Whether you want to work in a zoo with animals or study the way certain animals communicate with one another, an advanced degree in animal behavior or psychology may be helpful. An undergraduate degree may gain you entry into the field, but a master’s or doctoral degree may really enable you to obtain that extra learning to become involved with research or deeper exploration into animal behavior and psychology fields.
Below we profile the seven top animal behavior and psychology programs that provide hands-on skills and interdisciplinary learning. Whether you are just considering the field or want to look for more advanced degree options, this list can help as a guide.
Bucknell University, which is based in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, offers a bachelor’s of arts (BA), a bachelor’s of science (BS), and a master’s of science (MS) degree in animal behavior science.
The school launched its animal behavior program 50 years ago, making it available to students as a joint education offering through both the school’s psychology and biology departments. At Bucknell, the programs emphasize the evolution of animal life, whereas programs in animal science focus on the use of animals for human purposes.
Over the decades, students in the school’s programs have achieved high degrees of success, with various students receiving fellowships. An emphasis is placed on undergraduate research, study-abroad opportunities, and internships for the development of practical skills.
The bachelor of arts program comprises 11 required courses, while the bachelor of science major is made up of 17 required courses. As part of the program, students will delve into topics such as animal behavior; advanced methods in animal behavior; behavioral ecology; amphibian biology and conservation; invertebrate zoology; ecosystem ecology; neurophysiology; and wildlife and emerging diseases.
The master of science program consists of coursework in psychology and biology. The program involves eight courses and requires the satisfactory completion of a research thesis.
- Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
- Expected Time to Completion: Bachelor’s degree (48 months); master’s degree (24 months)
- Estimated Tuition: Undergraduate degree ($59,474)
At Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, students can seek a minor degree program in animal behavior. The university, the oldest in the state, was founded in 1840 and offers a unique multidisciplinary degree program that combines science, social science, arts, and humanities.
The minor is offered both through the school’s biology and psychology departments. It explores the historical and cultural development of animals and humans, examining the relationships between animals and other categories of social difference such as race, gender, sexuality, class, and disability. Students in the animal behavior minor program have the opportunity to present their research at a scientific meeting and pursue study abroad opportunities.
The program includes five courses: one course from a biological perspective (such as evolutionary biology, conservation biology, and ecology); one course from a psychological perspective (such as principles of psychology, evolutionary psychology, and behavioral neuroscience); two courses from different cultural perspectives (such as global environmental justice, sustainable food and agriculture, and animals and religion); and one course from any of the perspectives listed above.
- Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- Expected Time to Completion: varies
- Estimated Tuition: $23,400 per semester
Carroll University in Waukesha, Wisconsin allows students to pursue a bachelor’s of science or a minor degree in animal behavior. The school owns a 60-acre scientific field station near campus that provides a laboratory and outdoor classroom for animal behavior students to learn and study.
Students can also become involved in research training by taking advantage of the school’s partnership with the Racine Zoo. The program requires that students complete an internship as part of their training and take a behavioral analysis research methods course during their fourth year.
Some of the topics students will explore include the science of animal behavior; general biology; behavioral ecology; introductory psychology; biopsychology; learning and animal behavior; behavioral neuroscience; research methods in behavior analysis; and introduction to canine care, behavior & training. The minor consists of 20 credits.
Earning an undergraduate degree in animal behavior prepares students for a variety of careers, such as wildlife biologists, researchers, zookeepers, animal trainers, wildlife rehabilitators, or laboratory managers.
- Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
- Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
- Estimated Tuition: $34,330 per year
Hunter College in New York City gives students the option to pursue a master’s of arts degree in animal behavior and conversation (ABC) through a 36-credit program. The college, founded in 1870, is one of the oldest public universities in the U.S. It is also the largest City University of New York (CUNY) college.
Admission requirements to the program include a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution, a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0, a minimum of 12 credits of undergraduate psychology courses, two letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and TOEFL or IELTS scores for applicants whose native language is not English.
The curriculum includes courses such as statistical methods in psychology; animal behavior and conservation in captivity and the wild; basic psychological processes; research methods in animal behavior; field study in animal behavior and conservation; applied animal welfare and behavior; and animal thinking and communication.
A certificate program in ABC is also available through the school and requires the completion of 15 credits at the graduate level, which can later be applied to the master’s degree if students are then accepted into the program.
- Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
- Expected Time to Completion: MA (24 months); certificate (within a year)
- Estimated Tuition: New York State Residents ($470 per credit); out-of-state residents ($855 per credit)
Those looking for a more advanced degree in animal psychology at the PhD level can turn to the University of Washington, in Seattle. The school’s graduate program incorporates training at both the psychological and zoological levels, broadening students’ understanding of animal behavior and behavioral ecology.
Students graduate with a PhD in psychology focused on animal behavior and can become engaged in research in the field, laboratory, and zoo environments while in school. They also have access to a variety of departmental resources extended to faculty members involved in research in fields like behavioral genetics, evolutionary psychology, and social behavior.
Some of the topics students will explore include core concepts in animal behavior; core concepts in behavior genetics; evolutionary psychology; core concepts in behavioral neuroscience; core concepts in cognitive neuroscience; and core concepts in the biological basis of development.
- Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- Expected Time to Completion: 60 to 72 months
- Estimated Tuition: $17,754 per year
The University of California, Davis offers students a PhD in animal behavior. A master’s degree which comprises 36 units, may also be granted to students seeking a PhD, given that they seek permission and are given it to complete the steps for obtaining that degree.
Students in the PhD program take 20 core units in animal behavior and six units in elective courses for a minimum of 26 to complete the program. They have the support of a committee as they choose their elective coursework and begin to develop their dissertation plan. Students normally take five years to finish the program, tackling all their core and elective work by their second year, and completing and defending their dissertation by their fifth and final year.
The major admission requirements to the major include a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a discipline relevant to the biology of behavior, the equivalent of at least one course from each of the following subjects (ecology, genetics, statistics, evolution, animal behavior, or physiology), GRE test scores, three letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, a confirmed major faculty mentor, and English proficiency examination for international applicants who have not studied at an English speaking University.
The curriculum includes courses such as scientific approaches to animal behavior; fundamentals of animal behavior; advanced statistical analysis; and a seminar in animal behavior.
- Accreditation: Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
- Expected Time to Completion: PhD (60 to 72 months); MS (24 months)
- Estimated Tuition: $11,442 per year
Arizona State University, in Tempe, also offers a PhD program in animal behavior. A total of 84 credits is needed to complete the program, which includes two core courses: one in research strategies and a seminar on current issues in animal behavior.
The program is interdisciplinary, providing integrative perspectives from fields as varied as domestication, ecology, evolution, neuroscience, physiology, and others. Students need to develop a research proposal that needs defending for their admission to candidacy and, as a final part of their program, defend their dissertation through a public seminar followed by an oral exam.
Elective courses include primatology; neurophysiology; neurobiology; bioimaging; electromyographic kinesiology; exercise endocrinology; mathematical models in biology; analysis of behavior; exercise biochemistry; scientific computing; and neuroanatomy, among others.
Applicants to the program must have a bachelor's or master's degree, in a related discipline, from a regionally accredited institution, a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0, a completed graduate admissions application, official transcripts, a personal statement, a curriculum vitae, three letters of recommendation, and proof of English proficiency for international students.
- Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
- Expected Time to Completion: 60 to 72 months
- Estimated Tuition: Contact the university for details