Agricultural Scientist: Education & Career Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become an agricultural scientist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you.

Agricultural scientists can specialize in food sciences, plant sciences or animal sciences. In addition to earning a bachelor's degree, many go on to pursue graduate-level studies. Salary and job growth expectations depend upon the area of specialization chosen.

Essential Information

Agricultural scientists investigate plants, animals and soils in order to research and eventually improve the quality of food, farming or the environment. Educational requirements generally include at least a bachelor's degree for the private sector and a graduate level degree for most jobs at universities and some research firms. In undergraduate and graduate programs alike, aspiring agricultural scientists usually focus on an area of specialization.

Education Requirements Bachelor's degree to work in the private sector; graduate degree to work for a university
Job Growth* (2014-2024) 5% for agricultural and food scientists
Average Salary* (2015) $65,980 annually for plant and soil scientists; $71,830 annually for animal scientists; $72,030 for food scientists and technologists

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Educational Requirements for Agricultural Scientists

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), entering the agricultural science field requires the completion of a bachelor's degree program in a related subject. Most of these 4-year programs require students to select a specialization, such as horticulture or animal science. Based on their selection, students then take core courses that may include animal husbandry, agroecology or crop management.

Most programs typically require students to take several laboratory courses in order to become skilled in using lab equipment. Students in these courses use microscopes and other instruments to observe, monitor and analyze such things as plant specimens or fertilizers. For example, those majoring in crop science may perform experiments on plant breeds, while those studying natural resources may record the effects of pollutants on waterways.

Advanced Degrees

While a bachelor's degree may be sufficient for an individual who wants to work in the private sector, those considering research work for universities or other firms may need an advanced degree. Prospective candidates can consider enrolling in a master's degree or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program in an agricultural science field. While a master's degree program typically lasts 1-2 years, a Ph.D. program usually requires an additional 3-4 years of study and research.

At the graduate level, students gain additional expertise in a particular specialization. For example, those following a career in animal science may take advanced courses in genetics and perform research on animal offspring. Both master's degree and Ph.D. programs may require students to complete research work and a formal presentation on a topic in agricultural science.

Career and Salary Information

Agricultural science is a broad field that includes jobs ranging from environmental conservation to food science. Students who major in the field have many potential career options, such as livestock management or environmental research, to which they can tailor their education. For example, students considering a career in farm management may focus on agribusiness and finance, while those wishing to become plant scientists may gear their education towards soil science and plant breeding.

According to the BLS, agricultural and food scientists can expect 5% job growth during the 2014-2024 decade. Growth will be fueled by the need to balance environmental protection with the demands for agricultural resources, as well as by the development of plant-based biofuels. In 2015, the BLS reported that plant and soil scientists received an average annual salary of $65,980; animal scientists earned an average of $71,830, and food scientists and technologists made an average of $72,030. The scientific research and development industry was among the top employers for all three professions.

Earning a bachelor's degree can qualify an agricultural scientist for many jobs, but those who want to pursue research positions usually pursue a graduate degree. This is a broad field of study, with career options in plant, animal and food sciences. Job growth is steady in agricultural science, and salaries differ only slightly in the three fields.

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