So you want to become a veterinarian, but you’re not quite sure how to go about it. Fortunately, you’re in the right place to learn about what it takes. In this article, I’m going to break down the personal character traits and educational qualifications you’ll need to make it through veterinary school and into active employment.
It’s by no means an easy or cheap process, but with perseverance and hard work, you can make it happen. So let’s dive in and find out how to become a veterinarian.
- First Things First
- Educational Requirements
- Getting Into Veterinary School
- Do You Need An Undergraduate Degree?
- The Application Process
- Do You Have A Love For Animals?
- Final Thoughts
First Things First
Presumably, if you’re thinking about becoming a vet, you most likely have a love for animals and a passion for taking care of them. This is important as once qualified, it’s unlikely any future employers will want to give a job to someone whose heart isn’t really in it. Pet owners are also entrusting you with their animals and will want to see that you have the same kind of compassion and love that they do.
The next most important requirement is recognizing that you need to like science. It’s all well and good loving animals, but if you don’t like or struggle with the sciences, you are going to find it very challenging to make it all the way through to the end of veterinary school.
Just like with any professional school, whether it’s law, medical or dental school, getting into veterinarian school requires you to get the right education.
The right education means finishing high school, the completion of compulsory courses in the relevant areas of study, and finally, four years of veterinary school. This normally consists of three years of classroom study and one year of gaining hands-on experience at the veterinary hospital that your school runs.
Getting Into Veterinary School
The hardest part of becoming a veterinarian is getting into veterinary school. This is by no means an easy process. There are around 6,000 applications for veterinary school every year and only thirty or so veterinary schools around the country. Each only accepts around 100 to 120 students per year.
As you can see, demand way outstrips supply, so you’ll have to stand out from the crowd to give yourself the best chance. So what does it take to get into veterinary school? Firstly, there are the compulsory educational requirements that you have to complete to even be considered.
The prerequisite courses that you will have to complete include
- Biology 1 and 2.
- Chemistry 1 and 2.
- Physics 1 and 2.
- Organic Chemistry 1 and 2.
- English Writing.
You will have to score a C or better in these compulsory courses. Other helpful but not required modules include Animal Science and Animal Nutrition. The more feathers in your cap, the better.
One of the best things you can do is go to the specific website of the school that you want to get into and check their list of course requirements. These can vary slightly from school to school, and you’ll want to be 100% sure that you’ve completed all the compulsory criteria.
Do You Need An Undergraduate Degree?
Technically speaking, you do not need an undergraduate degree to go to veterinary school; you just need to have completed the aforementioned courses.
Having said that, if you can afford to complete a degree, not only does it look better on your application, it also acts as a backup plan should you fail to get into vet school or decide down the line that being a vet isn’t for you.
The courses get you almost the same credits!
In all honesty, the workload that you’ll have to undertake to complete the prerequisite courses represents about 80-90 credits. Most undergraduate programs require 120 course credits for completion, so you’re almost there already.
While we are talking about undergraduate degrees, there is no major that is given preference in the veterinary school selection process. That being said, if you majored in music and it’s a straight choice between you and another candidate who majored in a more relevant field, the school will probably go with your rival.
Some applicants to Veterinary school will be put on a wait-list rather than being initially accepted or rejected. This means that if another applicant who has been accepted decides to go to another school, and you’re are high enough up on the wait-list, you may have a chance of getting in. It’s an uncomfortable position to be in, but it’s better than a straight out rejection. There’s still a chance!
What to do if you’re rejected
Applications for veterinary school can only be made once a year. So, if you get rejected, you’ll have a full year on your hands before you can try again. On the bright side, this gives you time to go away and improve the areas of your application that need addressing.
This could involve taking some extra courses or getting some hands-on experience volunteering somewhere, anything to make your application more attractive.
The Application Process
Your veterinary school application is coordinated by the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) using an online system called VMCAS. You have to fill out a standard application.
This will include an application essay, your letters of recommendation, and any pre-vet experience you might have. Things like relevant extracurricular activities, research experience, and any animal or voluntary experience that you think will aid your application.
Check all necessary documents…
From here, the AAVMC will then submit your application to the veterinary schools you’re applying to. There is a flat fee of $100 to use this system, with an additional cost of $120 for each school you are applying to.
Some schools have supplementary applications and paperwork that they require you to submit on top of the VMCAS application. Again, visit the individual website of the school or schools you’re applying to and find out if they require any extra form filling. VMCAS applications have to be submitted before the 15th of September every year at the latest. Miss it, and you’ll have a whole year to wait before you can try again.
Types of Veterinary Practices
Once you’ve been accepted to veterinary school, as the years progress, you’ll establish which branch of veterinary science to focus on and what kind of animals you want to work with. There are a number of different types of veterinary practice, including:
- General practice
- Animal welfare
- Anesthesia and analgesia
- Behavioral medicine
- Clinical pharmacology
- Emergency and critical care
You’ll also have to decide whether you want to work with smaller animals, mostly pets, or taking care of larger animals, whether that be within farming or maybe zoological fields.
It’s worth noting that about 75% of veterinarians working in private practice, deal with small companion animals, or pets as their otherwise known. The highest salaries in the industry are paid to those who have diversified in to a particular field of expertise.
Choosing your specialization…
In your third year at vet school, you’ll gain practical experience working at the hospital attached to your school. During this time, many students also seek out what’s called externships, either working in private practice or in veterinary fields that they are looking to specialize in. Residency programs in specialist fields are also a good path to gain extra experience.
In your final year of veterinary school, you will have to pass the National Veterinary Licensing Exam in the state that you plan to practice in.
Do You Have A Love For Animals?
Well, then a vet’s life is for you! Let’s help you prep for your vet or vet tech exams with our extensive online finds such as Master the Veterinary Technician National Exam, the VTNE Secrets Study Guide – Exam Review and VTNE Practice Test, or the VTNE Flashcard Study System: VTNE Test Practice Questions & Review, and an alternative Master the Veterinary Technician National Exam guide to get you started.
For great review manuals, we recommend Mosby’s Comprehensive Review for Veterinary Technicians and the Review Questions and Answers for Veterinary Technicians, or try the Workbook for McCurnin’s Clinical Textbook for Veterinary Technicians and the Veterinary Anatomy Flash Cards, all available online in 2023.
Lastly, we have a few handbooks to help guide you. Check out How to Become a Veterinarian: What They Do, How To Train, Daily Life As Vet, Is It Really The Right Career For You?, as well as The Merck Veterinary Manual, or how about the Exotic Animal Medicine for the Veterinary Technician and the Emergency Procedures for the Small Animal Veterinarian.
As we’ve seen, becoming a veterinarian is not for the work-shy. Dedication’s what you need. It can take eight to ten years to gain all the qualifications and experience you need for a career in this profession.
It’s also worth noting that unless you have wealthy and generous parents, you’re also likely to rack up a serious amount of student debt along the way. Any failure to finish what you’ve started could be financially disastrous. But for those who persevere, it can be an extremely rewarding career.
For them, all that hard work is worth it to be able to care for and improve the lives of the animals they love.
Thank you for caring, and all the very best with your career as a Veterinarian!