When most people think of a career with animals, they probably revert to that popular childhood question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And they probably answer, “veterinarian.” But careers with animals extend far beyond the realm of veterinary sciences, and many colleges and universities can prepare you for work with animals through dozens of animal-specific programs, like zoology, farmer or rancher.
You can work your way toward a career with animals via a few different college streams, according to Cornell University. Cornell lists animal science, animal biology, animal health, animal nutrition, animal reproduction, animal physiology , animal production, animal behavior, dairy science, equine science, ecology, entomology (gross), laboratory animal science, marine biology, poultry science, pre-veterinary, veterinary technology, wildlife and zoology as potential majors or concentrations at a college level (Reference One).
Most animal science programs focus on biology, but some animal behavioral programs may focus instead on psychology and animal care. You'll need to focus on biology and biochemistry courses in almost every degree that deals with animals. Some programs aimed at animal management, like the zookeeper program at the Jefferson State University of New York, will focus on managerial skills in addition to hands-on animal skills.
Bachelor of Science
In general, taking a degree from a science faculty will help you prepare for several careers related to animals. Science degrees usually have laboratory classes and research classes, both of which will prepare you to work in a veterinary setting, at a zoo, at a university research lab or in a conservation setting. Additionally, a BS will give you the depth of scientific knowledge required -- with mandatory biology and chemistry classes -- to understand the science you’ll encounter at most jobs dealing with animals.
Like medical school, veterinarian school comes after an undergraduate degree. Some colleges offer pre-vet classes, like pre-med classes, to prepare you for veterinary college. The requirements vary from school to school, but most veterinary schools look for backgrounds in chemistry, biology, physics, organic chemistry and biochemistry. Veterinary colleges are highly competitive; in fact, there are only 29 schools in North America (compared to 160 medical schools). Most schools look for experience working with animals, so any volunteer time at clinics you can build up during college or high school will be helpful when applying to vet school.
Living in Canada, Andrew Aarons has been writing professionally since 2003. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Ottawa, where he served as a writer and editor for the university newspaper. Aarons is also a certified computer-support technician.