Studying Animal Science: Degrees at a Glance
Animal science is a 4-way intersection where biology, technology, agricultural production and veterinary science meet. Graduates of animal science programs can research, manage and improve food production conditions by administering livestock breeding programs, nutrition plans and medical procedures. Some programs, at the associate's and bachelor's degree levels, offer a specialization in veterinary technology or medicine.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expected career opportunities in agricultural and food science to grow about 10% from 2010 to 2020 (www.bls.gov). Farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers could experience an 8% moderate decline in employment during that period.
The use of biotechnology, scientific testing and research in food safety processes and animal health require an exceptionally educated workforce. If you are interested in becoming an agricultural or food scientist, you will need a bachelor's degree, at minimum, while many professionals hold a doctoral degree. Veterinarians need a Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine (DVM) degree.
|Who is this degree for?||Individuals interested in an applied science career or those interested in entry-level veterinary technology, farm management or agricultural science positions||People who want to work in animal product marketing, sales or inspection, or those considering graduate study to become agricultural, animal or food scientists|
|Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary)|| - Agricultural and food science technician ($33,600 median)*|
- Veterinary technician - with appropriate licensure ($30,100 median)*
- Farmer, rancher or other agricultural manager ($64,600 median - people with more experience earn this salary)*
| - Wholesale or manufacturing sales representative ($74,800 median - technical or scientific opportunities require a bachelor's degree)*|
- Agricultural inspector ($41,400 median)*
|Time to Completion||2 years full-time||2 years full-time after the associate's degree; 4 years full-time without the associate's degree|
|Prerequisites||A high school diploma||A high school diploma|
|Online Availability||Limited options||Not at this time|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).
Associate's Degrees in Animal Science
The animal science associate's degree offers courses in theoretical and practical skills in the sciences, nutrition and animal management. Some programs offer specializations that cover core courses in animal anatomy, business and technology. You can choose elective coursework that digs deeper into your preferred area. Animal science majors spend substantial time working with animals and performing scientific laboratory experiments. While associate's degree programs can prepare you for multiple career opportunities, positions in research will require a graduate degree.
You can select from several specializations in equine or dairy management, small animal care or veterinary technology. If you plan to become a veterinarian, some schools offer pre-veterinary programs that deliver transfer credits to a 4-year degree program. The licensing requirements of veterinary technicians depend on your local regulations. Many locales use the Veterinary Technician National Examination, which requires graduation from a program accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Pros and Cons of an Animal Science Associate's Degree
- High job growth in veterinary technology (52% through 2020)*
- Offers a breadth of knowledge applicable to many industries
- Develops science skills for multiple applied science careers
- Slow job growth for some opportunities (7% for food science technicians in 2010-2020)*
- Programs will not prepare you for advanced careers
- Lower entry-level salary compared to similar occupations
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (projection for 2010-2020).
Courses and Requirements
The associate's degree program offers a breadth of knowledge in agriculture, with the exception of veterinary technology curricula. Programs combine the science of food production with the biology and anatomy of multiple species. Students also learn business concepts for the farming industry or veterinary practices.
You will gain practical experience through a hands-on approach to animal management. Programs may offer field exercises in disease identification, forage production and cattle selection. If you are interested in veterinary technology, you will learn about common domestic animals and the application of medical practices in a homestead or agricultural environment. Despite your selected specialization, programs offer an applied science approach, which requires substantial lab work. You may take courses in:
- Swine science
- Livestock nutrition
- Agricultural accounting
- Livestock selection
- Veterinary economics
- Surgical assistance
Online Degree Options
The American Veterinary Medical Association's Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (CVTEA) offers full or provisional accreditation for 9 distance-learning programs. Programs with provisional accreditation do not meet the CVTEA's education standards. Careful research of your selected program will offer optimal return on investment. Furthermore, some certification and licensing programs require graduation from an accredited program.
Distance education programs offer theoretical training through an online classroom. You may need to travel to a local veterinary hospital or practice to complete the clinical portion of your training. Online degree options in other areas of animal science are unavailable at this time.
Stand Out with This Degree
Animal science professionals and veterinary technicians need substantial scientific and technical skills to perform well. The grooming, restraining and conditioning of livestock and domestic animals requires manual dexterity and familiarity with the proper techniques. The work you perform in the field during your studies delivers practical experience; however, internships or volunteer positions at a kennel, farm or in a veterinary practice can further develop your technical skills.
If you choose a career in animal science, you can register for membership with the appropriate association or obtain certification. The American Association for Laboratory Animal Science offers three certifications for laboratory technicians: the Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician, Laboratory Animal Technician and Laboratory Animal Technologist credentials. Each designation requires a combination of education and experience.
While veterinary technicians will experience much faster than average job growth, starting salaries are lower than other technicians, such as chemical technicians. If you do not plan to pursue a bachelor's degree, consider earning an associate's degree in chemical technology.
Chemical technicians may perform testing on products, including food, in a laboratory environment. The skills gained in these programs can transfer to work with animals in a veterinary or research setting. The BLS reports that chemical technicians earned a median annual salary of $42,100 per year as of 2011 (www.bls.gov).
Bachelor's Degrees in Animal Science
The bachelor's degree program offers a deeper exploration of animal biology, equine and food science, business concepts, animal biotechnology and production management. Programs deliver coursework focused on the formulation of animal diets, breed identification or the evaluation of animal carcasses. You will most likely participate in an internship or cooperative education opportunity to enhance your field and work experience.
Some schools offer a pre-veterinary track. The pre-veterinary program provides the scientific, theoretical and practical experience required for a favorable application to a veterinary medicine program. While entrance into a veterinary medicine program does not require pre-veterinary training, competition at veterinary medicine schools is keen, and obtaining the appropriate education and experience makes acceptance more likely.
Pros and Cons of an Animal Science Bachelor's Degree
- Establishes a solid scientific foundation in chemistry and biology
- Programs can prepare you for entry into a veterinary medicine program
- Offers more specialization options in your area of interest than an associate's degree
- Research opportunities and employers may require a graduate education
- You may earn the same salary as some entry-level jobs requiring an associate's degree
- Offers less specialization than a master's or doctoral degree
Courses and Requirements
Students in a bachelor's degree program in animal science learn organic and general sciences, scientific writing techniques and animal management concepts. While many courses closely mirror an associate's degree program, the bachelor's program provides an in-depth education. For example, you may take classes in animal cells and molecular biology, animal genetics and growth biology.
A pre-veterinary program will prepare you for the requirements for entry into veterinary school. Pre-veterinary programs offer courses in biochemistry, organic chemistry and biology, in conjunction with a laboratory component.
Online Degree Options
Online bachelor's degree programs in animal science are unavailable at this time. The scientific nature of the field of study requires hands-on execution. Programs that become available in the future should be examined cautiously.
Stand Out with This Degree
Animal biotechnology is a flourishing career field. Animal biotechnology combines genetic engineering and technology with the production of medicines and food. Here are some ways to gain technical skills and stand out:
- Specialize in animal embryology, advanced animal physiology and genetics to prepare for technical positions in the biotechnology field.
- Attend a university with state-of-the-art equipment or pursue internships that expose you to the technology and equipment used in bioprocessing, optical imaging and microscopy.
- Apply for certification through the American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists, the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science or an appropriate association.
The animal science industry offers a broad range of career opportunities; however, if you only pursue a bachelor's degree, research and teaching opportunities may not materialize. If you do not plan to continue your education at the graduate level, consider a bachelor's degree in microbiology as an alternative. Microbiologists perform scientific research and testing on the effects of microscopic organisms on plants, animals and food. The entry-level education required is a bachelor's degree in microbiology and the median annual pay was $65,200, as of 2011, according to the BLS (www.bls.gov). The BLS also projected job growth of 13% from 2010 to 2020.