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If your love for animals seems to go beyond just walking your dog and cuddling with your cat, then you may have considered a position in a veterinarian’s office or at the local zoo. However, if it’s a goal you’re dedicated to, it’s possible your applications are turned aside without the relevant educational background.

In that case, you should spend time honing what exactly your interests are and where your talents would best suit you in an animal-centric career, as there’s several ways to work with animals: grooming, training, treating, managing, and conserving them and their environments are all options.

In the meantime, here are some of the best degrees to consider if you're a passionate animal lover and would like to dedicate your life to working with and helping dogs, cats, horses, turtles, farm animals, ants or any other living creatures.

ALSO READ: 25 Most Pet-Friendly Colleges (USA)

What to Know About Taking This Path…

What to Know About Taking This Path

Education Costs

Depending on your location, education costs can be expensive. They are certainly very high here in the United States. I've included some estimated costs for these degrees if you're studying in the U.S. but before scrolling through the following list of animal degree options below, please note that all estimated costs do not necessarily account for out-of-state taxes, school materials (such as books or equipment), housing, or the elevated cost of private institutions.

For the most accurate predicted cost of earning a degree, look at programs offered at an academy of your choice and talk to financial counselors about aid, FASFA, and any scholarships or grants you may be eligible for. You should also ask them about their percentage of inflation per semester or per year, as this will give you the most accurate average cost of fulfilling a degree. The easiest way to find these colleges with degrees is simply Google the exact title and your location.

Academic Planning

Since a number of these degrees may encourage or even require higher education, that gives the student the leniency to pursue a bachelor’s degree in any number of fields. However, universities do often look for, or require, specific prerequisites in order to apply, and this is certainly very true for animal related degrees like zoology, wildlife or veterinary degrees, and so on.

If you don’t already have a four-year degree and your end-goal is working with animals or in an animal-centric field, you’ll need to prioritize an undergraduate degree in any of the following majors:

  • Biology
  • Animal Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Environmental Science
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Zoology
  • Wildlife Management
  • Agriculture

Acronyms to Know

Many undergraduates looking to pursue a career in the animal care field or conservation field will earn a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) rather than a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) as the understanding of the animal kingdom requires a lot of classes in biology, mathematics, lab studies, chemistry, physics, statistics, and zoology. Likewise, a master’s degree may either be in science, art, or fine art (M.S., M.A., M.F.A.).

The Best Degrees for Animal Lovers

Ecology (Wildlife Conservation)

1. Ecology (Wildlife Conservation)

Ecologists are concerned with the many attributing factors that surround animal populations and their ecosystems. A degree in ecology would mean a fair amount of biology classes, including biochemistry, molecular biology, evolutionary biology, and/or behavioral biology.

Additionally, ecologists may often spend time behind a microscope studying the biology of field samples and drawing up data and reports, so an affinity for, or at least in interest in, mathematics and science is a plus. Should you choose to pursue an associates, bachelors, or masters in the field, you’re likely to find desk work combined with days spent outdoors doing field research.

This degree could have you working for a college, local or federal government, or even hired out by a company, seeking your advice and research concerning the impact of a new building to the surrounding wildlife and their environment.

Those with degrees in ecology may have a sense of pride knowing their research and dedication plays a part in helping save endangered species, conserving a plant that’s integral to a thriving ecosystem, or helping a legal team win a case against the production of a harmful chemical or the construction of a complex that would disrupt the natural wildlife surrounding it. Truly, this degree is for someone who is as passionate about environmentalism as they are animals.

Note: this degree may also be accredited as a ‘Wildlife Conservation’ program, major, or specialization option.

Available certifications:

Associate of Science

Minimum years to completion: 2
Estimated cost: $25,000
Potential jobs: Field Technician, Associate Professor, Laboratory Assistant, Game Warden

Bachelor of Science in Ecology

Minimum years to completion: 4
Estimated cost: $40,000
Potential jobs: Professor, Wildlife Specialist, Parks and Recreation Management, Environmental Scientist

Master of Science in Ecology

Minimum years to completion: 2
Estimated cost: $80,000
Potential jobs: Environmental Consultant, Conservation Biologist, Resource Management

Veterinary Science

2. Veterinary Science

For anybody wanting to work with pets, dogs and cats in particular, this is the best degree to get. The veterinary sciences cover two disciplines: veterinary medicine and veterinary technology. Medicine is the route future veterinarians take, while those looking to be an assistant will pursue technology.

Either specialization is likely to land the graduate working in a vet’s office, speaking with worried pet-owners as well as caring, treating, and operating on domesticated animals, so the ability to work well and communicate effectively with animals as well as people is essential. Studying to become a veterinarian is quite the journey, as it will require an initial degree and then an internship and residency while finishing up the doctorate.

Residency is where you really begin to discover your area of specialization as you can focus your time in the program on a certain subject such as clinical pathology, small mammal surgery, or even wildlife which is how most zoo veterinarians gain their start.

While there is a debate about whether a Doctor in Veterinary Medicine (DVM MS) or a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine (Ph.D) is more acceptable, you’ll find that most universities and institutions combine these certifications, allowing their students to receive both degrees at the same time.

Available certifications:

Masters or Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine (DVM MS/Ph.D)

Minimum years to completion: 4
Estimated cost: $250,000
Potential jobs: Veterinarian, Field Researcher, University Professor

Associates in Veterinary Technology

Minimum years to completion: 2
Estimated cost: $2,000 – $8,000
Potential jobs: Veterinary Technician, Associate Veterinarian, Client Representative

Animal Behavior

3. Animal Behavior

For those interested more so in the science of animal mind rather than body, a degree in Animal Behavior is a relevant option. A simple way to think of “animal behavior” and what it encompasses is to understand it as the psychology of animals. Course work is likely to involve field research, in which excursions will lead you and fellow classmates to an apiary to study the work ethic of bees or to the local zoo to draw conclusions about exotic wildlife.

You’ll also learn how to prepare, plan, and accurately perform research studies as well as how to organize and report your results. These research papers will help you improve your abilities and critical thinking within the field of ethology (the scientific observations of animals and their responses to controlled variables and stimuli). It’s also not uncommon for universities to include a study-abroad program for their future animal behaviorists: Whether it’s studying the breeding habits of Caribou in Alaska’s tundra or the communication patterns of sea lions in the Galapagos Islands.

After graduation, animal behaviorists may do anything from perform research in a lab or own an independent business as a dog trainer. A veterinary medicine graduate may even choose to pursue a certification in animal behavior which is commonly awarded through the American Association of Veterinary State Boards Registry of Approved Continuing Education, which promotes the further education and skill sets of America’s veterinarians. But other than this certification, associate degrees in Animal Behavior are scarcer than B.S. and M.S. degrees in the subject.

Available certifications:

Bachelor of Science in Animal Behavior

Minimum years to completion: 4
Estimated cost: $60,000
Potential jobs: Zoo Keeper, Teacher, Research Assistant

Master of Science in Animal Behavior

Minimum years to completion: 2
Estimated cost: $100,000
Potential jobs: University Professor, Museum Curator, Animal Conservation Researcher

Doctorate in Animal Behavior

Minimum years to completion: 6
Estimated cost: $
Potential jobs: University Professor

Marine Biology (Biological Oceanography)

4. Marine Biology (Biological Oceanography)

The sea was angry that day, my friends…” One of the more sought-after and popular degrees among people wanting to work closely with ocean animals, a certification or degree in marine biology is likely to give you years of coursework that’s finally completed indoors. However, as many of these degree programs show, numerous opportunities for field research are available to students.

On weekend ventures to the shore or perhaps a study abroad program in Hawaii, you and your pupils will collect samples from, make notes about, and observe marine life. While these outings will no doubt be life changing, they’re key significance is to mold you into a diligent, observant scientist who asks “How?” and “Why?” questions, thinks critically, and seeks to answer all queries. Higher education in this discipline will require you to plan, write, and successfully compete a thesis on a topic of your choosing (once approved by staff).

Note: this degree may also be accredited as a ‘Biological Oceanography’ program, major, or specialization option.

Available certifications:

Associates in Marine Biology

Minimum years to completion: 2
Estimated cost: $30,000
Potential jobs: Assistant Professor, Research Assistant, Aquarist

Bachelor of Science

Minimum years to completion: 4
Estimated cost: $80,000
Potential jobs: Systems Analyst, Aquarium Curator, Field Scientist

Master of Science

Minimum years to completion: 2
Estimated cost: $100,000
Potential jobs: Environmental Consultant, Lab Coordinator, Educational Outreach Director

Doctorate

Minimum years to completion: 6
Estimated cost: $225,000
Potential jobs: Biomedical Researcher, Program Director, University Professor

Zoology

5. Zoology

Similar to the ecology major mentioned in the beginning, zoology is known as the study of animals, their relationships to each other, to humans, and to their environments. However, a degree in this field may look more at the behavior and habits of animals than their biological factors (although, that is part of it). Coursework will involve an internship in order for you to gain hands-on experience prior to graduating, and there will be a hefty amount of lab hours throughout the 4-6 years you spend working toward the degree.

When many first read or heard the term ‘zoology’ they may instantly think of a zoo keeper, someone in khaki shorts who isn’t afraid of ferocious felines such as pumas or tigers. And while this description may fit a few, a degree in zoology can lead to career paths beyond a chimpanzee’s zoo habitat, if desired.

Some zoologists specialize in the curation of zoo habitats (almost as if they’re a lion’s personal home decorator), others work in legal and governmental arenas, helping with environmental conservation by way of lobbying and communicating on the behalf of animal populations. There are also many zoologists who work in laboratories, adding value and discoveries to the science communities as well as impacting positive change in the world we live in. People like toxicologists study the effects of toxic chemicals and wastes and they impact ecosystems and the animals that live within them.

Available certifications:

Bachelor of Science

Minimum years to completion: 4
Estimated cost: $80,000
Potential jobs: Zookeeper, Field Reporter, Biology Teacher

Master of Science

Minimum years to completion: 2
Estimated cost: $100,000
Potential jobs: Biomedical Scientist, Toxicologist, Wildlife Biologist

Doctorate

Minimum years to completion: 6
Estimated cost: $125,000
Potential jobs: University Professor, Marine Biologist, Environmental Scientist

Utilize an Arts Degree or Associates Certification

Of course, pet grooming and pet training are industries you’re able to break into successfully even without a degree (although any of the above mentioned certainly wouldn’t hurt your prospects). Perhaps you have a degree in Marketing or Photography – that shouldn’t stop your pursuit for an animal-centric job.

Any number of local shelters or national organizations may be interested in your talents, whatever they may be. You could help them grow awareness of their non-profit as well as find a dog a loving home, all by improving their website and/or taking professional-grade photographs of their adoptable pets.

READ NEXT: 6 Best Jobs For Passionate Dog Owners

 

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