No Degree? No Problem! Find a Job in Animal Advocacy Without College

By Paula Fitzsimmons

You have your heart set on working as an animal advocate, but may believe your lack of college credentials will hold you back. A traditional college degree isn’t ideal for everyone – and even if you do want to go, it could be that you can’t swing the tuition right now.

Luckily there are jobs involving animals that you can find in an assortment of fields . . . including those below. You will need at least a high school diploma, and depending on the position, you may need experience, excellent interpersonal skills, and perhaps a few college-level courses or training. (Read my article, “10 Free & Low Cost Career-Boosting Courses & Training Opportunities for Animal Advocates” for resource ideas.)

Keep in mind that organizational needs vary – while one nonprofit may require a college degree for a certain position, another may just want to see relevant experience. One thing any job with animals requires is passion; if you care deeply about animal welfare, you possess the most important job qualification for this field.

Here are a few ideas to help get you started . . .

Animal Caregivers

Animals could care less what your college credentials are, or resume looks like. If you’re kind, caring, responsible – and are passionate about animals, you have a large part of what it takes to be an animal caregiver. Especially if you’d like to work for a shelter or rescue for domestic animals.

If you have your heart set on working with specialized sanctuaries, such as those that house primates, you’ll likely need at least some college coursework, or hands-on experience with that species or group of animals.

It’s unlikely you’ll get paid to pet and feed animals all day, so expect other tasks to be part of your job description – cleaning cages, assisting with veterinary care, working with the public, moving equipment, doing data entry, doing groundskeeping & maintenance.

Writers and Creatives

If you plan to apply for an in-house communications, grant-writing, or other writing-intense position with an organization, you’ll probably need at least a Bachelor’s degree to be considered.

It’s a different story if you plan to venture out on our own as a freelancer. Sure, there are clients who care where you went to school, but my experience has been that most are focused on what’s in your portfolio. Your clips, your ability to write and narrate, coupled with your savvy marketing skills is what’s going to get you the gigs.

When I send queries to magazine and online publication editors I don’t even mention my Bachelor’s degree – the focus is on what I’ve written, how marketable the idea is, and how it can tie into their publication.

Have you thought of writing a book or ebook? Unless you’re writing something for the veterinary, scientific, or educational markets, you don’t need a degree. To see what I mean, check out the “About the author” page on several of your favorite books – you’ll be hard-pressed to find authors mentioning their degrees.

Ditto for graphic designers & artists. When I see a great piece of art work, the artist’s education doesn’t even come to mind. I’m thinking more along the lines of “What a captivating piece of work.”

Program Assistant

This is another job you may be able to get without a college degree. It depends on the organization doing the hiring and the complexity of the position – whether you’ll be performing basic clerical tasks versus more complex ones, such as acting as liaison and making decisions.

A benefit of this type of job is that it can serve as a gateway to other types of employment. (You never know who you may impress.)

When searching for this type of position, be on the lookout for alternate titles such as office assistant, policy assistant, executive assistant, and office manager.

Animal Adoption Specialist

As an adoption specialist your job will be to facilitate the adoption process efficiently and with grace – ensuring adoptable animals find the best possible homes. That’s a lot of responsibility.

This is a job for someone who enjoys working with people, as much as they do with animals. Aside from getting to know the animals under your care, you’ll need to have excellent interpersonal skills – you’ll be working with the public, different teams within the rescue, and vets.

Sanctuary Ambassador

Larger rescues, such as Best Friends Animal Society, hire ambassadors – people that act as the face of the organization. Because you will be representing the rescue or sanctuary, your superb interpersonal skills will mean much more than your college training. As a sanctuary ambassador, some of your duties may include greeting people, giving tours, and helping with special events.

Alternate job titles you may want to look for include customer service, dispatcher, and liaison.

Breakdown of jobs by educational requirements. Please note that these may vary by organization and job title.

Examples of animal-centered jobs requiring a college degree

  • Animal rights lawyer
  • Veterinarian
  • Veterinary medical director
  • Animal behavior specialist

Examples of animal-centered jobs that probably will require a college degree

  • Executive director
  • Program manager
  • Policy specialist
  • Government liaison
  • Communications manager
  • Marketing specialist
  • Grantwriter (non-freelance)
  • Fundraising professional (non-freelance)
  • Editor

Examples of animal-centered jobs that may or may not require a college degree

  • Veterinary technician (although certification does apply)
  • Assistant: Program, office, administrative
  • Article writer
  • Cruelty investigator
  • Bookkeeper

Examples of animal-centered jobs that probably won’t require a college degree

  • Adoption specialist
  • Customer service liaison
  • Animal care giver
  • Pet groomer or bather
  • Groundskeeper
  • Maintenance worker
  • Dog walker

Unless a position requires a professional degree, such as that which a lawyer, veterinarian, or animal behaviorist would need, there are theoretically any number of jobs that don’t require education credentials.

The takeaway? Don’t restrict your job search because you think you won’t be qualified. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you find by keeping your options open.

What has been your experience?

18 Comments

  1. I am trying to get a job with animal I don’t have a degree but I love animal I love working with animals I have 4dogs 4cats and 6 pet birds and 6 rabbits and 3tank full of fish’s and I help rescue animal I have a few rescue dogs and I have 2 rescue cats they were pick up off the streets

  2. My wife does not have a college degree and wants to work with marine life, most specifically turtles (she really loves turtles). What options are available for her? We live in South Florida, I assume if there was a possible marine animal career we could find one for her here.

    • Animal Jobs Digest |

      Thank you for your question. Yes, you are in a prime location to find work involving sea turtles. I have a few ideas for you and your wife:

      1. The NOAA Coral Reef Conservation program page has information about conservation jobs with the government, as well as links to other marine conservation job sites. They may not focus specifically on sea turtles, but it’s a good place to do some research and get ideas. The URL is: http://coralreef.noaa.gov/getinvolved/employmentopp/

      2. I’m assuming you’ve checked with organizations in your area. I would also check to see if there are any you may have missed; check nonprofit directories such as https://www.guidestar.org/NonprofitDirectory.aspx?cat=3&subcat=12&p=1

      3. Check the Animal Jobs Digest jobs board. It’s updated regularly – and you could search for terms like “marine” “turtles” or “conservation.” The link is http://www.animaljobsdigest.com/jobs/

      I hope these suggestions help.

      All the best to you and your wife.

  3. I’m a 19yr old high school grad. Living in Cleveland OH desperately trying to find a starting place on my journey to a wonderful career working with animals. I don’t have any college experience yet because I’m confused on where I should start.. There’s not an animal I wouldn’t love working with. I’ve already taken being a veterinarian into consideration but the main thing holding me back is thinking about the negative aspects like having to put them down, I feel like when the time came I would have a serious break down. I’m just looking for advise on what careers are good choices for me and what’s a good starting place with college experience

    • Animal Jobs Digest |

      Hi Angel,

      Thanks for your comment, and welcome to Animal Jobs Digest. I believe many people have similar concerns about becoming a veterinarian. Have you had a chance to check out my article on alternative veterinary careers? There are many ways to contribute to animal well-being aside from becoming a vet.

      I’d also suggest checking out the Find Jobs page – not all the jobs listed require a college degree.

      A great way to get experience is to volunteer with an animal welfare organization.

      I hope this helps. : )

      –Paula

  4. Hi im angel im 20 years old i dont have any degree but i love working with animals i volunteered many place in san antonio tx is there any way i can actually work with out a degree!?

  5. Hi my name is angel i live in san antonio and ive volunteered all over the place in SA but one thing i dont have is a degree i just really need help wanting too actually work with animals instead of volunteering anymore please help me!!

    • Animal Jobs Digest |

      Hi Angel,

      Yes, there are many options for finding work with animals if you don’t have a degree. Have you contacted any of the rescues in your area to see if they’re hiring? I’d also recommend checking the Jobs section on this website – it has a good variety of jobs for both those with and without college degrees. http://www.animaljobsdigest.com/jobs/

      All the best.

  6. I’m certified from my company in Dog Training and have worked with Southside Animal Shelter. Any thing for me paying at least 9.50 where I can work my way up?

  7. I’m in need of work I love animals I don’t have degree I have studied 12th only

  8. I’m having a hard time finding anew animal career in the north west suburbs of il. I want to work at a shelter or rescue. I only have a high school diploma, am I under qualified?

  9. Hi, I’m Prasham from India. I have a bachelors degree in environmental engineering alongwith 2.5 years work ex in the same field. However I would like to start off as a Zoologist/Conservationist where I could work with different Big Cats in their natural habitats viz. African Outdoors. I am also looking for a paid job in the due course but I don’t have any formal education. Is volunteering a way out? Please advice.

    • Animal Jobs Digest |

      Hi Prasham,

      Thanks for visiting. To answer, your question, it really depends on the employer’s needs and requirements. I would suggest studying the organizations you’d like to work with, and see what their typical requirements are. Volunteering and internships could definitely give you an edge – here is some suggested reading on that topic: http://www.animaljobsdigest.com/how-volunteering-can-help-your-animal-centered-career-and-where-to-find-the-best-opportunities/

      Jobs specifically working with big cats in African habitats are somewhat limited, but there are other types of jobs within conservation organizations you may want to consider. Perhaps you can use your engineering skills in some capacity? Many skills are indeed transferable.

      Hope this helps.

      All the best.

  10. My name is Emma. I’m still in high school, but trying to figure out my future. I love animals, but my mom can’t pay for college. I would love to work near West Palm Beach in Florida. Do you know of any jobs over there, dealing with sea animals, that would hire an eighteen year old with a high school diploma? Thanks

  11. Hi Paula, my name is Sandra.
    I am in love with animals and feel very strongly that I should shift my career towards them. It is a big step and I would like to start by a summer position. Unfortunately, I can’t afford a volunteer position, so it would need to be compensated.
    I live in nyc, and I am willing to travel a little bit or live on site

    I love Goats, and all the farm animals. Any advice, tips?

    Thank you so much for your help,
    Sandra

    • Animal Jobs Digest |

      Hi Sandra,

      Have you considered a job or paid internship at a farm rescue? In New York state, I’m aware of Farm Sanctuary, Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, and Catskill Animal Sanctuary. You may also want to do an online search, as well as check the job page on this site, as it is frequently updated with new jobs.

      I hope this helps.

      All the best.

      –Paula

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