Zoology is the branch of Biology dedicated to all aspects of animal life – from anatomy and physiology, to evolution and husbandry. It is a subject for those who love animals and those who want to understand how the natural world works. As our awareness of environmental issues grows, and as our governments shift their priorities towards protecting and conserving the environment and wildlife, so will Zoology be an increasingly worthwhile subject to study.
Zoology is the branch of Biology that studies the animal kingdom. In a Zoology degree, you will learn about animal life from every point of view – including (but not limited to) microbiology, genetics, evolution, conservation, biodiversity, behaviour, physiology, ecosystems, and husbandry.
Zoology is often misunderstood as a subject. When you tell people that you are studying Zoology, many people will respond with “so you’re going to work in a zoo?”. And yes, if that is your chosen career path. But you are just as likely to be found running a natural history museum, managing land for conservation, digging up a woolly mammoth, or working in a lab using genetics to save a species from extinction.
Zoology as a stand-alone degree programme exists at a number of universities in Europe, but it is very rare. Especially at the undergraduate level it is much more common to study e.g. Biology or Life Sciences, and cover Zoology via specific modules as part of the programme.
At the postgraduate level, you will also often find specialised subjects such as Evolutionary Biology. Be sure to look not only for programmes with “Zoology” in the name, but cast your net a bit wider, especially if you want to study in English in a non-English speaking country.
Photo by Diego Madrigal
As with most science courses, in a Zoology Bachelors, you will start broad and narrow down your speciality as you go. In the first year, you can expect to study general biology (including microbiology) and chemistry, as well as some broad topics such as ecology and environmental science.
After the first year you will study topics such as (but not limited to):
A Zoology BSc programme will typically last 3 to 4 years. Expect a mix of classroom learning, laboratory work and field work. Entry requirements will differ depending on the university, but you can expect to need passing grades in biology, maths, and a second science such as geography or chemistry.
Keep in mind that not many universities offer programmes wholly dedicated to Zoology. You may have to study Biology and focus on Zoology through electives. Check the compulsory and optional modules to see how well they align with the subjects mentioned above.
At the Master’s level you get the chance to specialise in a certain area of Zoology. Usually, your subject choice will align with courses that you chose during your Bachelor’s. For example, a Master’s programme on conservation or evolution will require you to have studied genetics throughout your undergrad.
Postgraduate courses are usually one or two years long. Like at the undergraduate level, they usually consist of a mix of classroom, laboratory, and field work.
Think carefully about the career you want to pursue: Your Masters will play an important role in it. If you plan to stay in academia, with a PhD as the next step, your Masters should also align with the field that you want to focus your research on.
Admission requirements for a Zoology Master can vary. UK universities usually ask for an upper second-class Bachelor’s degree (or “2.1”) to qualify. Also, if it is a highly specialised programme, you may have to have a certain number of credit points in that specific field.
A PhD is the highest academic degree you can achieve, and it will require significant independent research work. If you are passionate about Zoology, and especially if you plan to pursue a career in academia, doing a PhD is something you should consider.
As in other sciences, a Zoology PhD will usually last three to four years. Depending on your research project and your funding, it may also take longer to finish. Don’t underestimate this effort - it’s a very challenging undertaking!
To be accepted as a doctorate student, most universities will require you to have an MSc in the field that you plan to focus on. Some universities may admit you with only a BSc if you have received very good grades.
Many students like to use rankings to guide them when choosing a university. However, since Zoology as a separate degree programme is offered only by few institutions, don’t make rankings your main decision driver.
On the other hand, if you are more flexible and would also consider Biology or Life Sciences as the degree subject, there are subject-based rankings that can help you make the right decision. Times Higher Education (THE) ranks universities in Life Sciences (2020) while QS provides a global ranking for Biological Sciences (2020).
Here is a selection of high-ranking universities that score high in THE and QS:
Universities all have their unique strengths. If you already know what career path you want to pursue after graduating from your Zoology programme, try to pick a university that has connections to that.
For example, if you want a career working in a natural history museum, then find universities that work closely with natural history museums or that have their own museum. If you want a career in animal husbandry, try to choose a university where there is a zoo, safari park or similar nearby.
Your university will have connections that can help you get established. If you want to stay in academia, look at the postgraduate school and see what kinds of research the institution is known for, and what topics the current PhD students are working on.
Photo by Mathias Appel
Biology is the umbrella term for the scientific study of all living things. This includes animals, but also plants, fungi, and micro-organisms.
Zoology is a branch of Biology, and is focused on animal life. This will include some microbiology (single-celled organisms) but is more focused on multi-cellular life (such as Daphnia and plankton), invertebrates (insects, molluscs, etc.), and fauna (birds, reptiles, mammals, etc.).
Zoology curricula also include some botany, but this will be in the context of animals. For example, how certain species of plants and animals interact with each other.
Zoology and Animal Sciences are closely related subjects, but focus on different things: While Zoology is concerned with all forms of animal life, Animal Sciences focuses on domesticated animals, specifically farm animals and pets. Animal Science is concerned with husbandry, breeding, health and well-being of such animals; and the discipline rather belongs to the Agriculture field, whereas Zoology is commonly classified as a Natural Science.
Zoology is one of those subjects that you choose because you simply love it. Zoology students are some of the most passionate and energetic science students because they have been waiting for this opportunity their whole lives! Not convinced yet? Here are the main reasons that make Zoology a choice worth considering:
There are a diverse range of careers and employers that will be interested in Zoology graduates. More and more, companies and government departments are dedicating resources to environmental causes. And thanks to efforts such as the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 (details), Zoology graduates will be in growing demand as we, as a society, move towards a greener way of life.
Zoologists are needed at any organisation where animals play an important role. Typical employers include, but are not limited to:
The requirements for entry level jobs will vary, depending on the position. Other than a good final mark on your degree, your practical experience (work and volunteering) will be very valuable in securing you your first job.
“Zoology” has “zoo” right in the name, yet that is just one of many career options for which your degree will qualify you. If you do want to work in a zoo, make sure to tailor your courses towards animal husbandry and behaviour.
However, if you want to go in another direction, pick your university and your elective modules in line with that. If you want to work in conservation, then genetics, biodiversity, and ecology courses will be for you. If you want to be a palaeontologist, focus on anatomy and evolution.
Zoology studies the animal kingdom from multiple different angles, so discuss your career goals with the university and they will help you tailor your course.
Careers working with animals are highly competitive. There can be hundreds of applicants for each available position, and the people who get the jobs tend to stay in them. Therefore, start networking as early as possible. If you know the job that you eventually want, seek out relevant volunteering opportunities and summer jobs. This will not only help you build your experience but also your reputation. The zoological world is small, and a good reputation and strong network will be of huge benefit to you. Volunteering or working with animals involves a range of practical skills, as well as academic knowledge. So, any volunteering or work experience you can get will be very valuable
As in all scientific disciplines, learn good lab skills! Learn to be confident and competent at basic skills such as how to correctly weigh and measure samples, preparing microscope slides, how to record and manage data properly, et cetera. It will make a huge difference to your zoological career. If you want to do field work, learning good “out on the ground” skills such as camping, hiking, and first aid are beneficial. If you want to work in animal husbandry (in a zoo or safari park for example), knowing how to use power tools is oddly useful, as you will want to be able to build habitats and enrichment. Zoology can take you to some remote places, so having a driver’s license is a bonus.
A word of warning about getting a BSc Zoology: The value and content of your degree may be misunderstood. People who are not from a Zoology background do not always know what is included in a typical curriculum. You might have studied every microbiology course available, but the person hiring for the graduate job in the laboratory will just see the word “zoo” and dismiss you as a professional koala cuddler. If you want more options in your science career, consider choosing Biology as your degree subject, and venture into Zoology via elective modules.
Zoology is a diverse field in itself, but perhaps it is not quite the subject you were looking for. If you like some aspects about it, but not some others, there are numerous alternatives to a Zoology degree that also offer a wealth of opportunities: