How To Become A Zoologist: Everything You Need To Know

Zoologist together with the two deers

If you love animals and are looking for a great career, zoology might be right for you. So, how to become a zoologist? It's a lengthy process, but by setting your goals early on, you'll be sure to achieve your dream.

Zoology is a fascinating field, and it's perfect for those interested in biology. It does require specialized study, but when the subject matter is so exciting, it won't feel like work!

How to Become a Zoologist

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So, how to become a zoologist?

To work in the field of zoology, you will need to earn a university-level degree. Some zoologist positions require only a bachelor's degree, but others will require an advanced degree.

If you wish to enter the field with a bachelor's degree, you should choose an appropriate major. While some universities may offer bachelor's degrees in zoology, not all do. If your university does not have a specific zoology major, another biology-based major can fit the bill.

For those who would like to start with a higher-level position, consider enrolling in a master's degree program in zoology. And if you would like to work as a researcher or professor of zoology, you will need a Ph.D.

Beyond this essential educational requirement, you can take several steps to strengthen your profile before going on the job market. For example, you can gain hands-on experience through volunteer work, or you can develop your outdoor skills to get a leg up on the competition.

What Does a Zoologist Do?

Before you learn how to become a zoologist, you should know what, exactly, a zoologist does.

A zoologist is a scientist who specializes in the study of animals. Not all zoologists work in zoos, though. Some zoologists work in laboratories, and others observe animals in their natural habitats. Did you know that some zoologists don't even work with living animals?

That's because zoology, the branch of biology that focuses on the animal kingdom, studies all animals, both living and extinct. Zoology is specifically concerned with the origin and development of different species, along with the habits and behaviors of animals. Some zoologists also study animal diseases.

As such, zoologists can work in many different settings and have extensive career opportunities. However, most zoologists work directly with animals, either in the wild or in captivity. Others work primarily in faculty positions as professors.

Zoologists who work directly with animals typically specialize in one or more species. They may develop and conduct experimental studies in a lab or the field. While carrying out such experiments, zoologists often must collect biological data about the animals being studied -- this can also include collecting specimens.

Other zoologists will focus on studying animal behavior. In this case, they are more likely to spend their time observing and analyzing animal interactions. This interaction can take place between different species, around mating periods, during migrations, or concerning disease and wellness.

Yet other zoologists specialize in the study of how human activity impacts wild animals, including endangered species. Those who focus primarily on the endangered species may also work on developing breeding programs to reestablish dwindling populations.

And zoologists who work as professors spend much of their time teaching university-level courses. However, professors also must write research papers and articles, attend conferences, and give presentations.

Zoologist vs. zookeeper: What's the difference?

Some people confuse the process of how to become a zoologist with the process of how to become a zookeeper. It's an easy mistake to make. After all, many people aren't clear on the differences between a zoologist and a zookeeper.

Although some zoologists do work in zoos, the work they perform is substantially different from the work zookeepers do.

Unlike zoologists, zookeepers can enter the profession with a high school diploma or a GED. In fact, much of a zookeeper's work can be learned through on-the-job training.

Most zookeepers spend their days caring for animals at a zoo. The primary tasks of a zookeeper's job include feeding the animals and keeping their habitats clean. However, zookeepers may also assist veterinarians in administering medication or vaccinations.

Another important component of many zookeepers' roles is educating visitors about the animals they care for. Some experienced zookeepers may even give presentations at schools or community centers.

Working as a zookeeper is a very physical job. It can involve transporting heavy bags of animal feed and vigorous cleaning.

In a sense, zookeepers are technicians, whereas zoologists are scientists. Zookeepers must be observant and look after the animals they are responsible for, but they do not conduct research or analyze data as zoologists do.

Zoologist Career Outlook

Zebra and a Giraffe on wild life

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If zoology sounds right for you, there's still one thing to consider before focusing on how to become a zoologist. What is the career outlook for zoologists like? How do average salaries for zoologists compare to other biology-based careers? And is the field growing?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, the median wage for zoologists in May 2018 was $63,420. Keep in mind, however, that a median salary is not the same as an average salary. A median salary is the amount that half of all workers earn more than and half earned less than.

According to the BLS, the lowest-paid 10 percent of zoologists earned under $40,290 per year. On the other hand, the highest-earning 10 percent made $102,830. To reach that upper level, however, you will almost certainly need a Ph.D.

In general, the highest paying zoologist jobs are to be found with the federal government. University positions fall somewhere in the middle, and jobs with local or state governments are typically among the lowest-paying positions.

Most zoologists work full time. However, due to the nature of the work, zoologists often have irregular shifts or long hours.

As for the projected growth of the field, the BLS pegs it at approximately five percent in the period from 2018 to 2028. This growth rate is average. This means that while zoology is not a rapidly growing field, the demand should increase sufficiently to accommodate the supply of zoologists entering the field.

One promising area of specialization for future zoologists will be human and animal interactions. This is because the human population is rapidly expanding and steadily encroaching on the natural habitats of wildlife around the globe.

Becoming a Zoologist: Everything You Need to Know

woman looking at a sea cow

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If you're ready to start the process of how to become a zoologist, one of the best things you can do is to gain a general understanding of zoology.

Reading up about zoology is a great way to gauge your interest. If you find your eyes glazing over as you read, zoology might not be for you. After all, the journey toward becoming a zoologist requires extensive academic study.

Consider starting with a general-interest book on zoology. We love this one, which provides a tantalizing glimpse into the secret world of animals.

However, if you're struggling to find time to sit down and read -- it can be hard when you work full time or have other responsibilities -- an audiobook like this one makes an excellent alternative.

If you enjoy discovering the basics of zoology, your next step should be to begin university-level studies.

Earn a bachelor's degree

The first major step in how to become a zoologist is enrolling in a degree program.

Ideally, you will begin by enrolling in a bachelor's degree program in zoology. However, you should pay close attention to the type of bachelor degree you plan to register for, choosing between a Bachelor of Science, or B.S., and a Bachelor of Arts, or B.A.

In general, a B.A. degree will allow you to take more humanities courses. The B.A. route is often a good choice for those who want to focus on environmental policy and regulations.

However, if your goal is to conduct experimental research or to pursue an advanced degree, a B.S. might be a better option for you.

It's always a smart idea to reach out to your professors -- or even to your potential professors -- if you're not yet enrolled in a program. They will usually be happy to meet with you to discuss your specific career goals and to offer individualized advice.

If your university does not offer a zoology major, consider earning a degree in biology or another life science. Be sure to take courses in chemistry, physics, math, genetics, and ecology, if possible.

Get your first job

After earning your bachelor's degree, the next step in how to become a zoologist is typically to start applying for jobs in the field.

Because a bachelor's degree allows you to get an entry-level position as a zoologist, you will be ready for some hands-on experience in the field.

You can start by scanning job boards. Entry-level jobs are often available at zoos or with conservation organizations. Don't forget to check for federal jobs, too!

Even if you plan to pursue an advanced degree eventually, you might find that spending a few years in an entry-level zoologist position pays dividends later on.

First of all, graduate school can be costly and time-consuming. After investing in a master's degree, you wouldn't want to discover that working at a zoologist isn't your passion. So, it makes sense to test out the waters first.

In addition, having some work experience on your resumé can strengthen your application to graduate schools. And who knows -- it might even help you land a scholarship or fellowship to fund your studies!

Pursue an advanced degree

For some people, a crucial step in the process of how to become a zoologist involves pursuing an advanced degree.

This step is optional. It is certainly possible to start your career in an entry-level position and move up the hierarchy as you gain on-the-job experience. In fact, some employers even provide continuing education opportunities for their employees.

However, if you want to develop some serious research chops, or if you dream of working in academia as a professor, there's no getting around the need for an advanced degree.

If an advanced degree is right for you, you'll need to decide between a master's degree and a Ph.D. Most master's degrees require two years to complete, and they will typically culminate with a comprehensive exam or thesis paper.

The Ph.D., on the other hand, can take as many as five years to complete and requires an extensive dissertation. However, a Ph.D. is necessary for most faculty positions at universities.

Move up the career ladder

With your advanced degree in hand, the next step in how to become a zoologist is definitely a rewarding one. Move up the career ladder! After all, you've earned it.

Advanced degree programs are typically research-based, so you should be in an excellent position to apply for higher-paying jobs that offer plentiful research opportunities.

Another considerable advantage of earning an advanced degree is that you will have forged bonds with experts in the field -- your professors! So, don't hesitate to leverage their expertise and connections in your job search.

Tips for Strengthening Your University Applications

Having read through the steps in the process of how to become a zoologist, you're now well on your way to achieving your dream. However, getting started is always the hardest part.

So, how can you ease your first steps toward becoming a zoologist? You'll probably want to start by focusing on putting together a strong university application.

The stronger your application, the better your chances not only of getting accepted into a prestigious program but also of receiving a scholarship or other merit-based aid.

Most liberal arts schools will look at your application holistically. This means that instead of focusing only on your test scores or grades, the admissions committee will also consider your extracurricular activities, among other factors.

Therefore, you can strengthen your application by getting involved in volunteer work that allows you to engage with animals or the sciences. For example, you could volunteer at your local animal shelter, or you could help chaperone school trips to wildlife refuges.

However, no matter how engaged you are in extracurricular activities, you won't want to neglect your grades and test scores. If possible, take advanced science courses at your high school and do what it takes to ace them.

Tips for Strengthening Your Resume

Crop hand writing letters

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If you want to make yourself competitive on the job market, consider ways to strengthen your resume while working toward your degree.

In addition to maintaining a high grade point average, you should work toward gaining some on-the-ground experience.

Volunteering is a great way to accomplish this, but also keep your eyes open for research opportunities offered through your university. By combining study with hands-on experience, your resume will shine.

How to Become a Zoologist: Now You Know

No one said it would be easy, but with planning and determination, the process of how to become a zoologist is achievable.

If you love learning about the animal kingdom and want a job that will help make a positive change in the world, becoming a zoologist might be right for you.

How did you get interested in zoology? Do you have a favorite introductory zoology book? If so, we'd love to know about it, so comment below!

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