Cytotechnology Schools

Cytotechnologists 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 cytotechnologist 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 of Clinical Pathology (ASCP) is the primary organization that offers certification to individuals upon completion of an accredited cytotechnology program and exam. State licensure rules vary, and entry-level cytotechnologists are urged to check the most current certification standards to ensure their candidacy.

In 2022, O*NET, an affiliate of the American Job Network surveyed practicing cytotechnologists 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 cytotechnologists and cytogenetic technologists. The former typically look 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.

Degree & Certification Programs in Cytotechnology

There are several degree and certificate programs for people interested in becoming cytotechnologists. 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.

  • Location: Los Angeles, CA
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Tuition: $34,667 per year (in-state); $63,669 per year (out-of-state)

Thomas Jefferson University (BS, MS) – 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 cytotechnologists.

Notably, TJU allows students to complete a range of different pathways to the career, including allowing high school seniors to apply to the BS program via the Plan a College Education (PACE) program and a five-year BS/MS dual degree program.

  • Location: Philadelphia, PA
  • Duration: One to five years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Tuition: $39,268 to $41,900 per year

Old Dominion University (certificate, BS) – Based in Norfolk, Virginia, Old Dominion University offers various training programs for aspiring and practicing cytotechnologists. 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.

  • Location: Norfolk, VA
  • Duration: Two to four years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Tuition: $393 per credit (in-state); $1,073 per credit (out-of-state)

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 as 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.

  • Location: Rochester, MN
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Tuition: $549 per credit

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.

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List of Cytotechnologist Schools

Filter by state :
School City State Website grads (2018)
Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis Indianapolis Indiana 7
Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Albany New York 5
Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science Rochester Minnesota 5
The University of Tennessee Health Science Center Memphis Tennessee 5
Central Piedmont Community College Charlotte North Carolina 4
George Washington University Washington District of Columbia 4
Rutgers University-New Brunswick New Brunswick New Jersey 4
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Little Rock Arkansas 4
University of Puerto Rico-Medical Sciences San Juan Puerto Rico 4
Edgewood College Madison Wisconsin 3
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Houston Texas 3
CUNY Hunter College New York New York 2
Saint Louis University Saint Louis Missouri 2
Loma Linda University Loma Linda California 1
Daemen College Amherst New York 1
Marian University Fond Du Lac Wisconsin 1
Saint Mary's University of Minnesota Winona Minnesota 1
SUNY College at Plattsburgh Plattsburgh New York 1
Thomas Jefferson University Philadelphia Pennsylvania 1
2017-2018 School Data from IPEDS (Sourced in November, 2019)

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 cytotechnologists.

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 1.5-year 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 22-week clinical practicum under the supervision of a certified cytotechnologist. 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
  • Duration: 16 months
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Tuition: $5,412 per semester (in-state); $14,066 per semester (out-of-state)
School City State Website grads (2018)
Southwest Wisconsin Technical College Fennimore Wisconsin 6
University of Nebraska Medical Center Omaha Nebraska 6
2017-2018 School Data from IPEDS (Sourced in November, 2019)

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, cytotechnologists 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). 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. As of August 2023, there are 18 CAAHEP-accredited degree and certificate programs in cytotechnology.

The American Society for Cytotechnology (ASCT) notes around 30 accredited programs in cytotechnology. Twenty-two 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, cytotechnologists 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:

  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges for the (SACSCOC)
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)

Career Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021), job opportunities in cytotechnology (categorized as medical and laboratory technology) are expected to see 7 percent growth between 2021 and 2031, which is slightly higher than the average increase projected for all occupations (5 percent). It is, however, important to note that the BLS statistics include a variety of career paths, and the specific rate of growth for cytotechnologists 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 medical and clinical laboratory technicians:

  • 10th percentile: $35,220 or $16.93 per hour
  • 25th percentile: $40,440 or $19.44 per hour
  • 50th percentile (median): $57,380 or $27.59 per hour
  • 75th percentile: $74,920 or $36.02 per hour
  • 90th percentile: $84,670 or $40.71 per hour
Career Facts Cytotechnologist
Related CareersClinical/Medical Laboratory Scientist, Histotechnologist, Microbiology Technologist
Common Job TitlesCytotechnologist, 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 2022

Licensing & Certification in Cytotechnology

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 Cytotechnologists, CT (ASCP)
  • Specialist in Cytotechnology, SCT (ASCP)

The CT certification is appropriate for new cytotechnologists 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 cytotechnologists, 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
Rachel Drummond Writer

Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. A dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioner, Rachel is interested in exploring the nuanced philosophical aspects of contemplative physical practices and how they apply in daily life. She writes about this topic among others on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).