How long does it take to become a vet?
Earning your Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) generally takes eight years. This includes your four-year bachelor’s education plus the standard four years of professional school at a college of veterinary medicine. Some students opt for a gap year before applying to strengthen their profile, and there are also some who apply without completing their bachelor’s degree at all; most schools do not require a bachelor’s degree, but all of them will have a set of prerequisite courses that must be completed before you apply.
What are the usual prerequisite courses?
Prerequisites will vary by college, but the common courses are biology, general chemistry, biochemistry, physics, organic chemistry, and English composition. As with any application process, you should strive to do more than what is required in order to set you apart from other applicants. For example, taking the upper-level anatomy/physiology, zoology, microbiology, or animal science/animal production courses available to you as an undergraduate will distinguish you among your peers and give you a good foundation in subjects that will be covered in vet school.
What experiences must I have?
Applicants must gain veterinary experience before they apply to programs. Experience types can be volunteer or paid and must include shadowing (or working under the supervision of a veterinarian) to obtain clinical exposure. This is important because first-hand experience is key to understanding what you’re getting into, and also for proving to admissions that you truly understand what the work in your chosen field entails.
In addition to veterinary experience, you should also have other animal experience where you have learned about animal care/husbandry. Being a pet owner doesn’t count. However, if you have cared for production/farm animals or trained animals for shows or work, this would count. Volunteering in an animal shelter or rescue group are good ways to gain non-veterinary animal experience.
Veterinary experience and animal experiences are not the only experiences you should have. Those who evaluate your application want to see that you are a person with a diverse range of skills and interests. Other types of experience vet schools are interested in are: employment (not animal-related); extracurricular activities (e.g. sports, clubs, honor societies, hobbies); research; leadership and non-animal volunteer work.
What do I need to complete my application?
Besides course requirements and stellar grades, you will need at least three letters of recommendation (maximum six). You will also need to write a 3,000 character personal statement explaining why you want to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. This will be complemented by your list of experiences – each experience can be described in 600 characters.
Your application will be submitted through the Veterinary Medical College Application Service (VMCAS), which is a centralized service for applying to veterinary medical colleges. This service allows you to complete one application that will be sent to the schools of your choice.
What about standardized tests? The GRE is only required by a small handful of schools. However, some have replaced the GRE with the CASPer. CASPer is an online, open-response situational judgment test. The goal of this test is to determine behavioral tendencies of applicants pursuing people-centered professions. For some schools, the CASPer has replaced in-person interviews.
One thing to note – the VMCAS application deadline is September 15 at 11:59pm Eastern Time. If there are errors in your submission, corrections or resubmissions must be made before the application deadline of September 15. This point should highlight the importance of submitting well ahead of time.
Where do I get reliable information about Vet School?
The American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) is a non-profit dedicated to protecting and improving the health and welfare of animals, people, and the environment through the advancement of veterinary medicine. They provide leadership for 54 accredited veterinary medical colleges in the US and Canada, as well as the Caribbean, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and Mexico. They have curated a variety of resources to help you on your vet school journey, which can be found on the AAVMC website.
Advisor resources guide
The AAVMC recognizes the role advisors play in supporting and guiding applicants through the vet school preparation and application process. To this end, they have gone out of their way to provide advisors with tools and resources to help them advise students on how best to prepare successful applications. Their all-in-one advisor resources guide is a must have for anyone advising pre-veterinary students. Key sections in this guide include:
- Experiential preparation and core competencies
- How to approach sensitive topics (like low GPA and other “red flags”)
- Understanding the odds
Specifically, the AAVMC aims to support advisors so that we advisors can support and encourage veterinary school applicants from underrepresented and minority populations. I admire and support AAVMC’s desire to train a veterinary workforce that reflects a diverse society.
Elizabeth LaScala PhD guides college, transfer and graduate school applicants through the complex world of admissions. She helps students choose majors and programs of interest, develops best match college lists, offers personalized essay coaching, and tools and strategies to help students tackle each step of the admissions process with confidence and success. Elizabeth helps students from all backgrounds to maximize scholarship opportunities and financial aid awards. Call (925) 385-0562 or visit Elizabeth at her website to learn more.