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Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions / Building Animal Work Experience

Preparing for Post-secondary Education

Finding that Job

General Questions / Building Animal Work Experience

How do I know if a career working with animals is for me?

Anyone who has a passion and love for animals can have a career working with them! But careers involving animals also require a lot of responsibility, hard work, and dedication.  It’s up to you to explore whether or not a career with animals is a good fit for you.

Volunteering, working, shadowing people, and asking around are all excellent ways to explore potential career interests, especially if you haven’t worked with animals much in the past. A good place to start is volunteering at your local animal shelter. Even if you live in a big city chances are there is a shelter nearby. Or if you know someone with farm animals, ask if you can help out for the day! Your high school guidance counselor can also help you find work experience opportunities involving animals. The first step might be to ask people that work with animals about their job. Start here!

Spend some time identifying what you like and what your strengths are so that you can find a career working with animals that best suits your style.  You might find that there are certain jobs working with animals that you really LOVE and some that you don’t like at all! All this is important information to know and the more experiences you get, the better you will be able to know if a career working with animals is for you!

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If I don’t come from a farm background can I still work with large animals?

Absolutely! People who have gone into careers working with animals come from all types of backgrounds.  What ever your interest are, there are lots of opportunities for you to gain work experience. This website gives you tons of tips on how to find those opportunities. All you need is passion and dedication for your chosen path and you will be able to work with any species you want!

In the past, animal science programs at colleges and universities have either focused on preparing graduates for careers in production/livestock agriculture or for advanced veterinary degrees. However the types of students entering animal science programs today are very different than 20 years ago!  More animal science students are urban (from the city), female, and have interest in animal careers outside of agriculture or beyond veterinary medicine. So animal science programs have changed too! While livestock agriculture is still a major focus for many schools these programs now have more diversity in the type of species and the scientific disciplines covered. For example, because of changing students interests there are more classes on companion animals and animal behavior, topics that were nonexistent in the past. Animal science departments now recognize the diverse career paths their students may choose.

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How do I find volunteer or work experience opportunities?

There are numerous benefits to volunteering but it can be overwhelming trying to figure out where to start. The purpose of this website is to make finding these opportunities easier!

Volunteering allows you to explore different careers you might be interesting in pursuing and can sometimes be considered for academic credit. Perhaps the biggest benefit is that volunteering provides you with invaluable work experience that will help you get paying jobs in the future, so it’s important to understand the diverse volunteer opportunities out there.

Check out The Experiences section of this website. Here you will find loads of tips for finding work experience opportunities. You can also read stories from other students who have found unique ways to gain experience working with animals.

Interested in working with small animals? Here are some idea’s on ways you can help your animal local shelter.
10 ways to help your local animal shelter.

If you are interested in finding opportunities to volunteer within US Federal Government check out the following link! Volunteer opportunities can range from working on wildlife or marine projects to federal legislation initiatives.

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My counselor suggested I should “shadow” someone to gain some work experience. What is shadowing?

On a bright sunny day your own shadow follows you around everywhere you go and that is basically what you do when you shadow a professional in a job you’re interested in! When you shadow someone your primary job is to follow that person throughout the day and observe what he or she does. You would be amazed at how much you can learn just by watching and listening! You may also find it easier getting experiences with different jobs by shadowing, since not all places have formal volunteer or internship programs.

How do you set up a shadowing experience? Call and ask!  You might begin by saying…

“I am really interested in learning more about [insert Dream Job here]… can I follow [person who has your dream job] around for the day to learn more what they do!”  

You may be surprised to know that most often, if asked politely, professionals are more than willing (an happy) to have you at their workplace for a few hours or at least to answer a few questions you may have.  Be brave and ask! When you are done with your shadowing experience, ask if they would recommend another person to shadow and you may have just lined up another experience for yourself!

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How old do I need to be before I can get real work experience? / What are Child Labor Laws and who can I contact about rules in my state?

These questions go together because the answer to both is: it depends on what state you live in. Fortunately, there is a great website where you can find the information you need about youth labor laws no matter what state you're in. Go to Youth Rules - Preparing the 21st Century Workforce to find all of the rules, laws, support and resources you need.

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Preparing for Post-secondary Education

What classes should I take in high school to prepare me for a career working with animals?

In general, basic courses in biology, chemistry, and even physics will be helpful in careers involving animals.  Having a good background in these courses from high school will help you to do well in college. There are also some instances where learning a second language can be immensely helpful (for instance, if you’ll be working on dairy farms, Charlene suggests you learn Spanish). 

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Do I need a college degree to work in a career with animals?

College degrees are becoming increasingly necessary to obtain jobs across all fields, and animal-related fields are included.  So a college degree will definitely help you obtain the career you want involving animals.  That said, personal interest and training in other ways can go a long way for some jobs.  If you are interested in a particular job, we suggest you research what kinds of degrees (if any) the individuals that have those jobs have obtained. 

All of the careers that are listed on this website include information about the minimum degree required. Start by clicking here to find out more about these degree requirements.

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Do I have to know exactly what career I want before going to college?

Not at all!  Our advice is to attend the college that will provide you with the most diverse opportunities related to what you’re interested in.  That way, if you change your mind about what you want to do, there will be plenty of opportunities to try out new things.  In general, most colleges will allow you to take classes and get involved in many departments across campus and many schools. Typically, the first 2 years of a 4-year college program will involve class that cover all types of animals (companion animals, farm animals) and all areas of study (biology, nutrition, reproduction, genetics). The is the perfect time for your to explore your interests. By the 3rd and 4th year, there is typically more flexibility for you to choose classes that are more focused in your areas of interest. Most schools make it very easy to change courses, majors, or degrees during your program.  So explore your interests, but keep an open mind as well!

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What is the difference between a college and university?

These terms are often used interchangeably, but generally speaking, a college offers only 2 or 4 year undergraduate degrees [Associates (AS) or Bachelors (BS)] while a university offers those in addition to training in advanced degrees such as Masters degrees (MS), Doctoral degrees (PhD).

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What is vocational training?

Vocational education and training prepares trainees for very specific job roles. The student or trainee develops expertise in a particular group of techniques or technologies. A large part of the education in vocational schools is hands-on training. Vocational training thus provides a link between education and the working world. Students can enter vocational training programs at any time, including directly after high school.

These programs may include an apprenticeship component. During an apprenticeship, training is achieved while working for an employer who helps the apprentices learn their trade, in exchange for their continuing labor for an agreed period after they become skilled.

Check out the “Careers by Degree Required” section of this website to find examples of animal careers that you can do with vocational training.

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Should I go to a school with a Department of Animal Science?

Not necessarily.  At many universities or colleges there will be no Department of Animal Science. Every school is different. Animal science related programs are typically found within specific colleges or departments at the University. Some universities will list their animal science programs within the Department of Biology, Department of Science, or Department of Agriculture.

If you follow the “Academics” link on most university website homepages you will be directed to the institution’s list of undergraduate Colleges/Departments as well as a list of specific undergraduate programs/majors. For example, at Cornell University the Department of Animal Science is part of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The following is a list of the types of programs or majors a university might have to encompass their animal-related studies.  Some of these may also be concentrations within a larger Animal Science or Animal Biology department.

Animal Science
Animal Biology
Animal Health
Animal Nutrition
Animal Reproduction
Animal Physiology
Animal Production
Animal Behavior

Marine Biology
Pre Veterinary
Veterinary Technology
Poultry Science
Dairy Science
Equine Science
Laboratory Animal Science

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How do I select which college or university to go to?

Choosing what university or college to attend after high school can be an overwhelming task. But if you ask yourself the following questions you might be able to narrow down the search.

The following website is THE place to search for colleges and college entrance exam requirements.

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Do I want to be close to home or am I willing to go to school in another state?

Nearly every state will have a college or school that offers training that can be used to obtain a career that involves working for animals. Visit the Resources page of this website to find links to a variety of academic institutions around North America with programs that will prepare you for a career working with animals.

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How much can I afford for tuition?

Tuition is the amount you need to pay each year to attend your school.  The cost of tuition can vary a lot depending on what school you choose. Private universities or colleges will have higher tuition costs than public institutions. And if you travel out of state for your education you may have to pay higher non-resident tuition rates. Students attending private schools should expect to pay anywhere from $25,000 to $40,000 in tuition per year, whereas the average tuition for public schools is more likely to be around $7,000/year. You should also remember that housing, books, food, and personal expenses could add an additional $15,000 to your yearly expense.  

Although this may seem like a lot of money there are a lot of ways to obtain financial aid to help you cover the costs of your education!!! Click here for advice and tips on finding ways to pay for school.

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What types of animals do I want to working with?

Some universities have a reputation for excelling in specific areas. For example, some universities will specialize in dairy science while others may have a greater focus on horses or marine biology. This will affect not only the courses that they offer, but also hands-on animal work experience opportunities available. While researching schools take a look at the specific courses that are offered by your program, you may find that some schools have more classes focused on the animals and topics you want to learn about!

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What other types of opportunities does this university offer?

Program majors and courses are only one part of your educational experience! You should consider the availability of clubs/societies, internship, research opportunities, and other extra-curricular activities available that will help to make you a well-rounded student. Many schools will have student-organized species-specific clubs and some departmental faculty will look for undergraduate research assistants to help with a variety of projects involving animals. There may be many opportunities for you to hold jobs on campus working with animals as a student.

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What is the difference between Animal Biology and Animal Science?

Probably not a whole lot! Within both an animal science or animal biology program you are likely to take very similar courses; however, it is always a good idea to check out the list of courses available to see if in fact they are classes you are interested in taking.  In general (but not as a rule), an Animal Science program will be focused more on things related to domestic (cats, dogs) and production-animals (cattle, pigs, chickens) while Animal Biology programs will be less specific and more about general biology (nutrition, ecology, physiology). 

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How will I pay for my college or university education?

Going to college can be expensive, but there are many opportunities for financial aid and you shouldn’t necessarily rule out a school because of its initial cost.  A school that may initially look very expensive may also have lots of opportunities for financial aid! Many schools will have a website dedicated specifically to providing their students with information on financial aid opportunities. When you have identified schools you might be interested in attending you can visit their financial aid office and speak directly with a university employee about funding opportunities. 

Overall, your education will be paid for by a combination of family contribution (how much your family can pay for you), your contribution (which may include opportunities to have a job on or off campus), scholarships, grants, and finally loans (which may be private, from a bank, or Federal or government loans will have very low interests rates and reasonable pay-back schedules). 

You can begin paying for college before you even leave high school by applying for scholarships, large or small, which may help you afford college.  Start by asking your guidance counselor about local scholarship opportunities.

Some other potentially Useful Financial Aid Resource Links:

Federal Student Aid -

Cornell University Undergraduate Financial Aid -

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Finding that Job

What is a career fair?

A career fair is an opportunity for people who are seeking jobs to meet with several different companies, agencies, or groups who are hiring all at once, in one location.  They are usually held in large rooms and each company will have a table with representatives you can talk to and brochures about their company and the jobs that they offer.  Often, career fairs will have themes such as “Biotechnology” or “Sales”, or maybe even “Animals”.  Keep your eyes open for ads listing career fairs in your area; these ads are often posted on notice boards in the buildings where you take your animal science classes.  It’s another great opportunity to explore your career options.

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What is a resume?

A resume is a list of your past experiences and achievements in school and in work and it is an important component of most job applications.  On your resume you will list the jobs that you’ve had, clubs you’ve been involved in, and awards you’ve won, that are all relevant to the position that you are applying for.  It allows someone who’s evaluating you for a job or scholarship to get snapshot of your strengths, your experiences and why you are qualified for the position. Often times it’s your first impression to someone who might give you a job!

The Internet provides a wealth of information and useful tips on how to write a resume; you can also find lots of examples of resumes that others have prepared. If you are new to resume writing, take some time to do a bit of research, and you will quickly learn how to prepare a highly effective resume that will help you land your dream job!

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What is an internship?

Internships are jobs (that may or may not be paid) that generally last for a specific amount of time (weeks or months) in which your expectations are very clear.  The purpose of an internship is to provide you with additional learning experiences through hands-on activities, and actually working within the field of your interest. For every job, there is a different internship structure so it’s important to understand what is expected of you.  Think of them as informal or short-term jobs.

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How do I prepare for an interview?

Preparing for an interview is all about practice!  You should practice introducing yourself and practice answering (and asking!) questions.  Be sure to make a good first impression by being neatly dressed, arriving on time, smiling, and talking confidently.  If the person interviewing you has asked you to bring anything with you (such as a resume or completed application, for instance), be sure to have those documents on-hand.  Ask your friends, relatives, or teachers to hold mock interviews with you and get feedback from them. 

Examples of general, but commonly asked interview questions include:

It is also very important that you research the company or position that you are applying to and have a good understanding about the nature of the job and the expectations of the position. Often times employers will ask specific questions related to the job being offered in order to determine if you have done your “homework.”

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