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Zoology Degree, Certificate and Certification Program Overviews

The field of zoology studies animal behavior and ecosystems. Individuals interested in pursuing education in this field can earn a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree in zoology.

Essential Information

Zoology degree programs combine courses, lab studies and hands-on fieldwork to teach students about animals as individuals, groups, and members of a species. Topics explore animal biology from the cellular to ecosystem level, in addition to animal behaviors and social structures. Graduate students can choose to concentrate on a particular animal, such as elk or salmon, a group of animals, such as birds, fish or mammals, or on a topic, such as environmental physiology.

  • Program Levels: Bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees
  • Prerequisites: High school diploma and placement exams for bachelor's program; bachelor's degree in zoology or related field for master's program; master's degree in zoology or related field for doctoral program
  • Program Specializations: Specific animals, environmental physiology, among others
  • Other Requirements: Thesis, dissertation

Bachelor's Degree in Zoology

A Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Zoology generally requires a greater number of science courses than a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Zoology. In both programs, students are introduced to the origin and life processes of animals, from the cellular level to whole ecosystems. An understanding of animals' social and behavioral traits is also gained, along with the skills necessary to use data to determine environmental effects on animals. These programs also include general education courses, in addition to introductory and advanced courses in zoology. Some course topics include:

  • Chemistry
  • Biology of primates
  • Genetics and evolution
  • Marine ecology

Master's Degree in Zoology

A Master of Science (M.S.) or Master of Arts (M.A.) in Zoology program continues to build upon the principles and theories learned at the bachelor's level. An M.S. program generally has a stronger science requirement than an M.A. degree program. Students continue working closely with animals, documenting life cycle and ecological events and changes through observation, collecting samples and monitoring wildlife habitats. They take advanced coursework in a variety of specialized topics and continue to enhance their laboratory skills and knowledge. Often at the graduate level, students can pick an area of concentration to study, such as birds, mammals, amphibians or marine life. Students may have the option of a thesis or non-thesis track. Some course topics include:

  • Animal behavior
  • Marine biology
  • Environmental physiology
  • Insects
  • Amphibians and reptiles

Doctor of Philosophy in Zoology

Doctoral candidates engage in extensive academic research, as well as invaluable hands-on experience in field research and observational study of animals. Students in Ph.D. in Zoology programs often have the chance to perform highly focused work in a particular area of interest, like neurobiology or behavior. Students may continue hands-on advanced research on the physical, biological and sociological aspects of animals, marine life and wildlife at specialized research centers and labs, as well as out in the field. Students conduct original research in preparation for their dissertations and may have responsibilities as teaching assistants. Students' course loads are comprised mainly of classes related to their specialization, such as:

  • Evolutionary genetics
  • Ecology of fishes
  • Biology of reproduction
  • Animal behavior

Popular Career Options

Baccalaureate degree programs prepare students for entry-level employment where typical job responsibilities may include providing lab assistance to researchers, collecting samples or performing research activities under supervision. Some possible career options for degree holders are:

  • Research assistant
  • Park ranger
  • Zookeeper

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a doctorate is generally required for careers that incorporate research responsibilities. Graduates of a doctoral degree program may embark on a career in zoology in some of the following capacities:

  • College or university instructor
  • Animal researcher
  • Animal behaviorist

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Zoologists and wildlife biologists can expect slower than average job growth of 5% from 2012 to 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). As of May 2014, the BLS also reported that zoologists and wildlife biologists earned a median annual salary of $58,270.

Continuing Education Information

Employers may require a minimum of a bachelor's degree for entry-level employment providing research assistance and support. Students interested in career advancement can obtain a master's degree in zoology or another related field. Doctoral degrees are often required for those who'd like to perform original zoological research. Students with a zoology degree may be able to become middle school or high school biology teachers. Teaching certification must be earned, with requirements for certification varying by state. College or university instructors usually hold a master's degree, with most college and universities preferring a doctoral degree..

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