Frequently Asked Questions

Western students who have not yet declared a major may find it helpful to declare an academic interest (or two). This declaration is in no way a commitment but it does let academic advisors know that you are potentially interested in their major. In MACS, we sometimes contact students who have declared MACS as an academic interest to let them know about upcoming MACS information sessions or other marine science opportunities. To declare MACS as an academic interest, go to the Advising Tools and Resources site and select “Update your Academic Interest” under “Tools”. This will allow you to select MACS as your program of interest.

The MACS admissions application opens (on the front page of the MACS website) on December 15th every year. Western students must submit their application by January 15th and prospective must submit their application by March 1st. Students submit an online application that includes questions on academic history in our preparatory courses (below) and three essay prompts (300 words each) that ask students to discuss their background, goals, and interests. This information is used to make admissions decisions with the goal of creating diverse and vibrant learning communities. To be eligible for admissions to the MACS major, students must have completed four of our preparatory courses (below) and be on track to complete all eight by Fall Quarter of the year that the student has applied to MACS. Students need a grade of C- or better in each of these courses. The MACS preparatory courses are.

BIO 204 – Introduction to Evolution, Ecology, and Biodiversity

CHEM 161 – General Chemistry I   

CHEM 162 – General Chemistry II   

CHEM 163 – General Chemistry III                 

GEOL 211 – Physical Geology

MATH 124 – Calculus and Analytic Geometry I

MATH 125 – Calculus and Analytic Geometry II  

PHYS 161 – Physics with Calculus I

Transfer students can use Western’s Transfer Equivalency Guide to determine what courses will satisfy the course requirements referenced above, and to develop an educational plan and timeline specific to their current progress. 

The MACS program welcomes transfer students.  Transfer students who plan to start at Western in the Fall apply to the major during the previous Winter Quarter at the same time they apply for admissions to Western Washington University (March 1st). Like current Western students, transfer students must have completed four of the eight MACS preparatory courses (or the equivalent at their current academic institution) before the application deadline and be on track to complete all of the prearatory courses before starting at Western in the Fall. Transfer students who are accepted into the major start the major in the fall with MACS 110: Marine Habitat and Diversity and MACS 301: Marine and Geological Processes.

All the marine options at Western share a core set of knowledge, including courses in mathematics, chemistry, and physics, as well as the basics of oceanography, marine biology, and marine ecology.  The Biology Department offers a concentration in marine biology that takes a more biological approach to marine science using concepts of physiology, biochemistry, genetics, and evolution.  The Environmental Sciences Department offers a concentration in marine science that has more of an ecological emphasis – looking at how biological, chemical, and physical systems interact in the marine setting.  Because these programs are both tracks within a major that is more broadly focused, most introductory courses are not marine specific, and much of the specialized content is only available at the 300 and 400 levels (Junior and Senior). The MACS program, in contrast, is built around a cohort model.  Students who begin the 300-level core series together have a year to build relationships with each other and with faculty.  Ongoing seminars help maintain the cohort, helping students help each other and develop a sense of belonging in the program.  The core series replaces some of the preparatory courses in the other programs, allowing MACS students access to the same upper division electives in Biology and Environmental Sciences.  The MACS major is also more broadly interdisciplinary than other options.  Notably, the Geology Department is a key participant in MACS, and students will have a stronger foundation in the earth sciences, as well as greater possibilities for choosing electives across all five departments (including chemistry) depending on their interests. For more information, check out the Marine Options guide.

If you are interested the oceans and coasts, there are lots of good options at WWU.  All the marine science options at Western result in a Bachelor of Science degree and have many graduate school and career paths in common.  The right major for each student will depend on their interests, timing, and preparation.  If you have broad interests in marine science and want to explore how systems work using the tools of geology, chemistry, physics, and biology, you should consider the MACS major.  If the idea of working closely with a small cohort of students throughout your time in college appeals to you, MACS might be a good option.  If you like the idea of marine science, but are not sure if you are more interested in a topic like coastal sea level rise or in plankton ecology, the broad focus of MACS could make it a good choice.


Marine Science Distinguished Scholars program is a selective admissions program at Western for new/incoming students interested in marine science.  Marine Science Distinguished Scholars pursue a number of majors but we expect that many of the students will apply to the MACS major. The MACS program runs the Marine Science Distinguished Scholars Program and MACS faculty teach the program courses. However, Marine Science Distinguished Scholars are not given priority admission to MACS and a student's status as a Marine Science Distinguished Scholar (or not) is not considered during the MACS application review.


No, students do not have to be part of the Marine Science Distinguished Scholars program to apply to the major. Marine Science Distinguished Scholars is one entry point to marine science at Western (although participating in MSS does not guarantee admissions to MACS), but other students discover an interest in marine science during their early time at Western, and transfer students will also enter MACS. Students who do not participate in the Marine Science Distiguished Scholars program will have a similar hands-on start to their MACS experience through MACS 210: Introduction to Marine and Coastal Science Research, which includes a one-week residential stay at Shannon Point Marine Center that is similar to the one that the Marine Science Distinguished Scholars participate in.


SPMC (Shannon Point Marine Center) is a center for research and education.  Some WWU courses are offered entirely there; other courses make use of the lab and its resources for field excursions and laboratory work.  A lot of research activity goes on at the lab.  Many MACS-affiliated faculty have research programs at SPMC, making use of the flowing seawater system and other instrumentation, facilities, and habitats available there.  Some research and coursework are split between on-campus labs and SPMC, depending on the needs for space, instrumentation, access, etc. Graduate students, undergraduates, staff, and faculty all work together on these research efforts.  Many outreach and education efforts are based at the lab as well.


Students, with the help of instructors and researchers, organize carpools to get to and from the lab.  We are working on other options including van transportation.


We are looking for good academic preparation, but also evidence that students are really engaged in marine science, or science in general. This could include paid work experience, volunteering, or citizen science work. We are looking for students who can demonstrate problem solving in diverse groups, so community engagement and community service that is not strictly marine centered is valuable too. For example, volunteering for beach cleanups is wonderful, but so is knowing how to repair an engine, debug some code, or helping a group of people work together effectively to complete a task.


Organizations where WWU students have participated in marine-related internships in the past include: Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group, Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, RE Sources (North Sound Stewards), Shannon Point Marine Center, WA Dept. of Natural Resources, WA Dept. of Ecology, Surfrider Foundation, Taylor Shellfish Farms, and NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

Places to look for internships and job opportunities:  

There is no official study abroad program associated with MACS, and the cohort nature of the program makes fitting a study abroad into your schedule more challenging than in some other programs, but it is still very possible.  There are no required MACS courses in the summer, so looking for summer opportunities is a simple approach.  The first year students in the MACS program are expected to complete the core course series.  While it is possible to miss one of these quarters and still stay on track through substituting a similar course, delays and difficulties with prerequisites could come up.  Doing a study abroad during the final year of the program presents the best options.  If you want to do a fall study abroad program, it would be best to take both MACS 301 and MACS 304 in the Fall of your first year since those required courses are offered only in the Fall.  If you are looking towards Winter of your final year, then you'll want to be sure you have found a capstone option since you will need to take MACS 496: Communicating Marine Science Spring of your final year in MACS and therefore have to have completed your capstone before this time.  Spring of the final year is more challenging because Communicating Marine Science is only offered in the spring, and there is no clear substitute for it.  This would work best if your study abroad opportunity had a strong writing and communication element that could be substituted for this requirement. Another option is to study abroad before you enter the MACS major, assuming you are well on track to complete your preparatory courses.


Please check out the Career Guide page.

Go out on boats? Definitely! Snorkel? Probably! Scuba dive? Maybe! Many MACS and other marine-related courses involve field work on university research vessels. If you are interested in snorkeling, we usually do this during the SPMC residential week and a few marine-related courses typically include optional snorkeling activities. As for scuba diving, this takes considerable training.  The best thing you can do to prepare to become a research diver is to start working on your recreational scuba certifications in your free time. SPMC has started to offer a scientific diving certification class for those students who are already open-water certified. This is typically offered in Summer and Winter every year. Learn more about the university diving program.  

Do you have more questions? Contact us at MACSadvising@wwu.edu.

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