals, a degree in zoology would certainly equip you with the knowledge and skills needed to enter this field. During this course, you will learn about animal behaviour, evolution, embryology and more. Common modules in a zoology degree include:


  • Biodiversity
  • Cells and molecules 
  • Ecology
  • Evolution
  • Conservation
  • Genetics
  • Sustainable development
  • Animals and plants
  • Biochemistry 
  • Biology of vertebrates and invertebrates 
  • Immunology 
  • Biotechnology


An undergraduate degree in zoology typically takes three to four years to complete on a full-time basis and is generally awarded as a Bachelor of Science (BSc). Typical careers to follow a zoology degree include:


  • Zoologist
  • Ecologist
  • Environmental consultant
  • Environmental scientist
  • Zookeeper
  • Animal nutritionist 


For a zoologist, the expected salary starts between GBP 18,000 and GBP 25,000, increasing to GBP 25,000 to GBP 30,000 with a few years of experience. Senior zoologists can earn over GBP 45,000 per year. Once qualified, you may also have the opportunity to travel with work for field trips and research projects. This makes zoology a particularly attractive field for those who want to visit different countries as part of their job.


Browse universities for zoology courses:



Why study a life sciences degree?


As you can see from the examples here, the life sciences encompass a wide variety of disciplines with a shared focus on organisms. There is a great deal of variety within the life sciences and you could be at the forefront of important scientific research. You can gain specialist knowledge and skills in:


  • Data analysis
  • Problem-solving
  • Communication
  • Research
  • Project management
  • Attention to detail
  • Specialist subject knowledge


While you will gain the in-depth knowledge required for progressing within the life sciences, you will also possess highly transferrable skills, enabling graduates the opportunity to work across other industries and roles. Overall, the life sciences are an important area of study in understanding human health, the environment, animals, and life-threatening diseases. While much progress has been made within this field, there is still so much that we do not know. Are you ready to make your mark on the world as a life sciences student?


Use our course matcher tool now to find the right life sciences course, university, and study destination, all tailored to your preferences and qualifications. 


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