Marine biology is a graduate level pursuit, and so the first priority is to obtain a strong undergraduate major in biology. If you already have a strong interest in fishes, or marine mammals, or ecology, etc., you will want to choose a college or university with some strength in those areas, and this can generally be gleaned from a reading of the catalog from virtually any school.
Most major colleges and universities can provide a good basic biology preparation. Math through calculus, some statistics, and some computer science should also be included to round out the preparation in the major.
Selecting the graduate school is more directed to specialization. One should not plan to study crab reproduction at a school where no professors are involved in that specialty, so some ground work has to be done to determine where the people are located who are involved in the desired area of concentration. Your priority interests have, one hopes, been identified by the end of the undergraduate years, so you then go into the current scientific literature at a university library to determine who is publishing in the desired field of interest. For instance, if population biology or behavior among elephant seals is the area of interest, a review of the literature would lead you to U.C. Santa Cruz and Dr. Burney La Boeuf.
Or, if your interest is in coastal ecology, the literature might lead to Dr. Paul Dayton at Scripps. Coral reef ecology would be Dr. John Ogden at Florida Atlantic, etc. If you are not sure of the specialty, then most schools with marine stations can provided coursework in general marine biology, and a specialty can be identified while working towards your Masters degree. Hopefully, a change of institution will not be required, but that's all right even if it is.
For college teaching and/or being a chief research scientist, a doctoral degree is necessary. For teaching at the high school level, or at an aquarium, a Masters degree is sufficient. Being a lab technician is also possible with a Masters degree.
As for job availability, it is difficult to predict for six or eight years from now. However, for anyone doing good strong academic work with a professor who is well known in the field, chances are good that something will shape up.
I hope this is of some help.
Very truly yours,
Steven K Webster, Ph.D.
Senior Marine Biologist
Monterey Bay Aquarium
For information about careers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, click here.