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How do I get a Sonography Degree?

By Lucinda Watrous
Updated Feb 16, 2024
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Getting a sonography degree is usually as easy as enrolling in and completing a course of study designed specifically around the medical art of ultrasound technology, but in most places there are a number of programs out there; making the right choice is often the hardest part of the equation. Many universities offer bachelor’s degree programs in this field. These tend to be the most intensive, and usually take about four years to complete. You might also be able to get an associate’s degree, often from a vocational school or community college; the work is usually less rigorous in these settings, and you can usually be done in about two years.

The job opportunities that will be open to you and the possibilities for advancement are sometimes different between the two, so researching your options and making sure that you make the choice that is best for your circumstances is usually an important first step. In some cases it’s also possible to do all or part of your coursework online. Internet-based degree programs offer a lot of flexibility, but you usually need to be very careful to make sure that courses are accredited or otherwise approved by employers. Earning a degree that won’t be recognized professionally isn’t usually very useful.

Research Your Options

One of the very first things you need to do is gather information about the programs that are available in your area. Most will send you packets of literature and other information that describes the program being offered in some detail. If you intend to be working while you’ll be studying, you might want to look for courses that are offered in the evenings or on weekends, and looking at payment plans and financing options is also usually wise at this point.

Once you’ve narrowed down your options, it’s time to actually apply. Application requirements vary from place to place, but most ask for a letter of intent, some form of recommendation letters or references, and transcripts of any former study you’ve done. If you intend to apply for loans or grants to cover your education, some of this paperwork often needs to be filed at the outset, too. Then it’s just a matter of waiting to hear back, deciding where to enroll, and, of course, actually completing the course of study and graduating with a degree or diploma.

University Programs

Many of the most rigorous and well-respected sonography degree programs are offered by universities. Participants typically leave with a Bachelor’s of Science (BS) degree in sonography or ultrasoundography, and tend to be very marketable to hospitals and doctors’ offices. Admission often tends to be the most rigorous, too, as slots are limited and are often highly desirable. In most cases this sort of degree takes about four years of full-time study to complete; more if courses are spread out over evenings, less if some are picked up in the summer.

Associate’s Degrees

In most places you can get an associate’s degree in sonography from a community college or vocational school. These programs tend to cover the basics and often focus more on enabling students to operate the machinery and technology on a daily basis than the science underlying it all. An associate’s degree is usually easier to earn; you can often get one in as little as two years. The overall cost is often a lot lower, too. It isn’t as prestigious, and you probably won’t be able to jump into more senior sonography roles as quickly with these sorts of credentials. Still, in the right circumstances, they can be ideal.

Possibility of Online Study

A growing number of schools and institutions offer online degree programs in sonography and related technical fields. Some of these are legitimate and can be a very flexible — and often very inexpensive — way to earn credentials. It is very important to do a lot of research before enrolling, however, since not all schools offer programs that are either respected or even accepted by many employers.

The thing to look for in most cases is accreditation. Online programs that are accredited by authorities in the field of medical education are usually understood by those in the community as offering a sound and legitimate education. In some cases, degrees that sound “too good to be true” actually are, and earning one can hinder rather than help your chances of employment. If you’re unsure, see if you can talk to someone in a hiring department of a hospital or clinic. People in these positions are usually able to give you information about what sort of credentials they look for, and can also let you know how online degrees are regarded in the workplace.

Diving Into Your Studies

Enrolling, of course, is only half the battle. You must also complete the coursework and ultimately graduate in order to actually have your degree. While in school, students typically learn the skills to use various types of sonography equipment to obtain images of a patient's organs. These images are used to diagnose a number of different conditions, depending on the reason for the ultrasound. In addition to operating the machinery, sonographers may also be required to read the results of the images to assist the physician in delivering a diagnosis for the patient.

Main Job Responsibilities

The typical work environment for sonographers is a 40 hour work week, though weekends, evening shifts, and on-call shifts may be required for professionals who work in hospital environments. Sonographers usually work directly with patients, keep patient records, and adjust equipment. Aside from hospitals, people with this sort of training may also be able to find employment in the offices of general practice physicians and gynecologists.

Potential for Advancement

Graduates of accredited sonography degree programs may be able to continue their education to become what’s known as a diagnostic medical sonographer. People in these positions are often able to choose a specialty, such as neurosonography or obstetric sonography. A neurosonographer specializes in ultrasounds of the central nervous system and brain. Obstetric sonography is the most common specialty, and focuses on the female reproductive system. It is used throughout pregnancy to monitor the growth of the fetus or to find potentially dangerous issues that could harm either baby or mother. Other specialty areas include opthalmologic sonography, which is related to the eyes, and abdominal sonography, which focuses on the kidneys, liver, and other abdominal organs.

In the United States, students who have earned a sonography degree may consider testing to become part of the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS) to increase their chances of landing a desirable position in the field. ARDMS is an independent organization that certifies that sonographers have a certain level of training in the field. Employers often look for this certification when sorting through applications; however, this may or may not be a requirement in order to secure a position. Most countries have similar professional associations that may be worth looking into.

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Discussion Comments
By ceilingcat — On Mar 28, 2012

I think that you need to be really careful when choosing sonography schools to get your degree from. There are a lot of programs being advertised by tech school these days that promise a new career very quickly! However, not all of these programs are accredited. You might complete one and still not be able to get a job!

Before you get sucked in, definitely check there accreditation and also see what their track record is as far as helping their students get jobs. And of course see if you can talk to students that have attended the school to get a firsthand view of the program.

By SZapper — On Mar 28, 2012

@Azuza - Yeah, I feel like as a general rule, online degrees in the medical field aren't a great idea. You need clinical experience to get most medical certifications, and you can't very well get that if you take your program online! I think a lot of people just look for shortcuts though, so they want to get done as quickly as possible.

Anyway, I wanted to point out that there are both associate's degree and bachelor's degree programs accredited by ARDMS. So if you don't have a lot of money to spend, you can get an associate's diagnostic medical sonography degree and still be eligible for certification.

By Azuza — On Mar 28, 2012

I was actually looking into becoming a diagnostic medical sonographer, so I did a little bit of research as far as the educational requirements. I looked at a bunch of job ads in my area, and all of them require a certification through ARDMS! I'm not sure if it's like that everywhere though.

I checked into the requirements for sitting for a credential exam through ARDMS, and they're pretty stringent. They require clinical experience, so I don't think an online diagnostic medical sonography degree would be the way to go if you want to get certified through them.

Honestly, if I decide to become a medical sonographer I'm just going to make my life easier and attend a program accredited by ARDMS!

By bagley79 — On Mar 27, 2012
I have my associate degree in sonography, and have found I really like working in this area. I need to work full-time, but am hoping to continue my education and eventually get my bachelor's degree.

I work in a gynecologist's office and enjoy the patients I have contact with. Working in a doctor's office has great hours and I never have to work nights or weekends.

You are limited on what you can do with just an associate's degree, but I am hoping to get to the point where I can read the results and have more of an active role in the whole process.

By LisaLou — On Mar 26, 2012

My niece went to school to get her bachelor's degree in sonography. Now she works at a hospital as an abdominal sonographer.

This is a job she really enjoys. She has a good balance of patient contact and paperwork she is required to do.

The only downside is she still has to work a lot of weekends and nights. Sometimes her schedule can be kind of crazy, but the longer she is there, the more seniority she gets.

It took her four years to get her bachelor's degree, but this makes her more marketable for other positions she might be interested in later on down the road.

By myharley — On Mar 25, 2012

@julies - Has your step-daughter looked into any of the online sonography degree programs? I know there are many companies who are offering degrees like this where you can complete the program online at home.

I don't know how this works as far as any on-the- job-training, but this might be something for her to look into.

I know she would want to do her research before making any decisions. I think there are some programs that are much better than others and would be more qualified.

Another thing to consider is the chances of employment after completing an online degree program. Many times when you complete a degree at a specific school, they have good job placement programs after you graduate.

By julies — On Mar 24, 2012

@MrsWinslow - My step-daughter was also looking at getting a medical sonography degree for the same reasons. She is interested in the health care field and her mom is a nurse.

She realized she wasn't quite cut out for a nursing job, but was interested in the 2 year degree program and high pay of working as a sonographer.

The only problem was there was a long waiting list at the school where she could complete this medical sonography degree. Since she didn't want to wait that long, she went ahead and started working towards her medical lab technician degree.

I wouldn't be surprised if somewhere down the line she ends up going to school to get her sonography degree. I think a lot of the classes she has already taken would transfer as credits, so it wouldn't take her as long the complete the program.

By MrsWinslow — On Mar 24, 2012

@MissDaphne - I think they're the same thing. I'm pretty sure that you need at least an associate's degree in sonography before they let you put the gel on anyone!

This is one of those lesser-known health care fields that has good pay, often decent hours, and good job growth. A friend of mine got into it because she really wanted to work in health care, but nursing just seemed a bit too rough for her. She works mostly in doctor's offices during the day, but she also is sometimes on call for overnights and on weekends.

She specializes in pregnant women and says it's usually pretty enjoyable. They get to tell expectant parents the sex of the baby. Every once in a while, though, she sees something really wrong. That she *can't* tell them, because the image has to be reviewed by a doctor. That, as you might imagine, is the worst part of her job, seeing these happy expectant parents who are about to have their dreams shattered.

By MissDaphne — On Mar 23, 2012

I'm thinking of the scene in the movie Juno where the teen mom is having an ultrasound and the person doing it expresses relief that the girl intends to place the baby for adoption. The stepmom lights into her for assuming that her "idiot stepdaughter" would make a bad mother and asks the woman what her job title is. She says she's an "ultrasound technician" and the stepmom makes fun of her.

So my question is, are ultrasound technicians and sonographers the same thing? Would an "ultrasound technician" have a degree in sonography?

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