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What would it take to get into a masters program in wildlife biology with a bachelor's in psychology(and little to no science background)?


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Hi all, sorry in advance for all my questions, but I'd appreciate any input! 

I graduated several years ago from UC Davis with a BA in psychology. For various reasons, I obliterated my GPA my first two years, then changed my major and slowly dragged it back up to a 3.1 by the end of my fourth year. I was happy just to graduate with a degree and had no plans for grad school. Now I'm considering going back to school and finding something I'm a little more passionate about to study and start a career in.  I've been obsessed with animals my whole life and keep ending up back at animal jobs, since animal care and behavior are the only thing I have experience in and am passionate about, but I've found that I am still stuck at mostly seasonal or dead-end minimum wage entry level jobs. This and my desire to work outdoors and my love of nature have me considering the Fisheries, Wildlife & Conservation Biology masters program at North Carolina State University, but I have no idea where to begin.  I know my GPA is not very competitive, my degree is pretty unrelated, and I have no letters of recommendation. The website states that many applicants come from different fields though and that there are no specific coursework requirements.  Their GRE scores don't look too impressive either, so maybe I could make up for my GPA with my GRE scores? Or maybe I'm in way over my head? I have no idea how competitive this program actually is. I contacted the school, hoping to find an advisor to talk to about specific course requirements, but was directed to the director of the program, who advised me to direct my questions to the faculty members, as my admission will depend directly on one of them agreeing to mentor me and each of them have their own expectations and requirements for admission. So, I have a few questions.

1. Does applying to this masters even sound feasible in my position or would I need to go back and get another bachelors before even considering this? 

2. If it is feasible, what should I do next? Would I need a more solid science background at a community college first? (mine is pretty basic) Are there volunteer opportunities or some way to find wildlife biology experience? Should I contact faculty members? What would I say? Having no background specifically in wildlife biology, I'm not exactly sure how I would even choose what area I would want to specialize in yet, and I wouldn't want to make a poor impression with my clueless questions and lack of direction so far.

3. How would I go about getting letters of recommendation? Not only is my degree in the wrong field, but I was in mostly large classes of a hundred students or more and was a very quiet student, and the professors have had hundreds of students since, so I seriously doubt any of my professors would even remember me.

4. The director of the program mentioned in his email that "Admission is competitive and faculty most often take students only when they have external funding" Does this mean you need scholarships/fellowships to apply, or simply that the school will not be funding your degree and it will be out of pocket? And if I need a fellowship, what is the best way to go about finding one?

Currently I am studying for the GRE, trying to find a job as a veterinary assistant, and applying to volunteer at Duke's lemur center. Thanks for reading my rambling post and please excuse my ignorance.. I greatly appreciate any advice! I'm open to different ideas too.. I'm also extremely interested in animal behavior, evolutionary anthropology, primatology, etc, but wildlife bio seemed like it would offer the most job prospects.


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I'll answer your questions in order:

1) Yes, it is feasible. You probably don't need an entirely new bachelor's degree. BUT, have you looked into employment with the state environmental agency? That would be a good way to gain experience and possibly get tuition benefits from your job that you could use to help pay for the science courses you need.

2) It's hard to say what you'd need to do next without knowing exactly what science courses you took and what the expected prerequisites are for the program at NC State. You'd need to look at their entrance requirements to see what you'd need to take. If those aren't explicit, look up the first year courses and see what, if any, science prereqs they have listed in the course catalog (or academic bulletin or whatever they call it there). It's way too early for you to be contacting faculty members, especially since you might not even have what you need to be admitted. If you don't know what area you want to specialize in, then yes, you should probably seek out volunteer experiences, internships, or temporary employment. The Wildlife and Fisheries Job Board hosted by Texas A&M has lots of great opportunities you might want to look into. Another idea would be to look at the AZA (for zoos) website or the SCB (Society for Conservation Biology) website and their employment listings. You could then take background courses you need part-time while you're working in the field and gaining experience. Having additional work and research experience will help compensate for your GPA when you actually apply to MS programs.

3)Your best bet is probably going to be 2 academic and 1 employment (internship/job/volunteer experience) letter. For the academic letters, you can try emailing profs from UC Davis to see if they remember you OR you can use those science courses you're going to take before applying as an opportunity to get to know professors and then get a good letter from them.

4) The director is referring to faculty having external grant funding from agencies like the EPA, DoD, or NSF which they can use to pay graduate students to do research for them. It will be very difficult for you to find scholarships or fellowships for a master's program, though it never hurts to look and see what's out there. Even if you do secure your own funding, it doesn't mean that you'll be automatically admitted.

I hope this helps!


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Are you geographically restricted in where you can work? I ask because there are tons of jobs on the TAMU wildlife jobs board... Here's a link to it: http://wfscjobs.tamu.edu/job-board/ There are a lot of full-time jobs, but also seasonal and temporary ones if you're able. Doing something like that would definitely help you gain experience.

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As a sub 3.0 GPA applicant (sub 2.5 when I applied), it's definitely possible to get into grad school without a great GPA, but you need to nail all the other parts of the process. Find volunteer or job opportunities that put you in contact with people in the field. Look to see if there are any workshops, conferences or talks locally that you can go see/meet people at. Read all the current literature you can and make sure that your SOP reflects current needs/research being done by the professors you want to work with. Also, make sure to address why your GPA sucked and how you fixed that problem. Having a 2.0 semester, for example, won't kill you, but not identifying why it was that low and offering a solution will.

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If you are looking for wildlife-related experience, there are many wildlife-related volunteer opportunities in the Sacramento area, like CDFW, USGS, USWFS, etc.  Many employees at CDFW are UCD alumni and would welcome volunteers. I volunteered briefly at the CDFW regional headquarter in Rancho Cordova last year. There are many experts working in the office and they frequently offer wildlife survey/study trips and classes for you to attend. My supervisor also offered to write me recommendation letters in the future when I left. I think this experience and recommendation from experts in the field will boost your chance of getting into a wildlife biology program. Wish you all the best!

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