Graduate Degrees for Animal Careers

Zookeeper hand-feeding a kangaroo.

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There are many different graduate degree programs for students that wish to pursue advanced study in an animal-related field. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular graduate degree options:

Animal Science (M.S. or Ph.D.)

The Animal Science graduate degree is a very popular option and offers many areas of specialization. Specific offerings vary by school but areas of concentration may include management, breeding, reproductive physiology, exercise physiology, nutrition, production, meat science, animal behavior, genetics, and much more. The M.S. degree program usually takes two years to complete, while a Ph.D. program usually requires an additional three years.

Students pursuing graduate studies in Animal Science must complete a demanding program that includes both traditional coursework and independent research. The research project is completed under the supervision of a faculty advisor. The student must also write a thesis paper and defend the thesis before an evaluation committee. Many schools also require graduate students to assist with teaching undergraduate classes.

There are a select few programs that offer a non-thesis/non-research Masters in Animal Science, often through distance learning programs hosted online (such as the MAS program offered by North Carolina State University).

Agriculture (M.S.)

The Master of Science in Agriculture degree is a non-thesis path that does not include a research component. The degree can be completed in one to two years. There are many areas of concentration available, though specific offerings may vary from one school to the next. Possible concentrations include education, environmental studies, food safety, extension, and more. Most graduate programs combine aspects of animal, plant, soil, and crop sciences into their Agriculture curriculum.

Several institutions offer the M.S. in Agriculture degree through distance learning programs hosted exclusively on the web (such as the online programs offered at Colorado State University or Washington State University). These distance learning programs are ideal for adult students who also hold full-time positions.

Animal Law (LL.M.)

The first advanced degree in Animal Law is currently being offered by Lewis & Clark Law School. Aspiring animal lawyers can complete the 28 credit hour LL.M. (Master of Laws) course of study in one year. Part-time students may take up to 2.5 years to complete this postgraduate degree. A written thesis is an option for selected students. Distance learning is not available for this degree.

Humane Education (M.A. or M.Ed.)

Humane Education is a relatively new degree path and is currently only offered by Valparaiso University (in conjunction with the Institute for Humane Education). Both Master of Arts and Master of Education degree paths are possible for aspiring humane educators. The 33 credit hours of coursework are completed online through the distance learning format, but students must visit the IHE’s headquarters in Maine for a one-week residency at the conclusion of the program.

Laboratory Animal Science (M.S.)

The Master of Laboratory Animal Science degree involves a two-year commitment for full-time students. It is an ideal degree for aspiring laboratory medical technicians as well as students looking to boost their chances of acceptance to vet school. Coursework for this degree tends to focus on lab animal anatomy and physiology, general care, animal welfare, ethics, common surgical or medical procedures, management, and laboratory techniques.

Some programs offer a part-time distance learning option (such as the three-year program offered by Drexel University).

Veterinary Medicine (DVM)

Veterinary medicine is perhaps the most well-known animal-related graduate program, and it has a highly selective admissions process. Veterinarians receive their DVM degree after an intensive four-year program of professional study. Many veterinarians go on to complete internships and residencies after completion of their basic DVM degree.

Zoology (M.S. or Ph.D.)

Zoology graduate programs include both coursework and research. There are both thesis and non-thesis programs for aspiring zoologists, but most do require some sort of independent research project. Graduate students also assist with teaching undergraduate courses. Masters degrees can usually be completed in two years, while Ph.D. programs generally require three years to complete.