Think about your ideal day, the day you would spend if you could do anything that you want.
Do you imagine yourself fishing on a lake? Napping by a quiet stream? Cycling up some mountain path?
If you’re a tried and true outdoor kid, then wildlife biology might be the career for you.
Like any other hard science discipline, wildlife biology requires an analytical mind and an understanding of the sciences. The school that you intend will need experts in the field to teach you and excellent resources to let you test and study your findings.
But that’s not all the degree gives you. It also gives you a reason to be outside. Your workday can include going for a swim or bird watching. And the best wildlife biology programs give you access to nature reserves that allow for those activities.
While that sounds like a lot of fun, too much focus on the recreational parts of a program can distract you from the other parts needed in a good program. To succeed, you need not only access to the outdoors but also good faculty and resources.
Finding those types of schools takes more than a walk in the woods. This list not only ranks the ten best wildlife biology schools in the United States but also tells you about each school’s program.
Give this list a read, pick out your school, and then get back outdoors, where you belong.
Here are the 10 best wildlife biology schools in the US.
10. SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
The Environmental Science and Forestry program at SUNY College seeks to balance the needs of wildlife and the needs of people. The program considers itself an extension of the field’s beginnings in 1914.
The school builds a curriculum around applied ecology, teaching students to manage all types of wildlife, including endangered species and overabundant populations. From this perspective, its future scientists work with all types of wildlife, including plants and invertebrates.
Students gain experience working on one of the program’s many field stations. With 15,000 acres, the Adirondack Ecological Center makes essential contributions to place-based research on an international scale. Located in the middle of the six-million-acre Adirondack Park, the Ecological Center drives one of the world’s most important conservation and sustainability experiments.
Located off the region’s third-largest lake, the Cranberry Lake Biological Station in the Adirondacks features hills, lakes, small ponds, bogs, and stream drainages for students to study and manage.
9. South Dakota State University (Brookings, SD)
The degrees in fisheries and wildlife sciences at South Dakota State University tailor themselves for those who want to be stewards of our natural resources. The program prepares students for fulfilling careers as state or federal biologists, park naturalists, hatchery managers, or more.
Students take courses to help them understand the organisms in natural populations, as well as their relationship to human users. Additionally, students learn vital soft skills, including teamwork, leadership, ethics, as well as hard skills in statistics and technology.
SDSU’s faculty provides years of experience and expertise to help students. That includes Dr. Charles Fenster, whose research has earned him several large awards and grants to continue studying green infrastructure.
With such support, it’s no wonder that SDSU’s students have gone on to work for the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Park Service, and Departments of Natural Resources across the country.
8. Auburn University (Auburn, AL)
Auburn University’s School of Forestry & Wildlife Sciences features several unique programs. Taking advantage of its position in the American south, Auburn has access to wildlife populations and human needs special to its region. Because of these qualities, the school can offer programs that others cannot.
One such program is the school’s wildlife enterprise management degree, one of only two in the country. Graduates with this degree provide hunting and fishing adventures within the private service sector. Students learn not only how to care for the wildlife environment in which they work, but also the business requirements for being an entrepreneur.
Combining ethical concerns with practical realities, the program prepares students to become facility directors at hunting/shooting ranges, managers at fishing resorts, or outdoor adventure promoters.
7. University of New Hampshire (Durham, NH)
Located near New Hampshire’s Atlantic Coastline and only an hour from the White Mountains, the University of New Hampshire gives students access to a wide range of ecological populations. In addition to field training in those areas, students at UNH also study their findings in the school’s state-of-the-art lab.
The school’s programs prepare students for careers in several wildlife industries, including conservation biology, big game management, conservation genetics, and population ecology.
As part of a tier-one research institution, UNH’s wildlife and conservation biology program is a key contributor to the school’s $110 million research endowment.
Even undergraduate students have the opportunity to work in cutting-edge projects such as the EcoQuest Study Abroad Program in New Zealand, in which they gain practical experience in ecology, resource management, and environmental policy.
At the Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research, students receive resources and financial support to pursue their own projects. Past projects include investigating moose habitat and examining the effects of the European monetary union.
6. University of Maine (Orono, ME)
Founded in 1935, the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Conservation Biology at the University of Maine lets learning be driven by students’ research interests. Thanks to partnerships within the College of Natural Sciences, students can study everything from natural resource management to aquatic wildlife.
Students can practice their trade in the school’s abundant natural resource areas. The university owns and protects nearly 15,000 acres of woodland, complete with hiking and biking trails, as well as cross-country skiing opportunities.
The nearby Sunkhaze Meadows National Wildlife Refuge gives students access to deer, moose, bears, beavers, bobcats, and other species. In addition to the Maine coastline, the school’s campus is near the Acadia National Park.
As these examples demonstrate, U Maine’s program encourages students to blur the lines between recreation and work. They believe that caring for the environment should be fulfilling and fun.
5. Brigham Young University (Provo, UT)
Utah may not strike some as the ideal place to study wildlife biology, but they haven’t looked at the offerings by Brigham Young University’s program.
Thanks to the school’s newly built Life Sciences Building, students can study in state-of-the-art facilities and work with new vehicles. These resources help students reach isolated areas and to examine their findings in a controlled environment.
These resources are all part of the school’s commitment to training students for careers in natural resource management. With core coursework focused on ecology and biology principles and numerous elective opportunities, students can let their interests drive their education.
For those whose interests take them beyond the U.S., BYU has multiple study abroad opportunities. Students can bring their interest in nature across the globe, to Western Europe, Africa, Australia, and more.
4. Texas State University (San Marcos, TX)
Texas State University knows that the actions of humans impact the natural world. With that in mind, their wildlife undergraduate and graduate programs seek to help people find new ways of enjoying the outdoors while also protecting the populations already there.
The school’s classes involve many of the recreational activities enjoyed by lovers of the outdoors, including fishing, birdwatching, and picnicking. But it combines them with lessons that emphasize the realities of ecological life. These courses teach students about natural history and wildlife management.
This practical approach does not distract from but actually supports the department’s research agenda. TSU features numerous programs designed to help students in their research and bring them aboard long-term faculty projects.
But the best sign of the school’s commitment to caring for the environment might be its active Student Chapter of the Wildlife Society. The passion for enjoying and protecting the outdoors drives every aspect of the department.
3. Utah State University (Logan, UT)
Although another Utah-based institution already appeared on this list, only Utah State University features a College committed to studying natural resources. Furthermore, UST’s unique wildlife biology program gives students resources to study the management of human-wildlife conflict.
At the center of the program are the school’s several research institutes.
The interdisciplinary Center for Integrated BioSystems takes a progressive approach to agricultural and life sciences.
The Center has won recognition from Popular Science magazine as one of the 30 Awesome College Labs, thanks to breakthroughs such as cloning the first hybrid animal.
The administrative Ecology Center coordinates research and ecology science by encouraging networking and collaboration across departments and schools.
The Utah Agricultural Experiment Station gives researchers in all of the nation’s land-grant universities space to meet and study.
With all of these supports, it’s easy to see why UST stands out on this list.
2. University of Vermont (Burlington, VT)
As part of the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, the wildlife and fisheries program at the University of Vermont is committed to the study of ecological diversity.
To that end, the program features a curriculum focused on the biology, ecology, management and conservation of animal populations. Students learn about the natural history and conservation needs of everything from hunted and endangered species to overpopulated species.
By attending the University of Vermont, students in the wildlife and fisheries program have access to the state’s many natural resources. Mountains, fields, lakes, and fields are all within driving distance from the main campus. The school regularly offers intensive field study courses, allowing students to get their hands dirty and learn.
Furthermore, partnerships with schools abroad allow students to study other regions, including Florida and South Texas, and Costa Rica.
No matter where their career takes them, a degree from U Vermont prepares the wildlife conservationists of the future.
1. Colorado State University (Fort Collins, CO)
At first glance, Colorado State University features many of the same things found in other schools on this list.
Yes, they have access to all forms of wildlife, especially those in mountain regions. They have compelling research projects. And the school’s partnerships with institutions across the globe allow students to examine all the wildlife the world has to offer.
But what makes CSU really stand out is the quality of its faculty.
Professor Lise Aubry is a leader in studying the effects of climate change and habitat fragmentation on the ecology and microevolution of wild species.
Professor Joel Berger, the Barbara Cox Anthony University Chair of Wildlife Conservation, also serves as a Senior Scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society. He has performed long-term fieldwork in remote regions of the world, looking at some of the most challenging animals to study.
Like most of Colorado, Fort Collins is home to sweeping mountainscapes, idyllic natural scenery, and even the Horsetooth Reservoir, making it an ideal location for the aspiring wildlife biologist.