Numerous top ag schools are also land-grant universities, meaning their purpose is for their graduates to support local communities.
From Ivy League to state schools, there are opportunities for everyone in ag.
Many historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) were founded to support agriculture education; several HBCUs still drive that mission forward.
Higher education programs in food, agriculture and the environment are evolving as fast as the industry itself, and college students have a variety of agriculture majors from which to choose. More than 800,000 students participate in agricultural education instructional programs from grade seven through college in the U.S. and its territories, according to the National FFA Organization. The options are encouraging and overwhelming.
Anna Ball, associate dean for academic programs in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, encourages students to think about their own strengths and passions as they navigate prospective programs and careers.
“Holistically, I think that many of our students want to feed and save the world,” Ball says. “But then it’s about narrowing it down. In what ways do you want to save the world? In what ways do you want to make a difference? Match these answers with the majors that will help you carve out the difference you want to make.”
Choosing a college and major aligned with your goals is an important step in mapping out a career. This list from Niche ranks the traditional top 10 ag universities in the U.S. along with each school’s program offerings. Additionally, check out the spotlight on the top five HBCUs for ag programs.
Holistically, I think that many of our students want to feed and save the world. But then it’s about narrowing it down. In what ways do you want to save the world? In what ways do you want to make a difference? Match these answers with the majors that will help you carve out the difference you want to make.
Associate Dean for Academic Programs in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES), University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
The Traditional Top 10 Ag Programs
- Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
As one of the eight Ivy League schools, Cornell University is home to a world-class College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, which includes 22 undergraduate majors and 40 minors. Students can personalize their program and pursue a variety of traditional and emerging career tracks, such as sustainability.
- Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences offers undergraduate majors such as animal science and bioenvironmental science, along with social science disciplines like agricultural communications and journalism.
- University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia
The University of Georgia’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CAES) is known for its entomology program offerings and study abroad opportunities in 15 different countries. It’s been ranked second in the U.S. regarding best agricultural and horticultural plant breeding colleges, making it an excellent choice for students interested in horticulture.
- University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida
Students looking to attend college in the sunshine state should consider the University of Florida’s (UF) College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. With 22 undergraduate majors and 42 specializations to choose from, UF offers undergrads an online quiz to discover which major may be a good fit for their career goals.
- North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina
North Carolina State University’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is a great school for those interested in pursuing a career to tackle the challenges surrounding food, agriculture, energy and the environment. Founded as a land-grant institution grounded in agriculture and engineering, NC State’s purpose is providing educational programs to improve communities within the state. Students participate in cutting-edge research and apply it to real-world issues across the state.
- University of California, Davis, Davis, California
The College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) has an international research reputation and offers 27 majors and 40 minors. This program supports undergrads exploring their future majors and careers through Career Discovery Groups, which show first-year students they aren’t alone in searching for an exciting ag career.
- The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
The College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences offers 21 majors and related specializations, such as ag communications and community leadership, to prepare students for careers in the industry.
- University of Wisconsin – Madison, Madison, Wisconsin
The College of Agricultural Life Sciences (CALS) is part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-M), both the flagship and land-grant University of Wisconsin. Aspiring ag professionals are sure to find a discipline that meets their goals within the 16 academic departments, 23 undergraduate majors and 47 graduate programs. UW-M prioritizes financial support for students. In the 2020-2021 academic year, the average scholarship award for CALS degree students was $1,886, and the overall awarded scholarship amount was $1,027,914.
- University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, Illinois
The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) boasts a 94% first destination secured rate among graduates and $3.5 million awarded in scholarships each year. In addition to job security and educational funding opportunities, ACES offers experiential learning, which 80% of students participate in throughout their degree program. “We’re equipping our students to be citizens of a global society and enter careers that support agriculture, food and environmental systems internationally. Roughly 40% of our students have some sort of global experience — we would love for it to be 100%, that’s the goal,” Ball says. “In addition to a world-class experience in their major, we engage our students in leadership enrichment experiences throughout their time here to become future leaders and change-makers in the agricultural industry.”
- Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma
The Ferguson College of Agriculture at Oklahoma State University is a public land-grant school that offers 16 different undergraduate major programs and more than 50 study options for agriculture students. For students who are interested in biosystems engineering degree programs, Ferguson provides this option through a partnership with the Oklahoma State University College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology.
Jeff Baker, a Syngenta crop protection talent acquisition leader for Syngenta North America, suggests students also seek valuable experience through extracurricular activities and internships to develop their career path and network. These pursuits and networks can ultimately help students secure employment upon graduation.
“We love seeing the students learn how to connect with folks outside of school within the agricultural industry,” Baker says. “Building your professional network is important.”
Top Historically Black Colleges and Universities Ag Programs
Since the early 19th century, HBCUs have provided distinct opportunities for students of color.
Many HBCUs were founded as agricultural and engineering institutions but later expanded their academic disciplines. Today, there are still several HBCUs with strong agricultural programs for students looking to pursue their education in a diverse environment.
HBCU agricultural programs often partner with leading ag industry companies, such as Syngenta, to connect students with learning and professional opportunities.
“At our crop protection North America headquarters in Greensboro, North Carolina, we have an outstanding relationship with NC A&T,” Baker says. “We hire a number of their graduates, as well as interns for our summer opportunities. NC A&T is an outstanding agricultural and technical college. Also, we’re very involved with Florida A&M, which is a national land-grant institution, so we are very active with their education and career development.”
According to The Edvocate, these are the top HBCUs for agriculture degree programs, all of which are national land-grant funded universities.
- Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), Tallahassee, FloridaEstablished in 1891, the College of Agriculture and Food Sciences (CAFS) offers nine undergraduate degree programs and five graduate programs across agriculture, food, animal and environmental sciences. There are opportunities for students to make respected contributions to ag research and gain real-world experience along with their education.
- Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, AlabamaFounded in 1881, Tuskegee University has a rich history in educating future agriculture professionals. The College of Agriculture, Environment and Nutrition Sciences offers three major disciplines for undergraduate studies with multiple concentrations. Graduate studies consist of five masters-level and three doctorate-level degree programs. Students can immerse themselves in world-class agriculture research.
- North Carolina A&T University, Greensboro, North CarolinaThe College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CAES) tackles challenges like feeding a global population and protecting the environment. The department offers nine undergraduate degrees and four graduate degrees. With 1,064 enrolled students, CAES is the largest agricultural school among the 1890 Land Grant Universities. NC A&T’s CAES currently holds 11 patents and 421 publications in refereed journals, making it a leader in ag innovation and research.
- Alcorn State University, Lorman, MississippiThe School of Agriculture and Applied Sciences offers undergraduate and graduate programs in agribusiness, animal science and environmental science. With a focus on professional development and experiential learning opportunities, this ag program offers internship programs and partnerships among private companies and government agencies like Cargill, John Deere, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and more.
- Southern University, Baton Rouge, LouisianaThe College of Agricultural, Family and Consumer Sciences (CAFCS) offers a Bachelor of Science degree across five concentrations, including ag economics, ag business, animal science, plant and soil science and pre-veterinary medicine. Furthermore, the Department of Agriculture Sciences offers the Chancellor’s Academic Apprenticeship Program, which awards students financial support through paid assistantships and opportunities for research participation with an assigned senior faculty mentor.