Cytology & Cytotechnology Schools

“Curiosity and attention to detail will change your life and wholly benefit the patients you serve. The art and science of cytologic studies are enriching to the mind, while pattern recognition and the ability to offer pre-cancer diagnoses can save lives.”

Amy Spiczka, Executive Director of the American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP)

Cytologists are known as “disease detectives” and are one of the most in-demand and fascinating healthcare occupations. These lesser-known medical professionals are well-trained in detecting cell abnormalities with a microscope. The programs at cytotechnology schools are generally offered at the baccalaureate and post-baccalaureate levels in colleges and hospital settings.

Some students apply for these rigorous programs of study during their junior or senior year in university. Course requirements vary for each program, but students generally can expect at least one year of professional instruction in cytotechnology after completing prerequisites such as biology and chemistry.

After enrollment, students typically complete 28 credits of sciences in addition to a course in mathematics or statistics. Some of the classes at accredited cytotechnology programs may include cytopreparation of cell samples, cytologic evaluation of cell samples, and introduction to management principles.

To qualify for the national cytotechnology certification exam, candidates must have at least a baccalaureate degree in cytotechnology or a degree in a related discipline plus a cytotechnology certificate. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) is the most common accrediting organization for cytotechnology programs. It should be noted that employers usually prefer candidates who have completed accredited programs and those who are nationally certified.

The American Society for Clinical Pathology Board of Certification (ASCP BOC) is the primary organization that offers certification examinations to laboratory professionals upon completion of an accredited cytology program, as required by CLIA personnel standards. The ASCP BOC also credentials cytologists outside the US and around the world with their ASCPi cytology certification examinations. State licensure rules vary.

In 2023, O*NET, an affiliate of the American Job Network surveyed practicing cytologists and found that 36 percent had post-baccalaureate certificates while 50 percent had completed bachelor’s degrees in cytotechnology.

Lastly, it should be noted that there are differences between cytologists and cytogenetic technologists. The former typically looks at magnified cell structures for abnormalities, whereas the latter dig deeper. Cytogenetic technologists complete more extensive training and degree programs to get down to the level of chromosomes or DNA to monitor patients’ predispositions for various conditions.

Read on to learn more about cytotechnology schools, including degree and certificate programs on campus and online.

Ask the Expert: Amy Spiczka, MS, HTL(ASCP)CMSCT, MBCM, CPHQ

Amy Spiczka

Amy Spiczka currently serves as the executive director of the American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP) Board of Certification (BOC). The ASCP BOC has credentialed over 625,000 laboratory professionals worldwide. Spiczka is a patient-centric advocate for the laboratory professional workforce, as the ASCP BOC collaboratively provides examinations and credentials across the entirety of the laboratory-specific healthcare continuum.

Spiczka’s clinical practice, published research, education interests, and awards focus primarily on elevating patients’ experiences with continuous quality improvement; developing and integrating innovative laboratory techniques; and advancing professional development opportunities, visibility, and recognition for laboratory team members.

MedicalTechnologySchools.com: What is something you wish the public understood about the cytologist role?

Spiczka: It would be beneficial for the public to understand how contributory cytologists have been to patient care and advancing evidence-based science, even as they collectively work primarily behind the scenes microscopically assessing cell samples. Cytologists have been integral to advancing diagnostic cancer care since the advent of their professional role. Cytologists are recognized for significantly contributing to women’s healthcare given the successes seen with the Pap test for cervical cancer screening. The professional acumen of cytologists continues to evolve with the emerging scope of practice opportunities ranging from molecular diagnostics to rapid onsite evaluations of fine needle aspirations.

MedicalTechnologySchools.com: What advice would you give to those considering a career as a cytologist?

Spiczka: Curiosity and attention to detail will change your life and wholly benefit the patients you serve. The art and science of cytologic studies are enriching to the mind, while pattern recognition and the ability to offer pre-cancer diagnoses can save lives.

A career as a cytologist provides a plethora of opportunities from microscopically detecting evidence of disease to partnering with cytopathologists to assure diagnostic accuracy, contributing to continuous quality improvement, and even designing and implementing new diagnostic algorithms or process workflows.

MedicalTechnologySchools.com: What does the future of the field, and/or of cytotechnology programs, look like to you?

Spiczka: While the cytologist profession is a “hidden gem,” curiosity, a pioneer mindset, and an exploratory willingness to shape the future are some of the strongest attributes of the profession. Diverse practice settings continue to develop and evolve, which provide future opportunities in this niche specialty. Dynamic interactions with care teams, patients, and the next generation of cytologists add to the vibrancy of the field.

Professional placement remains high for cytologists and there are opportunities to differentiate your unique career contributions with additional credentials such as a Specialist in Cytology (SCT(ASCP)) or Molecular Biology (MB (ASCP)), among others.

Degree & Certification Programs in Cytotechnology

Auburn University of Montgomery
University of West Florida
Grand Canyon University

There are several degree and certificate programs for people interested in becoming cytologists. Some students decide in college to complete a bachelor’s degree in cytotechnology, while others get degrees in related disciplines and complete a post-baccalaureate cytotechnology certificate. Following is a selection of accredited cytotechnology programs.

UCLA Medical Center (certificate)

The UCLA Medical Center offers a cytotechnology certificate program out of the Greater Los Angeles County Cytotechnology Training Consortium. This school of cytotechnology was founded in 1991 and is CAAHEP-accredited. It is a one-year certificate program that teaches a variety of laboratory and diagnostic procedures crucial for entry-level cytotechnological readiness. It typically accepts students through the California State University system, but non-CSU students are encouraged to apply.

To qualify, candidates must have at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university and a minimum of 20 semester- (or 30 quarter-) hours of biological sciences and eight semester-hours of chemistry.

This 30-credit program includes courses such as research methods in clinical science; management skills in clinical sciences; fine needle aspiration cytology; cytology of the genitourinary system and body cavity fluids; cytology of the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts; general cytology; and cytologic preparation, among others.

  • Location: Los Angeles, CA
  • Accreditation: WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC); Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Expected Time to Completion: One year

Thomas Jefferson University (BS, MS, & a five-year BS/MS dual degree)

Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson University offers a well-reviewed cytotechnology program where students learn diagnostic theory and the interpretation of magnified cellular structures. This curriculum combines clinical and laboratory study with real patient specimens under the supervision of qualified cytologists.

Notably, TJU allows students to complete a range of different pathways to their career, including allowing high school seniors to apply to the two-year BS program that requires 55 credits for admission, 37.5 credits in year one, and 31 credits in year two for a total of 123.5 credits. The college also offers a one-year BS program that requires 70 credits for admission and 57 credits in the senior year for a total of 127 credits.

The College of Health Professions also offers a 12-month master of science program (56 credits), a two-year master of science program (56 credits), a two-year advanced MS program (32 to 33 credits), and a one-year advanced MS program (32 to 37 credits). A five-year BS/MS dual degree program is also available.

The curriculum includes courses such as principles of cell analysis; cytopathology; cytological and surgical pathology techniques; flow cytometry; immunology; current research in the biosciences; cellular, molecular, and immunological diagnostics; and molecular laboratory techniques.

  • Location: Philadelphia, PA
  • Accreditation: Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSCHE); Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Expected Time to Completion: One to five years

Old Dominion University (certificate, BSHS)

Based in Norfolk, Virginia, Old Dominion University offers various training programs for aspiring and practicing cytologists. Most programs combine rigorous didactic instruction with clinical experiences at a range of cytology laboratories throughout the region. Similar to other programs, students are qualified to sit for the ASCP examination upon completion.

Applicants can apply as degree-seeking students for either a first or second bachelor of science degree or choose a non-degree option and complete the program for a certificate.

Students with a BS degree with a minimum of 20 semester hours of biology, 8 semester hours of chemistry, and 3 semester hours of math may complete the senior year curriculum in cytotechnology and earn a certificate in cytotechnology. This allows the student to be eligible to sit for the certification examination.

  • Location: Norfolk, VA
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC); Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two to four years

Mayo Clinic (certificate)

In Rochester, Minnesota, the Mayo Clinic offers a CAAHEP-accredited program to both candidates with bachelor’s degrees or seniors at Mayo-affiliated colleges who choose to complete their fourth year in an intensive cytotechnology program. Graduates of the 32-credit program will receive a certificate of completion. Those who are completing their BS will receive that degree from their institution and not from the Mayo Clinic itself.

This advanced program offers experience at a range of world-class outpatient facilities. Since class sizes are limited to six students, this program offers more one-on-one instruction for superlative training.

The curriculum includes courses such as gynecologic cytology; advanced gynecologic cytology; pulmonary cytology; urinary cytology; gastrointestinal cytology; effusion cytology; fine-needle aspiration cytology; and clinical cytology.

  • Location: Rochester, MN
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Expected Time to Completion: One year

In sum, most cytotechnology programs are offered as either part of a bachelor’s degree or as a post-baccalaureate certificate. These programs are generally accredited by the CAAHEP and qualify graduates to sit for the national certification exam with the ASCP.

List of Cytologist (Cytotechnologist) Schools

Filter by state :
School City State Website GRADS ('21)
University of Nebraska Medical Center Omaha Nebraska https://www.unmc.edu 13
Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis Indianapolis Indiana https://www.iupui.edu 8
The University of Tennessee Health Science Center Memphis Tennessee https://www.uthsc.edu 7
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Houston Texas https://www.mdanderson.org 7
CUNY Hunter College New York New York https://hunter.cuny.edu 6
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Little Rock Arkansas https://www.uams.edu 6
University of Puerto Rico-Medical Sciences San Juan Puerto Rico https://rcm2.rcm.upr.edu 6
Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science Rochester Minnesota https://college.mayo.edu 5
Loma Linda University Loma Linda California https://llu.edu 4
Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Albany New York https://www.acphs.edu 3
Daemen University Amherst New York https://www.daemen.edu 3
Central Piedmont Community College Charlotte North Carolina https://www.cpcc.edu 2
Edgewood College Madison Wisconsin https://www.edgewood.edu 2
'20-'21 School Data from IPEDS (Sourced in September, 2023)

Hybrid & Online Programs in Cytotechnology

There are not any 100 percent online cytology schools due to the essentially clinical nature of the discipline. However, there is one CAAHEP-accredited institution offering online coursework for aspiring cytologists.

University of Nebraska (MS)

Located on campuses across Nebraska, the University of Nebraska offers a master of diagnostic cytology with online course options. A self-proclaimed “leader of virtual microscopy,” UN offers students thousands of annotated images online available for screening at any time.

This 16-month program teaches students through assignments such as case studies, multi-headed microscope sessions, screening exams, patient procedure observation, and other methods of instruction. Courses such as anatomy, physiology, histology, and cytology offer students some options for online work.

This didactic training is rounded out with a clinical practicum under the supervision of a certified cytologist. It has several satellite sites, which gives students the flexibility to complete clinical training in various areas. These include the Carle Foundation Hospital, Urbana, Illinois; the University of California Davis Medical Center; and the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

  • Location: Omaha, NE
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 16 months
School City State Website GRADS ('21)
Southwest Wisconsin Technical College Fennimore Wisconsin https://www.swtc.edu 29
'20-'21 School Data from IPEDS (Sourced in September, 2023)

Core & Elective Courses in Cytotechnology

Before enrolling in an accredited program at a cytotechnology school, students typically need to complete science course prerequisites. The specific required courses will vary by program, but they typically include the following:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Histology
  • Anatomy
  • Genetics
  • Immunology
  • Advanced math and statistics

Once enrolled in an accredited cytotechnology program, students can expect to take some of the following core classes:

  • Cytology
  • Embryology
  • Endocrinology
  • Parasitology
  • Cytochemistry
  • Clinical medicine
  • Inflammatory diseases
  • Cytopreparatory techniques
  • Gynecologic cytopathology
  • Non-gynecologic exfoliative cytopathology
  • Fine needle aspiration cytology
  • Laboratory operations

These courses are often completed in conjunction with a supervised clinical internship or externship to get the student exposure to real-life laboratory procedures.

Accreditation of Cytotechnology Programs

Programmatic Accreditation

Before pursuing an education in cytotechnology, it is crucial to check an institution’s accreditation status. To receive national certification through ASCP, cytologists typically must have a bachelor’s degree or a certificate from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). As of January 2024, there are 18 CAAHEP-accredited degree and certificate programs in cytotechnology. Cytotechnology programs may also be accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS), but this accreditation does not make graduates eligible for certification.

The American Society for Cytotechnology (ASCT) notes around 30 accredited programs in cytotechnology. The majority of these programs are accredited by CAAHEP and can be found through their convenient search tool. In addition to CAAHEP accreditation, students should look for a bachelor's degree program that has earned institutional accreditation. In many cases, cytologists may earn a BS from one institution followed by a CAAHEP-accredited cytotechnology certification program.

Institutional Accreditation

Institutional accreditation is typically awarded by regionally-based accrediting organizations approved by the U.S. Department of Education. The six regional accrediting bodies for U.S. colleges and universities are:

  • Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)

Career Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2023), job opportunities in cytotechnology (categorized as clinical laboratory technologists and technicians) are expected to see 5 percent growth between 2022 and 2032, which is slightly higher than the average increase projected for all occupations (3 percent). It is, however, important to note that the BLS statistics include a variety of career paths, and the specific rate of growth for cytologists may be significantly different.

There are several reasons for the estimated surge in demand for these medical professionals. The United States has an increasing number of elderly people, leading to a greater need to diagnose medical conditions such as diabetes and cancer. The cytotechnology laboratory training is essential for diagnosing and treating these conditions. Additionally, as federal health legislation such as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) expands medical access to an increasing number of Americans, these laboratory, diagnostic, and preventative health services will be in greater demand.

These professionals are employed in a variety of settings including:

  • Hospital laboratories
  • Private laboratories
  • Cytotechnology programs at universities
  • Private medical device companies that sell equipment and reagents

The BLS (May 2022) details the annual salary data for all clinical laboratory technologists and technicians:

United States
Number employed in the U.S. 333,600
Average Annual Salary $59,130
10th percentile $35,220
25th percentile $40,440
50th Percentile (Median) $57,380
75th percentile $74,920
90th percentile $84,670
Career Facts Cytologist / Cytotechnologist
Related CareersClinical/Medical Laboratory Scientist, Histotechnologist, Microbiology Technologist
Common Job TitlesCytotechnologist, Cytologist, Cytotechnician, Cytogenetic Technician, Cytogenetic Technologist
Technology & EquipmentBenchtop Centrifuges, Binocular Light Compound Microscopes, Distillation Pipings Or Columns Or Fittings, Fluorescent Microscopes, General Purpose Refrigerators Or Refrigerator Freezers, Histology Paraffin, Laboratory Flasks, Microbiology Analyzers, Steam Autoclaves Or Sterilizers, Medical Software (E.G., Aspyra Cyberlab; Cpsi Cpsi System; Fortius Lab Systems Clinical Lis; Sunquest Information Systems Sunquest Laboratory)
Sourced from BLS 2024

Licensing & Certification in Cytology

Upon the successful completion of an accredited degree or certificate program in cytotechnology, students may be eligible to sit for the national certification exam, offered by the American Society of Clinical Pathology’s Board of Certification (ASCP-BOC).

There are two main certification options for prospective professionals in cytotechnology:

  • Certified Cytologist, CT (ASCP)
  • Specialist in Cytology, SCT (ASCP)

The CT certification is appropriate for new cytologists while the SCT certification requires three years of experience in the field. The honorary letters CT and SCT can be used after people’s names upon passing the exams.

The ASCP has an exam preparation guide for students that outlines what is on the most current version of the exam.

According to the American Society of Cytopathology (ASC), there are some states that require the licensure of cytologists, including:

  • California
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Louisiana
  • Montana
  • New York
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee
  • West Virginia

In addition, there are a number of states that are currently or have previously considered requiring the licensure of laboratory personnel, so it is essential to check the most recent legal climate of different geographic areas.

Rachel Drummond, MEd
Rachel Drummond, MEd Writer

Rachel Drummond has contributed insightful articles to MedicalTechnologySchools.com since 2019, where she offers valuable advice and guidance for those pursuing careers in the healthcare field, combining her passion for education with her understanding of the critical role that healthcare professionals play in promoting physical and mental well-being.

Rachel is a writer, educator, and coach from Oregon. She has a master’s degree in education (MEd) and has over 15 years of experience teaching English, public speaking, and mindfulness to international audiences in the United States, Japan, and Spain. She writes about the mind-body benefits of contemplative movement practices like yoga on her blog, inviting people to prioritize their unique version of well-being and empowering everyone to live healthier and more balanced lives.