Agricultural science is a large-spectrum field that encompasses many areas of concentration. A four-year Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Science program teaches the fundamentals of farm operations, including animal nutrition and livestock care. Laboratory components and internship opportunities are often included.
A Master of Science in Agriculture program offers areas of specialization as well as research experiences and lab studies. Farming technology trends and agricultural science are major areas of emphasis. Students in Ph.D. in Agricultural Science programs study advanced plant research and animal management courses. The curriculum typically includes a dissertation and a teaching assistantship.
Prerequisites for bachelor's programs may include a high school diploma and standardized test scores. A bachelor's degree in a related field and standardized test scores are often required for master's programs, while a master's degree in a related field and GRE scores are needed for doctoral programs.
Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Science
In this 4-year bachelor's degree program, students learn to run a successful farming operation while developing communication skills, business savvy and leadership abilities. Students also learn to interact with farm animals. In order to prepare for future career paths, students work with advisors to choose electives that cater to their farming science goals. Lab work, internships, and a senior project are requirements of this curriculum. Core courses include the following topics:
- Introductory agricultural systems
- Farm management
- Principles of soil science
- Livestock production
- Animal nutrition
Master of Science in Agriculture
Master's degree programs in this field may be structured as Master of Science or Master of Agriculture in Agricultural Sciences and typically require 30 credit hours, about two years, to complete. Students in these programs usually have the opportunity to specialize within the degree. Specializations focus on areas such as animal, agriculture, nutrition or plant science. Graduate students participate in lab experiences and internships and a thesis is generally required. Common course subjects include:
- Trends in farming technology
- Introductory agricultural research
- Designing agricultural technology
- Leading in agricultural environments
- Issues in agricultural science and technology
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Ph.D. in Agricultural Science
At the doctoral level, students can focus on animal or crop science, agribusiness, agricultural education or production management. Exams may be required mid-program before the student formally becomes a candidate for the Ph.D. Students work closely with faculty to determine their specific course of study and then propose, prepare and support an oral dissertation defense. Doctoral students must also often participate in teaching assistantships. Before students can start working on their dissertations, they must complete foundational classes and take the core competency examination. Topics of study include:
- Plant and environmental research
- Systems agriculture
- Agricultural ecology
- Biochemicals in agriculture
- Animal management
Popular Career Options
Completion of a master's degree in agriculture can open the door to careers in education, research and development in the public and private sectors. Popular job titles include:
- Agricultural technician
- Food researcher
- Agricultural science educator
- Agricultural technology developer
- Agricultural engineer
Completing a doctoral degree can prepare individuals for careers as university professors or lead to work in research. There are multiple options for individuals to conduct research, depending on their area of focus. Common career options include:
- Food scientist
- Animal scientist
- Soil and plant scientist
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that farm, ranch and other agricultural managers were expected to experience an employment decline of 2% from 2014 to 2024 (www.bls.gov). The BLS also reported that farm, ranch and other agricultural managers earned a median salary of $64,170 in May of 2015.
Continuing Education Information
Agricultural scientists may want to take advantage of industry certifications offered through organizations like the American Society of Agronomy, which offers voluntary certification for crop advisors and agronomists (www.agronomy.org). In either case, individuals must pass two exams, have at least two years of experience, hold a bachelor's degree and sign a code of ethics. Numerous graduate degree options are available in agriculture, farming and related disciplines at the master's degree and doctoral degree levels for undergraduates wishing to pursue further education in the field.
Students interested in farming or agricultural science can find degree programs offered at both the undergraduate and graduate level. These programs may cover a wide variety of topics, with potential concentrations such as sustainable agriculture, fruit and vegetable production, farming management, and dairy production.