The journey toward becoming a veterinarian begins long before the first day of class at a program. Students first need to go through the process of applying to vet school and ultimately gaining admission.
There are many different components involved in completing vet school applications, so having some advice about the process can be helpful.
Do’s and Don’ts when applying to vet school
Before you begin applying to vet school, take some time to familiarize yourself with these recommended tips and missteps to avoid.
Do focus on academic excellence
“Having a great GPA is very helpful to being accepted to any veterinary school,” says Dr. Sara Ochoa, a graduate of St. George’s University (SGU), a small animal and exotic veterinarian, and veterinary consultant for DogLab.
Admitted student data from the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) shows those who were accepted for the academic year beginning in 2020 had a mean overall GPA of 3.6 and a mean science GPA of 3.5. It’s also wise to remember that each veterinary school has slightly different expectations for prerequisite courses.
“Students have to take specific courses in the majority of sciences, math, and chemistry in order to even be considered as an applicant,” explains Dr. Joseph Masciana, an emergency and critical care resident at VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital and SGU graduate.
While it can seem intimidating to keep track of your major requirements along with vet school prerequisites, Dr. Masciana says working with your college’s pre-veterinary advisor can really help.
Don’t focus solely on expected activities
Countless students allow their desire to pursue veterinary medicine inform how they spend all their time during college, but bear in mind that you should think beyond performing well in your prerequisite courses and joining pre-vet organizations. What can you do to set yourself apart? Pursue other interests, such as sports, music, or anything else you enjoy doing outside of school.
“I was heavily involved with the American Cancer Society and Relay for Life, which is a cause that is very close to my heart,” Dr. Masciana recalls. “I was also president of our Colleges Against Cancer group at the same time in my senior year.”
Do gain a large volume and varied mix of relevant experience
AAVMC data shows vet school applicants gain a mean of 1,661 hours of veterinary experience and a mean of 1,132 hours of animal experience. While consistently participating in relevant activities is important, think about quality over quantity. For animal experience, Dr. Masciana suggests doing something that sounds fun.
“I know someone who actually travelled to a farm 200 miles away to get animal experience,” he says. “She did what she was passionate about and now likes farm work.”
When it comes to veterinary work experience, which refers to activities performed under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian, aim for variety. Dr. Ochoa recommends pursuing experiences with large, small, and exotic animals as well as those that introduce you to different veterinary specialties. Dr. Masciana acknowledges that it can be difficult to gain meaningful experience at first, so see how you can get your foot in the door.
“I started by going to a local emergency clinic and asking if I could just shadow—be in the room while the techs, assistant, and doctor did things,” he says. “Luckily, they let me do that, and I was later hired on as an assistant and a technician, and I also did some reception work.”
Don’t overextend yourself
It’s great to push yourself by completing difficult classes,but only take on what you can truly handle to ensure you maintain your academic performance.
“I see many pre-vet students take large loads of very hard classes all at one time or try to rush and finish undergrad in three years so they can go to vet school earlier,” Dr. Ochoa explains. “I find that students who spread out their hard classes with an easier class mixed in each semester do much better and have better GPAs.”
This advice also applies to pursuing rare veterinary experience opportunities—those activities should never interfere with schoolwork. “If you have the opportunity to shadow at a vet clinic but really need to study for tests, you should forgo that opportunity to study,” Dr. Ochoa advises.
Do start working on your vet school applications early
Because there are so many vet school requirements that go into an application, it’s wise get started early. Long before you ever log into the Veterinary Medical College Application Service (VMCAS), you need to complete prerequisites, accumulate relevant experience, and build strong relationships with professors or veterinarians who will eventually write letters of evaluation.
“Make sure that you have known that vet for at least a year,” Dr. Ochoa advises. “If you just started working at a vet clinic six weeks ago, that vet does not really know enough about you to write a great letter of recommendation.” Having letters that are great, not just good, is key.
“Anyone can write you a general letter, but you want your letter writer to be on your team advocating for you,” Dr. Masciana says.
Beginning as soon as possible is also helpful when you actually start filling out applications. There are many fields to complete, and you also need to include a polished personal statement. This essay is more important than you might expect.
“The personal statement is a chance to tell the admissions committee who you are, what you’re passionate about, and why they should choose you,” Dr. Masciana says.
Don’t stress over interviews
Vet school interviews are less common than they once were, but there are still plenty of schools that want to speak directly with applicants before deciding whom to admit. Receiving an interview offer means that the program is seriously considering you, so you should feel confident that they know you’re qualified. Furthermore, attending interviews is great preparation for your future career.
“Interview practice is always great because, after vet school, you’re going to have to interview for your job, internship, residency, externship, etc.,” Dr. Masciana says. “There are some great resources online about how to prepare for vet school interviews, but the best way is to ask someone at that school or someone in admissions.”
Do be thoughtful when it comes to choosing a vet school
There are many factors you might consider when deciding among a few veterinary schools. Dr. Ochoa suggests simplifying by thinking about cost, where you would be happiest, and which program best fits your specific interests. The SGU School of Veterinary Medicine, for instance, is a great choice if you want to gain a substantial amount of hands-on experience or pursue a dual degree.
Dr. Masciana also recommends looking into first-time pass rates on the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE) to see how students from different schools fare. He also suggests gaining some firsthand insight.
“You can call most veterinary schools and ask to speak to a current student,” he notes.
Once you identify which veterinary school is the right fit, you can begin preparing for the exciting journey ahead.
Ace your vet school applications
With a thoughtful approach and plenty of hard work, you should feel confident about your odds of success when applying to vet school. You may even receive acceptance offers from more than one program.
Make sure you know how to choose the best education option for you by reading our article “6 Things the Top Veterinary Schools Have in Common.”