• 24 July 2006
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Agri Studies in the US

Agri Studies in the US With the most varied study options

Agri Studies in the US
With the most varied study options, agricultural colleges in the US rank very high in world rankings.

Dr (Ms) Vijaya Khandavilli

Country Coordinator
Educational Advising Services,
US Educational Foundation in India (USEFI), New Delhi

The study of agriculture traces a unique history in the US. By the middle of the 19th century, demands from public grew for agricultural and technical education. With the passage of Morrill Act in 1862, for the first time in the US, land-grant institutions were set up to teach agriculture, military tactics, and mechanical arts in addition to classical studies. Agricultural and mechanical universities thus set up received further boost through the Hatch and Smith-Lever Acts in 1887 and 1914 respectively. As a result of these Acts, today's land grant institutions have agricultural experiment stations for research purposes and cooperative extension services for dissemination of information gleaned from research.


In a decentralized system as in the US, especially at the graduate level, eligibility requirements and course requirements can vary a great deal. But in a general sense, students with undergraduate preparation in biology are eligible for agricultural science programs offering specialization in all areas of biological sciences, biotechnology, food sciences, forestry, nutrition, ecology, and environmental sciences.

A typical US undergraduate curriculum in agricultural science includes general courses in communications, mathematics, humanities, statistics, and hard sciences like physics, chemistry, and biology. In addition, based on the interest, students opt to study (agri) business, biotechnology, nutrition, human services, environment, food science and technology; (agro) economics, international agriculture, engineering, education, the list goes on.

Types of degrees

International students are often perplexed with the variety of degrees that are offered in US universities. Graduate programs lead to Master of Science, Doctor of Philosophy and a variety of professional degrees such as Master of Agriculture, Agricultural Education, Forestry, Food Science, Human Nutrition. Professional degree programs are suitable for students who desire an intensive education in the chosen specialization; who are already in a professional career, but desire to upgrade their skills and knowledge.

Master's degrees usually are on both thesis and non-thesis bases and Doctor of Philosophy degrees require a thesis or a dissertation. Students who have doubts if PhD is a good option for them should apply to departments that can award terminal master's degrees on partial completion of a doctoral program.

Degrees may be earned in departmental and interdepartmental programs within the college and in interdisciplinary programs with other colleges in the university (College of Agricultural Sciences, Penn State University). Interdisciplinary programs provide the student an excellent combination of educational programs and a broad range of experience. Students can take minors in interdisciplinary programs as well as in other departments of the same university. In land-grant institutions, the colleges of agriculture carry out research and extension education programs across the state on contemporary societal issues.



Agricultural Sciences

  • Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University, AL
  • Colorado State University, CO
  • Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, LA

Agricultural Sciences - Agronomy and Soil Sciences

  • Mississippi State University, MS
  • North Carolina State University, NC
  • Oklahoma State University, OK
  • Utah State University, UT

Agricultural Sciences - Animal Sciences

  • Brigham Young University, UT
  • Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, LA
  • North Carolina State University, NC
  • Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL
  • Texas A&M University, TX
  • Utah State University, UT

Agricultural Sciences - Environmental Policy & Resource Management

  • National University, CA
  • North Carolina State University, NC
  • University of Missouri, St. Louis, MO

Agricultural Sciences - Food science & Technology

  • Cornell University, NY
  • Drexel University, PA
  • Illinois Institute of Technology, IL
  • North Carolina State University, NC
  • University of Nebraska – Lincoln, NE

Agricultural Sciences - Forestry

  • Michigan Technological University, MI
  • Oklahoma State University, OK
  • Oregon State University, OR

Agricultural Sciences - Horticulture

  • Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, LA
  • University of Florida, FL
  • University of Wisconsin, WI

Specializations galore

A survey of graduate agricultural programs reveals a vast variety of sub-specializations. Some of them are: animal breeding, aquaculture, basic and clinical human nutrition, biochemistry, biological and agricultural engineering, biological statistics and computational biology, biomathematics, botany, crop science, crop and weed sciences, dairy science, ecology, entomology, environmental pollution control, fermentation, fisheries, food industries, food microbiology, food safety, food technology, forest resources, genetics, genomic sciences, horticulture, immunology, integrative bioscience, integrated pest management, landscape architecture, marine sciences, microbiology, molecular and cellular biology, natural resources, nutrition, pathobiology, plant breeding, plant pathology, plant physiology, poultry science, toxicology, tropical agriculture, vegetable crops, wildlife biology, wildlife ecology and conservation, and zoology. The list seems endless.

Selection of an institute

Availability of such a vast variety of programs often poses the "problem of plenty," to international students. The basic advice is to select the program that best meets one's academic and professional requirements and not merely go by the name of the university. Following are a few recommended criteria to consider while selecting programs:

Professional accreditation: It is important to see if the program has professional accreditation (not all specializations, however, have professional accrediting bodies). Examples are: Forestry programs are accredited by the Society of American Foresters; nutrition and dietetics programs are accredited by Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE) of The American Dietetic Association ; Landscape architecture (Horticulture) programs are accredited by The Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board (LAAB).

Faculty profile: Faculty with diverse academic backgrounds; international exposure; and in adjunct capacity from industry and research organizations are important criteria to consider. Such diverse faculty with a broad set of interests ensures students find appropriate mentors to guide them through their research programs; offer professional networks; and useful career advice. For example, biotechnology program at UC Davis , housed in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences has faculty from Departments of Agronomy and Range Science; Animal Science, Environmental Horticulture; Food Science and Technology; Land, Air and Water Resources; Plant Pathology; Pomology; Vegetable Crops; Viticulture and Enology; and the Division of Biological Sciences.

Diversity in the classroom: It is also important to choose programs that admit students from diverse academic backgrounds. Discussions with such diverse groups of students will help design challenging research activities that incorporate a variety of perspectives to the problems. Similarly it is important to choose programs that admit students from diverse geographical and cultural backgrounds. When combined with the international experiences of the faculty, this offers enhanced opportunities to enrich one's knowledge of other cultures and gain insights into the status of scientific inquiry at the international level.

Professional activities and clubs: Going by the philosophy that learning is not limited to the classroom, graduate students should look for opportunities for fellowship and develop their organizational and leadership skills through participation in professional clubs such as Food Science Clubs / Food Product Development Team; Graduate Student Association and Leadership Development Seminars (ex: North Carolina State University and University of Nebraska – Lincoln)

Cross-registration: Ability to register for courses not only across various departments within a university but with different universities in the locality enhances the learning and professional exposure. For example, Biosystems engineering program of the College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Life Sciences at Clemson University is jointly administered with the College of Engineering and Science at Clemson University. For a full list of interdepartmental graduate programs, please visit http://www.clemson.edu/CAFLS/. Similarly, students of North Carolina State University can take courses at other universities of the research triangle such as Duke and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Partner departments, agencies and associations: Donald Danforth Plant Science Center partners with The Missouri Botanical Garden with informatics capabilities in tropical and temperate plant research, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, The University of Missouri-Columbia – three land grant universities, Washington University in St Louis with historical strengths in plant sciences, Monsanto Company, a leading global provider of agricultural products and integrated solutions for farmers.

Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research at Cornell University partners with The Boyce Thompson Southwest Arboretum in Superior, Arizona, Cornell University, MicrobeWorld on their 90-second programs on air, The National Agricultural Biotechnology Council (NABC) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The Illinois-Missouri Biotechnology Alliance (IMBA) is a joint program of the University of Illinois and the University of Missouri and is funded by a Congressional Special Grant administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The purpose of IMBA is to fund biotechnology research that is an integral part of a Research and Development (R&D) program directed at expanding the volume of profitable businesses in the United States (US) food and agricultural sector.

Iowa State's biotechnology program links university and industry research through a biotechnology industrial liaison. The liaison, funded by the Office of Biotechnology, works with industry and faculty to build collaborations between the sectors and to bring Iowa State technologies to industry and local economic development groups. The Center for Crop Utilization Research (CCUR) and the Center for Designing Foods to Improve Nutrition (HNC) are affiliated with the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State University .

Rutgers University's program in Food Science has an industrial advisory board, which includes senior executives of major food companies, thus providing an additional dimension to the program activities. It also has the Center for Advanced Food Technology (CAFT), one of New Jersey's high-technology centers, providing a valuable complement to the graduate food science program.

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) at University of Florida participates in research programs of the Center for Tropical Agriculture, the Center for Latin American Studies, the Florida Water Resources Research Center, the Center for Biomass Energy Systems, and the Florida Sea Grant College Program.

Programs in non-bioscience areas

Programs in Home Economics; Human Sciences

  • New Mexico State University, NM

  • Texas A&M University, TX

  • Prairie View A&M University, TX

  • Tarleton State University, TX


Programs in International Agricultural development; rural development

  • University of California, Davis, CA

  • Cornell University, NY


Programs in Horticulture and Landscape Architecture

  • Oklahoma State University, OK

  • University of California, Davis, CA


Programs in Environmental Sciences; environmental resources and policy

  • North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, NC

  • Southern Illinois University, IL

  • University of California, Santa Barbara, CA


Programs in Family and Consumer Sciences

  • Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, LA


Program in Agricultural leadership

  • University of Georgia, GA

  • University of Nebraska – Lincoln, NE


Program in Community Development

  • University of Vermont, VT

  • The Ohio State University, OH


Program in Workforce education and development

  • Southern Illinois University, IL

  • Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, LA


Program in Agricultural business

  • West Texas A&M University, TX

  • Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University, AL

  • California Polytechnic State University, CA

  • New Mexico State University, NM

  • North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, NC

  • South Carolina State University, SC



Scope for employment for agriculture graduates is primarily with the government. This could be in research, teaching, standards and quality control and policy making. Rapid advances in biotechnology in the last couple of decades have opened up research opportunities in many areas of agricultural and food sciences in agricultural service companies, commercial R&D labs, pharmaceutical and energy sectors, seed producers, and food product companies.

Dr (Ms) Vijaya Khandavilli

Note: The aim of this article is to give students a general picture of agricultural study in the US and to discuss in detail agricultural programs that offer opportunities for biology and biotechnology students. The programs and institutions mentioned in the article are only for indicative purposes.


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