Careers in health care are on the rise all over the country, and sonography is one of the fastest-growing segments of this surging employment marketplace. Diagnostic medical sonography degree programs may help you begin your health care career in this climate of increasing demand.
Colleges and universities offer a variety of program types for aspiring sonographers and ultrasound technicians, from four-year bachelor's degrees to diploma and certificate programs that may take less than two years to complete. Regardless of their length, most programs cover the range of techniques and technologies used in sonography and prepare students for the professional realities of the health care field.
If you're a working sonographer who needs more education to take your career to the next level, online diagnostic medical sonography degrees are available at the bachelor's level. The hands-on nature of the training makes it difficult to construct online degrees for diagnostic medical sonography students who are just starting out, but continued education programs in the virtual classroom are fairly common.
Best Colleges for Diagnostic Medical Sonography Degrees 2018-19
We took a look at National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data profiles for more than 100 U.S. schools offering sonography degrees, crunched the numbers and figured out which ones were the best in the country. Tap the methodology button to see how we calculated the rankings, and read on below for the ten best colleges for diagnostic medical sonography degree programs.
California's Foothill College didn't run away with any one individual category of our analysis, but its strong performance on multiple metrics was enough to land it in the No. 1 spot overall. Just four other schools in the entire U.S. offered diagnostic medical sonography degrees for a lower average cost of tuition than this Los Altos Hills school, and its graduation rate placed fourth among schools on our list and in the top 20 of all institutions we surveyed nationwide.
Sonography students at Foothill College have two programs to choose from, each requiring 116.5 credits of major-specific courses. The Certificate of Achievement program focuses specifically on the subject matter most relevant to career skills, while the Associate in Science (A.S.) program also contains some academic work in general education.
South Piedmont Community College stood out in the group of categories that make up our flexibility metric. More than 56 percent of students here took at least some of their courses online in 2015, earning this North Carolina school the No. 1 spot for distance education enrollment in decisive fashion, and campus-based students had access to alternative tuition plans, academic and career counseling services and degree programs that can be completed entirely in the evenings or on weekends.
Students at SPCC must complete 25 credits of general education coursework before applying to the medical sonography program, which consists of 18 courses that cover the various techniques, technologies and specialties of the field. Program admins report 100 percent job placement for all sonography graduates since 2014.
Our No. 3 school, located in Cypress, California, is the most affordable option in our top ten and features the second-lowest average cost of tuition and fees among the more than 130 schools we surveyed for this analysis. Students at Cypress College paid an average of just $1,138 for a full year of classes in 2015-16, and alternative tuition payment plans are available for students who need some financial flexibility.
The diagnostic medical sonography program at Cypress takes 16 months of full-time study to complete and comes with a list of prerequisites that includes medical terminology, patient care, anatomy and physiology, algebra, ethics and more. Students are assigned to an off-site clinic for skills training. Around 20 students are admitted to the program each year.
GateWay Community College placed in the nationwide top 10 for the general affordability of its degree programs, posting an average cost of tuition and fees that came in just over $2,000 for the year in 2015-16. Its student-faculty ratio of 13:1 suggests it's also likely that professors will have time to consult individually with students who need some extra instructional help.
Students can choose either an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree or a Certificate of Completion (CCL) in diagnostic medical sonography at GateWay. The differences between the two are small, amounting to eight total credit hours and between $700 and $1,000 in tuition and fees, but the CCL program does come with a slightly reduced cost and duration.
A student-faculty ratio of 15:1 led the list of bright spots for this small Alabama school, which also featured a graduation rate that ranked No. 5 among schools that made our list and reserves a portion of its annual budget for course development and other instructional expenses that's among the largest such expenditures in the country.
The amount of slots available in the diagnostic medical sonography program at Trenholm State tends to vary based on the availability of clinical training sites, but program admins typically admit around 15 students per year. The program requires 76 credit hours of study, including prerequisites, and students graduate with an A.A.S. degree.
The flagship Jersey City campus of Eastern International College, a for-profit college of health sciences and nursing, features the densest concentration of sonography graduates of any school in the country. More than 57 percent of the New Jersey school's 2015 graduating class was made up of sonography students, according to NCES numbers.
EIC offers diagnostic medical sonography degree programs at the bachelor's level only, through a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) program that covers neurosonography, electrocardiography and other advanced concepts. Unlike most other schools on our list, EIC's program hasn't earned recognition by the Commission for Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP), so the institution can't guarantee that you'll be eligible to take any required certification exams after graduation.
The 2015 graduation rate at the Los Angeles campus of San Diego-based Platt College was among the highest in the country, ranking No. 4 out of the 130+ schools we analyzed. Select weekend and evening courses were available at this private, for-profit career academy, as well as alternative tuition plans and placement services for alumni.
Students at Platt can choose either a two- or four-year degree in diagnostic medical sonography, with the associate degree taking as little as 18 months of full-time study. The programs at Platt are not CAAHEP-accredited, although the school's website mentions that graduates have typically been considered eligible for the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS) certification exam.
The Belleville campus of Eastern International College comes in at No. 8, thanks at least in part to a graduation rate that topped the charts of our analysis. More than 92 percent of students enrolled at this EIC campus graduated within 150 percent of their expected time -- a rate that took the No. 1 ranking nationwide in that category.
The B.S. program in diagnostic medical sonography at the Belleville school isn't accredited by CAAHEP, so students can't be guaranteed that they'll be eligible for the ARDMS exam after graduation. It is possible, however, to take the two separate parts of the exam at different times over the course of the program to increase your chances of earning certification.
The second Alabama institution in our top ten got high marks on the flexibility metric, providing academic and career counseling services, alternative tuition payment plans and certain degree programs that can be earned entirely through weekend and evening courses. Lurleen B. Wallace Community College had robust online enrollment as well, reporting that nearly 40 percent of students took at least some of their courses via distance education in 2015.
Graduates of the sonography program at LBW Community College earn an A.A.S. degree and undergo in-depth study of human anatomy, disease processes and sonographic techniques. The program here also provides students with the chance to take the ARDMS certification exam as early as 60 days before graduation.
This North Carolina school put up impressive numbers in the affordability category, landing in the nationwide top ten for its average tuition and fees cost of $2,100. What's more, although Southwestern Community College doesn't list any fully online degrees for diagnostic medical sonography students, its wide selection of online programs suggests that partially online diagnostic medical sonography degrees may be available for students who want some extra flexibility in scheduling.
Medical sonography students at SCC enroll in an A.A.S. program that prepares them to take a range of certification exams after graduation, including certain specialty exams administered by the ARDMS. Program admins report that 2016 graduates of the SCC sonography program passed the abdominal and obstetric/gynecological credentialing exams with a 100 percent success rate.
Diagnostic Medical Sonography Degree Programs and Common Career Paths
The right education is a critical part of how to become a diagnostic medical sonographer. While all professionals in the field need a formal education, there are three levels of degree programs available:
- Certificates can be completed in as little as year and provide instruction in basic skills
- Associate degrees generally takes two years to earn and tend to be viewed as the standard education in the field.
- Bachelor's degrees may be earned in four years and provides a more in-depth review of subjects such as anatomy, clinical medicine and patient care.
All three degree levels noted above are acceptable for many diagnostic sonographer jobs. However, an advanced education could provide more hands-on experience and better preparation for certification exams. At all levels, you may be able to take some online courses but expect to attend classes in person to meet clinical requirements.Sonographer degree requirements may also vary depending on your specialization. For instance, degree programs may be focused on one of the following:
Career Outlook for Diagnostic Medical Sonography Majors
Jobs for sonographers are projected to increase much faster than the national average over the next several years. Being aware of the expected movements of the career market can help students in diagnostic medical sonography programs prepare for the employment climate they're likely to meet upon graduation. Here are some job growth projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
PROJECTED JOB GROWTH(%)
|Diagnostic Medical Sonographers||$73,860||71,130||23.2%|
|Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists||$72,230||38,540||13.6%|
|Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians||$58,730||56,560||9.9%|
Financial Aid and Scholarships in Diagnostic Medical Sonography
While many of the scholarships and grants available to sonography students take shape within individual institutions, certain organizations make their aid programs available to all qualified students nationwide. The $2,500 SDMS Foundation Sonography Student Scholarship Program is one such national award. Here's a short list of other financial aid options in sonography.
Minimum 3.0 GPA is required to retain scholarship.
Award is not automatically renewable. Recipient must go through competitive process to be considered for each award, each cycle.
To be included in these rankings, all schools must meet the following initial criteria for the specific subject being ranked.
- Offer an undergraduate degree (either associate or bachelor’s) in that subject.
- Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in the most recent year of IPEDS data available.
Based on those criteria, we ranked all 2-year and 4-year schools in IPEDS that reported data for all of the following points. Ratings are calculated on a 10-point scale, using the weights specified.
- In-state undergraduate tuition & fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Graduation rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Accessibility, based on admissions rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Institutional spending, based on two equally weighted factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Instructional and academic support expenses per full-time enrolled student
- Instructional and academic support spending as a percentage of all expenses
- Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Flexibility, based on the following factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Percent of students enrolled fully or partly in distance education
- Whether the school offers programs that can be completed entirely in the evenings and on weekends
- Whether the school offers academic and career counseling
- Whether the school offers job placement services for students who complete their programs
- Whether the school offers any alternative tuition plans, such as a payment plan or guaranteed rate
- Size of program, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded in 2014-15 were in this particular subject, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Related subjects, based on the number of similar topics for programs in relevant CIP codes that are offered at any level, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2015-16, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed December 2017, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2016-17, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
- School pages, accessed January 26-29, 2018: Diagnostic Medical Sonography (Diploma), American Medical Sciences Center, https://amsc.edu/programs/diagnostic-medical-sonography/; Learning Outcomes, Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Oregon Institute of Technology, http://www.oit.edu/faculty-staff/provost/pslo/diagnostic-medical-sonography; Bachelor's in Diagnostic Medical Sonography (BS), Roosevelt University, https://www.roosevelt.edu/academics/programs/bachelors-in-diagnostic-medical-sonography-bs; Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Foothill College, https://www.foothill.edu/dms/; Medical Sonography, South Piedmont Community College, http://www.spcc.edu/medical-sonography/; Frequently Asked Questions, Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Cypress College, http://www.cypresscollege.edu/academics/academicPrograms/HealthScience/DiagnosticMedicalSonography/faq.aspx; Diagnostic Medical Sonography, GateWay Community College, https://www.gatewaycc.edu/diagnostic-medical-sonography; Diagnostic Medical Sonography, H. Councill Trenholm State Community College, http://www.trenholmstate.edu/uploads/catalog/11DMS%206-15-2017.pdf; Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Eastern International College, http://www.eicollege.edu/academic-programs/diagnostic-medical-sonography-b-s-.aspx; Associates and Bachelors Degrees in Diagnostic Medical Sonography (Ultrasound), Platt College, http://plattcollege.edu/areas-of-study/school-of-medical-sciences/diagnostic-medical-sonography/; About EIC, Eastern International College, http://www.eicollege.edu/about-eic.aspx; Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Lurleen B. Wallace Community College, https://www.lbwcc.edu/academics/careertechnical-division/programs/diagnostic-medical-sonography; Medical Sonography, AAS, Southwestern Community College, http://www.southwesterncc.edu/health-sciences/medical-sonography/medical-sonography-aas; Online Programs, Southwestern Community College, https://southwesterncc.edu/e-learning/online-programs;
- 21 Liberal Arts Colleges With the Lowest Student-Faculty Ratios, U.S. News and World Report, Jordan Friedman, April 19, 2016, accessed January 26, 2018, https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/the-short-list-college/articles/2016-04-19/21-liberal-arts-colleges-with-the-lowest-student-faculty-ratios
- Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, including Vascular Technologists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed January 26, 2018, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm
- Professional organization pages, accessed January 26, 2018: SDMS Membership, Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography, http://www.sdms.org/membership; Join/Renew, American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine, http://www.aium.org/membership/membership.aspx; Benefits of Membership, Society for Vascular Ultrasound, http://www.svunet.org/membershipmain/benefitsofmembership;
- SDMS Foundation Scholarships, Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography, accessed January 26, 2018, http://www.sdms.org/foundation/programs/scholarships
- Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, Accessed August 2018, https://www.caahep.org/Students/Program-Info/Diagnostic-Medical-Sonography.aspx
- Which is Better: Medical Sonography Certificate or Degree? November 7, 2017, American Institute of Medical Sciences & Education, Accessed August 2018, https://www.aimseducation.edu/blog/medical-sonography-certificate-vs-degree/