Ethology Degree and Certificate Program Information

Ethology is the study of animal behavior; degree and certificate programs are interdisciplinary, incorporating studies in biology and psychology. Students may earn a bachelor's degree, graduate certificate or master's degree in animal behavior.

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Essential Information

Many schools offer degrees and graduate certificates in ethology, otherwise known as animal behavior. A bachelor's degree in animal behavior calls for four years of study. The program includes general education courses, such as English composition and mathematics, as well as courses in natural science topics like evolution, cellular biology and genetics. Students learn through classes, observation and dissection.

Graduate certificate programs are 1-year programs for students who hold a bachelor's degree in a relevant field. Students without an adequate background may have to take some prerequisite courses. In a certificate program, students spend much time on research projects, observing animals and how they behave.

Many master's degree programs in animal behavior are part of doctoral programs in the field, but there are a few stand-alone master's programs. Courses cover topics such as tropical ecology and animal cognition. Students may work on research projects, and a thesis is required.

Bachelor's Degrees in Animal Behavior

In bachelor's degree programs in animal behavior, students learn to decipher animal actions and movements, such as how animals mark their territory, so they can translate these into ideas that humans more easily understand. Program coursework includes chemistry, biodiversity, evolution and neuroscience. Undergraduate degrees in animal behavior are available through Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and Bachelor of Science (B.S.) programs; additional coursework in natural sciences is typically required of B.S. program students. Applicants are required to have completed high school or the equivalent.

Research methods, mammal biology and adaptive behavior are taught so that students have a better working knowledge of concepts like the social dynamics of multiple-cat homes. Commonly offered coursework in the fundamentals of animal behavior includes:

  • Cell biology
  • Comparative psychology
  • Genetics
  • Social insects
  • Statistics

Graduate Certificate in Animal Behavior

Certificate programs in animal science or animal behavior and conservation may allow students to tailor their learning to emphasize animal behavior. Students at this level build upon undergraduate studies with coursework in cognitive processing, communication, social behavior and physiological processes. Students prepare for working in close proximity to animals by observing animals in a variety of settings during laboratory classes.

Students in graduate certificate programs learn about domestic animals, social behavior and animal development over a lifespan. Program coursework includes classes in:

  • Animal welfare
  • Behavior of captive animals
  • Domestic animals
  • Comparative psychology
  • Human-animal interactions

Master of Science in Animal Behavior

Two-year Master of Science (M.S.) programs teach students about social behaviors and stress physiology, among other subjects, in order to prepare them for vocations in wildlife biology, animal science and ecology. They may learn to facilitate pet parents' awareness of their furry child's needs or help laboratory workers interpret the side effects of experiments. Applicants are often required to have an academic background in statistics and research methods, psychology and biology, but programs do not specify that one of these must be the applicants' undergraduate major.

Master's programs offer courses in subjects like neuroethology, social insects and primate ecology so that students can deepen their understanding of topics like the behavior of hibernating bats. Programs offer such courses as:

  • Animal conservation
  • Environmental science
  • Evolution
  • Neurobiology
  • Statistical analysis

Popular Careers

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in May 2015 that various industries in United States employed a total of 174,060 non-farm animal caretakers ( In the same year, animal trainers held 11,720 jobs, and animal control workers held 13,180 jobs. Graduates of bachelor's degree programs may be qualified to hold the following positions:

  • Animal control officer
  • Field assistant
  • Military animal care specialist
  • Science education coordinator
  • Veterinary technician

Students who complete graduate programs often balance the seemingly unpredictable nature of working with animals with interacting with the public. They are qualified for jobs in museums, zoos, private facilities, the government and universities. They are also typically prepared for continued study.

  • Animal behavior educator
  • Assistant zoo director

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

BLS forecasts put job growth in the field of non-farm animal caretakers at 11% between 2014 and 2024. For the same time frame, animal trainers were also projected to see an 11% growth in employment. Animal control workers took home a median annual wage of $33,450, according to the May 2015 BLS reports. Non-farm animal caretakers collected an annual median wage of $21,010 in the same year.

Animal lovers who want to learn about ethology can enroll in a bachelor's degree program in animal behavior to get an introduction to the field as well as a general education. More advanced studies in animal behavior are offered through graduate certificate and master's degree programs.

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