The wildlife science field emphasizes ecological and biological principles while covering a wide range of topics, including preservation of endangered species, management of ecosystems and the dynamics of wildlife populations. Experiential learning is typical in all programs in this field. The ability to specialize in an area of interest is common in wildlife science programs, particularly at the graduate level. Areas of specialization include, but are not limited to: wildlife ecology, conservation biology, wildlife nutrition, animal-habitat relationships and wildlife-forestry interactions.
Depending on their education level, graduates often work for state or federal agencies that deal with natural resources, wildlife management or park management. Those with a PhD can seek teaching and/or research positions at the university level.
Applicants to bachelor's degree programs must have a high school diploma/GED with background in natural sciences. For a master's program, prospective students need a bachelor's in wildlife science with courses in wildlife management, statistics & ecology. In order to apply to a PhD program, prospective students should have a master's in wildlife science, natural resource management, fisheries or aquatic science with background in community ecology, conservation, and natural resource science.
Bachelor's degrees in Wildlife Science
One can pursue a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Science or choose the topic as a specialty in a broader program such as agriculture or fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology. These programs provide students with a broad understanding of natural sciences and the ecology, conservation, management and behavior of wildlife populations. As a result, program coursework requires study in the life sciences, such as plant biology, chemistry and molecular biology. Core wildlife science topics include:
- Wildlife behavior
- Wildlife ecology
- Wildlife populations
- Conservation biology
- Wildlife management
- Natural resource management
Master's degrees in Wildlife Science
Most graduate-level programs in wildlife science emphasize research and require students to participate in a number of research opportunities. However, students are often allowed to customize their learning by choosing an area of concentration geared towards their individual career goals. Coursework prepares graduates to make informed decisions regarding the management, sustainability and productivity of wildlife resources. Common coursework includes:
- Wildlife communities and ecosystems
- Management of terrestrial and aquatic systems
- Conservation genetics
- Wildlife field sampling
- Wildlife management of mammals
- Wildlife population dynamics
PhD degrees in Wildlife Science
Doctoral programs in wildlife science provide advanced opportunities for students to examine concepts and principles within the field. Students work closely with faculty advisors to design their own plan of study in order to customize a curriculum that meets their individual interests and career goals. Program participants must complete extensive research within a specialty area of their choosing to compile and defend a dissertation. Program coursework is usually conducted in seminar formats that allow for open discussion and exploration of wildlife science topics. Coursework may include such topics as:
- Endangered species management
- Conservation genetics
- Habitat analysis
- Human dimensions of natural resource science
- Wildlife physiology
Popular Career Options
Individuals with a bachelor's degree in wildlife science are qualified for entry-level positions with local and national government organizations, natural resource agencies, forest industries, conservation groups and private industry. Graduate-level study is typically needed for leadership, teaching and research positions. Job opportunities for those with a bachelor's degree include wildlife biologist, park ranger, research technician and conservation lobbyist.
In addition to advanced field positions, graduates with a Master of Science in Wildlife Science are prepared for a variety of research and teaching positions within government agencies, private industries and educational institutions. These include:
- Federal or state parks
- Schools of higher learning
- Non-profit organizations
Doctoral degree programs prepare graduates for research and leadership positions with both public and private agencies, such as the National Park Service or environmental organizations. Graduates are also prepared for faculty positions at colleges and universities.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that postsecondary teachers in general would see 11% growth in employment opportunities from 2018 to 2028. The BLS also reported that forestry and conservation science professors earned an average wage of $92,550 in May 2018.
Continuing Education Information
The Wildlife Society (TWS) offers certification that recognizes wildlife professionals for their training, education and ethical practices. The levels of certification are Certified Wildlife Biologist (CWB) and Associate Wildlife Biologist (AWB). The Certified Wildlife Biologist credential requires a minimum of a bachelor's degree and five years of professional experience. Individuals without the experience required can apply for AWB status then apply for CWB certification once the experience requirement is met. In order to maintain the CWB credential, individuals must complete self-directed continuing education programs and apply for renewal every five years. Although certification is voluntary, individuals with TWS credentials may benefit from increased job opportunities, increased credibility and a network of TWS professionals. The organization is currently considering adding a certification for wildlife technicians.
Students in wildlife biology have the opportunity to take lecture-based courses and get hands-on field experience through bachelor's, master's and doctoral programs, which emphasize studies in biology, ecology and environmental science.