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Radiology Technologist Education Requirements

An associate degree is the most common educational step to become a radiology technologist.

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Home » Radiology Technologist » Education

There are three education options to become a radiology technologist: certificate or diploma, associate degree and bachelor’s degree. Each requires a different amount of time and training. Which you choose may depend on your career ambitions, finances, and how quickly you want to begin working in the field.

Overview

“The main route to become a radiologic technologist is to attend a radiography program,” says Peter Rath, MPA, R.T. (R), ARRT, a radiology technician on staff at the American Society of Radiologic Technologists, where he evaluates continuing education programs. “An associate or bachelor’s degree makes you eligible for certification, which you need in order to work as a radiographer.”

Here, we explain the three educational paths so you can decide which is the best fit for you.

Education Paths

“Students in a radiography program must gain knowledge as well as clinical skills,” Rath says, explaining what students should expect from their education.

Certificate or Diploma

A certificate or diploma program will qualify you to create one type of radiologic image—for instance, X-rays or MRIs—so you’ll need to choose a procedure to specialize in.

  • Prerequisites: GED or high school diploma
  • Curriculum: Some of your coursework will depend on the image you choose to study. In general, expect courses in:
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Medical terminology
  • Radiation protection
  • Radiographic procedures
  • Time to Complete: 6 to 16 months
  • Clinical Work: Hands-on training in how to operate radiologic equipment and position patients. Training could be in a lab or as part of an externship in a medical setting.
  • Who Is this Degree Best For? People who want to begin working as a radiology technologist as soon as possible.

Associate Degree

An associate degree in radiology technology is the minimum education required to work as an X-ray technician—also known as a radiology technologist, radiologic technologist and radiographer. You’ll also need an associate degree to earn the Registered Radiologic Technologist R.T. (R) certification.

  • Prerequisites: GED or high school diploma. In addition, some programs require students to have taken specific science or math classes. The more exclusive the program, the more likely it is to list post-secondary educational requirements before admission.
  • Curriculum: Coursework includes:
  • Medical ethics and privacy
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Medical terminology
  • Radiation protection
  • How to position patients
  • Time to Complete: Average 2 years
  • Clinical Work: Training alongside radiographers doing X-ray imaging in a medical setting. These externships often take place during a student’s second year.
  • Who Is this Degree Best For? People who want to earn a degree in the least amount of time and qualify for specialty certifications.

Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree in radiologic science provides more in-depth and advanced training. Earning a bachelor’s may also allow students to pursue training and hands-on experience in imaging procedures beyond X-rays, such as CT imaging and mammography.

  • Prerequisites: High school diploma or GED. In addition, programs may list a minimum GPA or standardized test score. You may also need to complete coursework in math or science before acceptance. Those who have already completed an associate degree in radiologic technology have an advantage for acceptance into more competitive bachelor’s programs.
  • Curriculum: Coursework includes:
  • Medical ethics and privacy
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Medical terminology
  • Radiation protection
  • How to position patients
  • Advanced imaging techniques
  • Clinical research
  • Decision making
  • Time to Complete: Average 4 years
  • Clinical Work: Approximately one-year externship in X-ray imaging at a hospital, clinic, or other healthcare facility
  • Who Is this Degree Best For? “People who want to advance past imaging, to supervisory or managerial positions, should earn a bachelor’s degree,” Rath says.

Online Programs

If you’re looking for an alternative to traditional, in-person education, you might be interested in online programs for radiologic technology.

Associate and bachelor’s degrees require in-person work, such as learning how to operate equipment and position patients. That means “online” programs are more accurately called hybrid programs.

In a program like this, you’ll take coursework covering topics such as medical ethics and medical terminology online and do your clinical training in person at a medical facility approved by your program.

An online program in radiologic science may be a good fit for people who are working, have caregiving responsibilities, or have other limitations that make traditional education difficult.

Online programs can offer more flexibility than campus programs by allowing students to attend class online in real time or watch a videotaped class at their convenience.  An online program in radiologic science may be a good fit for people who are working, have caregiving responsibilities, or have other limitations that make traditional education difficult.

Online programs may not be a good fit for everyone, however. Students who are self-motivated, independent learners are more likely to thrive in this learning format.

Online programs can offer more flexibility than campus programs by allowing students to attend class online in real time or watch a videotaped class at their convenience.  An online program in radiologic science may be a good fit for people who are working, have caregiving responsibilities, or have other limitations that make traditional education difficult.

What to Look for in a School

When choosing a school to become a radiology technologist, you’ll need to consider many factors, including:

  • Cost
  • Geography
  • Convenience
  • Admissions requirements

Any school you consider, though, should be accredited.

The Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology is the primary accrediting agency for programs. Earning a degree from an accredited school is a requirement to earn a certification as a radiology technologist, and nearly all workplaces will require RTs to be certified.

Licensure and Certifications

More than 75% of states require radiology technologists to be licensed, and the vast majority require them to be certified by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). Moreover, nearly all employers require radiographers to be certified, so regardless of state requirements, it makes sense to pursue this credential.

Most states have their own licensing procedures and requirements, so check with the state where you plan to work to find out what they are.

Nearly all employers require radiographers to be certified, so it makes sense to pursue this credential.

Salary and Job Outlook

Salaries for radiology technologists can vary based on where you live, where you work, your experience, whether you’re certified, and more.

As in many healthcare fields, radiography is growing to meet increased demand as the large baby boomer generation ages—and lives longer. Patients in this generation may need medical imaging to diagnose cancers, lung infections, heart disease, in addition to broken bones.

“Employment rates for radiographers continue to be high, stable, and growing,” Rath says. The BLS projects jobs to grow by 9% from 2020 to 2030.

Financial Aid

You’ve already learned that you need to attend an accredited radiology program to earn certifications. Your program also must be accredited if you want to apply for federal financial aid like grants and loans.

Federal student aid can make your education more affordable. Your individual circumstances, including income and family size, will determine how much, if any aid, you are awarded.

In addition, most colleges and universities offer financial aid. By taking advantage of all the resources available, you can make earning a degree in radiography more affordable.

catherine gregory

Written and reported by:
Catherine Ryan Gregory
Contributing Writer

peter rath

With professional insight from:
Peter Rath, MPA, RT (R), ARRT
Continuing Education Program Evaluator
American Society of Radiologic Technologists