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How to Become a Veterinarian by Deborah Shores

Holly and Hugo
Holly and Hugo

Applying to veterinary school in the USA is very competitive and most schools require a minimum 3.0 grade point average for acceptance. The closer to a 4.0 you can have, the better... but there are other factors to be considered in the application process; a 4.0 is not required. Let's take a closer look at the application process:

The Basics

There are 30 accredited veterinary medical schools in the United States.
Several universities in other countries, such as in Australia and the UK, are also accredited, which makes licensing to practice in the USA a lot easier after graduation.
American veterinarians typically complete 4 years of undergraduate schooling at a College or University before applying to veterinary school.
Most vets begin the application process in their third or fourth year of undergraduate studies.
They then graduate with a Bachelor's degree in the late spring and then begin veterinary school in the fall.
Veterinary schools do not require applicants to have a Bachelor's degree before admission.
"Non-traditional" students often only complete the pre-requisite courses required for admission.
Veterinary school is a 4-year program.
The application service, VMCAS, is available online every year on June 1 and closes October 1.
Interviews are typically done in January or February.
Accepted students are typically notified between March and the end of April.

What do I need to do before I apply?

1. Start early

If you are a high school or first-year university student, you need to select a major that will require you to take all of your "pre-requisite" courses. In your second year of undergraduate studies, begin to look at the schools you are interested in and make sure you have planned to complete all the required pre-recs on time.

Excellent majors to consider include: Animal Science, Biology, or Chemistry

If you are allowed to select your advisor, choose one that has experience helping students get into veterinary school. Advisors are typically professors within your major field of study or veterinarians who may teach at the undergraduate level.

What are "pre-requisite" courses?

Pre-recs, as they are called, are courses that must be completed in order to be considered for veterinary school. Each school as a specific number of courses that must be taken and can vary from school to school.

Examples of pre-requisite courses include:

Physics I and II
Calculus
Statistics
Animal Nutrition
Organic chemistry I and II
Biochemistry
Cell Biology

2. Gain experience working with animals

Experience is a major factor in the selection process. The more experience, the better. Veterinary schools like to favor applicants with a diverse background of experience.

Good examples of experience include:

A part-time job at a dairy (large animal experience)
A summer job as an assistant at a small animal veterinary hospital (small animal experience)
A summer job at a local research facility (research experience)
Working in a laboratory setting
Such as an assistant in a parasitology or clinical pathology laboratory
Participation in on-going research projects at the University
Volunteering at the local animal shelter

Remember to:

Document your experience. How many hours per week did you work or volunteer?
Ask for letters of recommendation
3 letters of recommendation are required for most schools
One letter of recommendation must be from a veterinarian

3. Engage in Other Extra-Curricular Activities

Veterinary schools want students that are bright and well-rounded. Become active on your college campus and take leadership positions whenever possible. Great activities that look good on your application include Pre-Vet Club president, volunteering at a local soup kitchen, teaching a Sunday School class at church, intramural sports, etc. Don't forget to include these types of experiences on your application and in your personal statement.

For example, when the author applied to veterinary school, I made sure to include that I was a licensed private pilot. I had earned my pilot's license at 19 years of age while I attended college. I wrote in my Personal Statement earning a license to practice as a veterinarian is similar to earning a pilot's license in that the license is not the end of your education... it is a license to learn. Commitment to life-long learning is essential to being a successful veterinarian.

4. Take Required Tests

Most schools require applicants to take the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) or the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test). Some schools require the GRE-Biology for admission. Take these tests as soon as you can, in case you want to repeat, trying to improve your score. Be sure to prepare yourself for these tests. I recommend using a study book, take a prep class or use a CD-ROM course. These tests are very expensive, so you want to give it your best shot on the first go.

5. Write Your Personal Statement Carefully

The Personal Statement aspect of the application is your chance to shine. This statement is basically a letter introducing yourself to the admissions committee. You want it to stand out in their minds as they review candidates. Ask your advisor to oversee the process and consult with professors in the English department for proof-reading and guidance.

6. Apply to More Than One School

One mistake that aspiring veterinary students make is applying to only one school. Applicants have a better chance at getting in to at least one school if they apply to several. The theory behind why this happens is that due to the design of the application process, selection committees know how many schools you have applied to and may pass you over if you only applied to one. It means you will apply to them and only them again, right?

Start by applying to the school in your state of residence. Schools have preference for applicants from their own state. Some states, like South Carolina, do not have their own veterinary school. South Carolina then "contracts" with a university in another state so that their students can gain preference and lower tuition costs.

Applying to veterinary school is expensive, so make your selection wisely. For more information, please visit the Veterinary Medical College Application Service website.

7. Get Ready for your Interview

Many schools require an interview as a part of the admissions process. You will need to make travel arrangements and budget accordingly. Dress professionally and conservatively for these interviews. Find out in advance what "style" the interview will be in, such as phone, panel or MMI (multiple mini interview). Pre-Vet Clubs often host "mock interviews" with professors, advisors and local veterinarians to help those selected for interview prepare and "practice."

8. Have a Plan B

Most veterinarians didn't get into school their first try. Be sure to have a "Plan B" so you aren't wasting time while you wait to re-apply the next year. Many applicants become a full-time veterinary assistant or begin training to become a licensed veterinary technician.

It is common for veterinary school hopefuls to apply to vet school and vet tech school at the same time. If you get into one and not the other, you can continue your education while you wait to re-apply. Starting vet tech school (often a 2-year program) also looks good on your next application.

Also consider pursuing something else that you are interested in that will result in a job opportunity. Culinary school might be a good choice for a "foodie" or starting a Master's degree program in your field.

If you didn't get in on the first try, don't despair. Contact the school's admissions office to find out why. Often someone will pull your application and discuss what you need to do to make it more favorable in the future.

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