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How Can I Get a Degree in Immunology?

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  • Written By: Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 24 November 2016
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A person can get a degree in immunology by taking basic math and science courses in high school, followed by applying to accredited universities and completing four years of coursework in biology, microbiology or immunology. At this point, an immunologist can pursue additional degrees, but they have to decide whether they want an academic and research or clinical immunology focus. Those with an academic or research plan can get regular master's or doctoral degrees in immunology, while those who want to do clinical work need a medical degree followed by both a residency and fellowship.

To get a degree in immunology, an individual starts by taking basic courses related to health and the body in high school. Examples of such courses include biology, chemistry, math and physics. These classes provide a foundational understanding of how the body is constructed, what affects it and how to complete necessary calculations and research.

Following the receipt of a high school diploma or graduate equivalency degree (GED), the next step toward a degree in immunology is to research accredited colleges and universities that provide bachelor's degrees. The number of schools that provide bachelor's degrees specific to immunology is limited, so it might be necessary for a student to look at majoring in biology or microbiology with an immunology emphasis. In some schools, immunology is paired with infectious disease study.

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Curricula for an undergraduate degree in immunology vary by institution, but they concentrate heavily in math and science courses. In addition to building on subjects such as chemistry and physics, students also complete laboratory studies. They take peripheral coursework such as sociology and psychology to better understand the cause, spread and prevention of disease. The school might require classes such as research methodology and statistics as well. All immunology students must complete the general liberal arts undergraduate course requirements required by their institutions, which usually requires courses such as history and English.

Upon completion of an undergraduate degree in biology, microbiology or immunology, a student can pursue an additional graduate degree in immunology at the master's or doctoral levels if desired. To enter a graduate school for immunology, colleges require an entrance examination. In the United States, students take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or an equivalent exam designed for foreign students. At the graduate level, course requirements include classes such as antigen effector mechanisms, cytotoxic responses, receptors, antibody formation, histocompatibility, disease markers, immunosuppression, immunotherapy and microbial pathogenesis. These degrees qualify a person for teaching or research positions, as well as independent projects.

To be qualified for clinical immunology work, a person must obtain a medical degree. This means taking the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) or similar entrance examination. The advanced nature of medicine study and the limited number of medical colleges makes positions in these schools competitive. Medical school lasts at least four years. An immunologist must apply for a license following the receipt of his medical degree. In the United States, candidates do this through their state's medical licensing board by registering for, taking and passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).

Even though an immunologist can work as a doctor upon receiving his medical degree and license, he needs additional training to focus on clinical immunology. Immunologists who want a clinical focus thus complete a three-year residency in internal medicine or pediatrics with a focus on immunology. A fellowship in immunology follows and lasts two years.

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