Pursuing veterinary medicine isn’t something you decided to do on a whim. While you’ve been thinking about it for years, you made sure to investigate different career options for veterinarians and gather some initial experience first. You wanted to be sure you were making the right decision.
Now that you’re looking into veterinary programs, it’s worth taking a similarly thoughtful approach. Not all schools are equal, after all. You want to make sure you choose program that will provide you with the education and support you need to succeed.
You’ll need to do your research to make sure you’re focusing on quality programs. We’ve made things a little bit easier for you by compiling some of the characteristics the top veterinary schools have in common. Keep these criteria in mind as you begin comparing programs.
Characteristics you’ll find at the top veterinary schools
1. A supportive environment
Attending a widely respected program won’t matter much if you feel like you’re falling behind. You need to make sure you choose a school that truly values its students and their success by making sure no one slips through the cracks.
"The first thing you want to ask is, ‘If I’m struggling in a class, what support is there for me?’"
Jeffrey Bates, Director of Student Enrollment at St. George’s University (SGU) says, “The first thing you want to ask is, ‘If I’m struggling in a class, what support is there for me?’” He also suggests specifically asking about tutoring and whether there are any options for developing test-taking skills. The more robust the student support services, the better.
There’s no need to feel that preparing for academic struggles is admitting some sort of weakness. In fact, it’s pretty common for students to experience at least a little bit of difficulty. “I find every veterinary student has at least one class along the way that gives them some trouble,” Bates explains.
2. A significant amount of hands-on training
More and more graduates are seeking additional training after completing veterinary school. Some choose to complete a residency to obtain board certification in a specialty, but many are pursuing voluntary internships. Why would they do this? Some evidence suggests graduates are choosing internships because they don’t feel prepared for full-time employment immediately after school.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with pursing an internship, but you don’t want to be forced into one due to inadequate experience during school. You can avoid this issue by choosing a veterinary program that emphasizes plenty of hands-on animal experience.
It isn’t always easy to tell how much you’ll get to work with animals at different programs by reading their websites. This is why Bates suggests attending the American Pre-Veterinary Medical Association (APVMA) Symposium, an annual event that enables prospective students to speak with representatives from veterinary schools. “That's a great way to talk to all these schools and ask them questions,” he says.
“That's a great way to talk to all these schools and ask them questions."
You can also learn about how much a school prioritizes clinical experience by talking to graduates. Bates recommends asking “How prepared were you at the time of graduation to secure a job and immediately start working?”
Those who are actively going through veterinary school are another great resource. “Try to talk to current students at those schools,” Bates recommends. “Find out how they're enjoying it and learn exactly what they're working on at that point in time.”
3. A tradition of successful graduates
Impressive graduate outcomes are another great way to recognize a top veterinary school. Performance on the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE) is one way to measure this. Look into what percentage of graduates pass this exam on their first try, and then compare to the average for all schools. For the 2017–2018 school year, 89.1 percent of seniors attending accredited veterinary programs who were taking the NAVLE for the first time passed the test.
And don’t be afraid to get even more specific. Ask the admissions team what types of work graduates do, especially if you want to pursue a particular field. It’s also a good idea to talk to graduates about how satisfied they are with their careers.
4. Opportunities to pursue your specific interests
Even if you don’t have set plans for your future, you likely have some idea of the career paths you might like to pursue. A truly great Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program should give you plenty of opportunity to dive deep into those areas. Bates says you should ask, “Is there a club to help me get more experiences in that specific area?”
“Is there a club to help me get more experiences in that specific area?”
Instead of merely looking into the top veterinary schools, think about searching for the top veterinary schools for you. “It’s for students to decide what they are looking to do with their degree and seeing if there is a school that can better gear them toward that field than some of the others would,” Bates explains. Failing to take your individual preferences into account could mean running into limitations, particularly when it comes time to complete your clinical rotations.
Maybe you’re considering a veterinary school in a rural area that focuses heavily on food animals and horses. This is a great scenario for someone who wants to be a large animal vet, but it’s not a particularly good situation if you want to pursue a career working with exotic animals at zoos. You likely won’t be able to gain the types of clinical experiences that will best prepare you for your desired career.
5. Exceptional faculty members
Your education is only as good as your teachers. Experienced instructors are simply going to do a better job of communicating material. “I always encourage students to visit all the schools’ websites, because each school is required to list their faculty members,” Bates says.
"You want to make sure that most of your professors are DVMs, that they're board-certified, that they have a history of teaching."
When reviewing faculty profiles, consider things like published work and academic credentials. “You want to make sure that most of your professors are DVMs, that they're board-certified, that they have a history of teaching,” Bates advises. “That is something students should really look into.”
6. Great facilities
As with human medicine, veterinary medicine relies heavily on technology. You want to make sure you attend a school that maintains modern facilities and is quick to adopt new types of equipment. Once again, talking to current students is a good idea. They can help you understand whether a given program prioritizes quality facilities.
It’s also a good idea to visit school campuses. You don’t necessarily need to do this for every program you apply to, but it’s best to schedule a trip before you enroll in any school that offers you a seat. You’ll be able to tell right away if the facilities are up-to-date.
Select your school wisely
Now you’re equipped to determine which programs are truly the top veterinary schools. You would be wise to question any program that’s lacking in any of the qualities we highlighted above. If you’re unable to find any details you need to make an informed decision, make sure to directly contact the veterinary program in question.
If the School of Veterinary Medicine at St. George’s has made your list of programs, take your investigation a step further. Learn more about program and campus highlights by reading our article, “10 Things You May Not Know About the SGU School of Veterinary Medicine.”
Ready to start your veterinary school journey?Learn More