Wildlife Studies Degrees: Bachelor's, Associate & Online Courses

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What will you learn in a wildlife studies degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of an associate or a bachelor's degree, and potential careers.
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Studying Wildlife Sciences: Degrees at a Glance

Wildlife studies are usually offered through programs in wildlife science, biology, management, technology, conservation, or resources. A variety of career options are available to those holding a degree in this field.

With an associate degree, you can work as a wildlife technician or an assistant, for instance. With a bachelor's degree, you could acquire a job in managing endangered species, wild animal habitats, or fisheries. You could focus on conservation. Alternatively, you could assist researchers with their studies on specific wildlife species' interactions with the environment and people. Keep in mind that you would need a graduate degree to conduct independent research.

For the 2010-2020 period, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected an average job increase of 14% for biological technicians, including wildlife technicians. A slower-than-average increase of 7% was predicted for zoologists and wildlife biologists.

Associate Bachelor's
Who Is this Degree for? Individuals interested in entering applied wildlife management positions People interested in working in wildlife management or assisting in research
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Biological technician ($39,000)**
- Park naturalist ($48,000)*
- Conservation scientist ($60,000)**
- Wildlife biologist ($57,000)**
- Fish and game warden ($50,000)**
Time to Completion 2 years full-time 4 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - None beyond the required coursework- Choose a concentration
- Complete an internship or other hands-on experience
- Complete a research project
Prerequisites - High school diploma (usually)
- Placement test (if high school diploma isn't necessary)
- High school GPA
- SAT or ACT scores
- High school diploma
- High school GPA
- SAT or ACT scores
- Resume of extracurricular activities (sometimes)
Online Availability No online programs found at this time Yes

Sources: *Salary.com (May 2012 data), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate Degree in Wildlife Resources or Wildlife Technology

Associate degree programs in the field of wildlife studies require coursework in general education subjects like English composition, math, and science. You also learn to identify a variety of species, collect data in the field, conduct surveys, and perform population sampling. Operating equipment used in natural resources studies, reading detailed maps, and conducting analyses via computer programs are a few other skills you may learn.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Job growth expected for biological technicians due to environmental preservation efforts*
  • High school diploma may not be required for admission to an associate degree program
  • Program only take about two years to complete

Cons

  • Available job options tend to be of an entry-level, supportive nature, with many other positions opening up to those with more education
  • Associate degree programs tend to provide a broad overview on the field and offer fewer specialization options
  • Work might involve being around toxic substances in laboratories

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Course Requirements

Requirements in an associate degree program in wildlife resources or technology may include courses concentrating more on terrestrial or aquatic animals. You're required to complete a range of studies in science subjects like biology, chemistry, and physics. Electives may be available to point your studies in more specific directions like environmental education or law enforcement. Some jobs require you to speak with the public or give educational talks or classes, so a course in public speaking or public relations is usually required. Examples of wildlife resource or technology associate degree program courses include:

  • Animal identification
  • Conservation
  • Wildlife management
  • Fisheries management
  • Geography
  • Wetland ecology
  • Forestry

Online Course Information

Some schools that make available an associate degree program in wildlife studies might offer certain general education courses online in subjects such as English. However, courses that are more specific to wildlife biology are generally only offered on campus.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

The BLS notes that if you have lab experience under your belt, you'll be better equipped to enter the workforce. Experience can be gained during your program by taking biology courses focusing on lab work or participating in an internship; some wildlife studies programs at the associate level offer opportunities to complete an internship for credit.

Bachelor's Degree in Wildlife Biology or Management

At the bachelor's level, you might be able to work with researchers on a specific topic or choose an area for concentrated study in areas such as aquaculture, ecotoxicology, habitat studies, or avian ecology. Bachelor's degree programs may involve policy studies and practical applications. Some universities are active in studying the effects of climate change on wildlife habitats and collecting data on certain animal species for the purpose of creating better management plans.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Many specialization opportunities to choose from to point your career in a certain direction
  • Internships, lab work, or research projects are often built into bachelor's degree curricula
  • Wildlife biologists can gain more independence as they accrue work experience*

Cons

  • Federal and state governments employ the highest levels of wildlife biologists and zoologists, but openings ebb and flow depending on annual budgets*
  • Outdoor work includes the possibility of extreme temperatures and weather
  • Professional fieldwork can prove physically taxing

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

Similar to the associate degree program, a bachelor's degree program in wildlife studies includes general education courses, science courses (like biology and ecology), and program-specific courses in subjects like wildlife biology and management. There's also a greater variety of courses focusing on specific types of wildlife.

Several laboratory courses may be part of the curriculum. Additionally, you'll need to complete a research project or an internship; some schools have summer-long field research projects that can satisfy this requirement. Examples of courses you might take in a bachelor's program include:

  • Climatology
  • Conservation biology
  • Herpetology (study of reptiles)
  • Ichthyology (study of fish)
  • Mammalogy (study of mammals)
  • Ornithology (study of birds)
  • Evolutionary genetics

Online Degree Options

Most schools require most or all coursework to be completed on campus. However, there are some accredited schools in which you can complete a bachelor's degree program in a field of wildlife science completely online. When considering whether an online degree program might be right for you, consider what sort of hands-on experience you might miss out on with an online class. Certain courses that require the identification of wildlife might be more enriching if the lab collection is physically seen and handled.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

While completing your degree program, you could be involved in relevant student groups at your university to gain additional knowledge via field trips or presentations. Some schools, for instance, have chapters of national organizations, like The Wildlife Society, which you can participate in. Volunteering at a regional wildlife division would also provide you hands-on experience and allow you to make connections with professionals in the area.

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