Marine Biology at The Evergreen State College

Are you a passionately independent thinker? If so, The Professor has news that will pique your interest.

Here in Olympia, Washington, The Evergreen State College issues no grades and has no course-of-study requirements. It’s a place where community-minded, independent spirits excel.

Instead of majors, Evergreen has “area of emphasis.” Students choose a traditional area of study (such as psychology or history) or a tailor their own degrees. Examples of student-designed courses include Media and Culture, Social Justice, and Somatic and Consciousness Studies.

One popular area of emphasis is marine biodiversity, offered by the Biology and Life Sciences department. Students learn about marine life, the sea as a habitat, how organisms live in and adapt to their environments, oceanography, field sampling methods, statistics, laboratory techniques, and data analysis. They design, write, lead, and analyze research projects that last several semesters.

After studying marine biodiversity, graduates often become employed in laboratories, universities, industries, or with non-profits. Many pursue teaching certificates and become science teachers. Others go on to careers in medicine or law. Evergreen claims a high success rate in placing marine biology graduates in professional and graduate schools.

To earn a degree, students complete 180 quarter units, similar to the unit requirements at typical college. Here, however, they choose which classes they’d like to take.

At Evergreen there are no grades. Instead, academic progress is assessed via narrative evaluations. The reasoning behind narrative evaluations is that they are descriptive and reveal the thinking processes behind students’ work. For each class, professors write evaluations, and students write self-evaluations. If they get stuck on this sometimes daunting task, the Writing Center is ready to assist by breaking down the self-evaluation process into manageable steps.

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With so many decisions to make at Evergreen, students often consult the Career Development Center, which offers structured approaches to career planning. The center assists both students beginning their studies and those about to graduate. It holds weekly “Job Club” and “Resume Review” workshops.

Evergreen has a specific set of expectations for students and graduates. Among them: assume responsibility for your own work;

participate collaboratively and responsibly in society; master communication and listening skills; and think critically, creatively, and independently.

Several course titles reflect these campus community values: Consciousness Studies, Community Studies, and Outdoor Leadership, just to name a few. Also reflecting these values are facilities such as an organic farm, community garden, and community-run bike shop.

Olympia, Washington, Evergreen’s home city, is an hour from the Pacific Coast and within day-trip distance to Seattle, Portland, and Mount Rainier. When not in class, students can be found exploring nearby woods or Puget Sound, running the campus newspaper and radio station, taking yoga or tai chi classes, or scaling the on-campus rock climbing wall. They also might be found enjoying Olympia‘s film society, farmers market, or food co-op.

Evergreen is a public liberal arts college with about 4,000 undergrads. Admissions are rolling, and the acceptance rate is about 98 percent. It’s ranked 27th on the US News & World Report Best Colleges report and in the Princeton Review’s Best 378 Colleges.

True to its enthusiastically independent spirit, The Evergreen State College, whose sports teams are represented by Speedy the geoduck — an enormous clam native to the region — consistently ranks on “weirdest mascot” lists.

To learn more about The Evergreen State College University’s application requirements and deadlines for marine biodiversity and other areas of emphasis, please visit

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