Not many people have a clear idea of what they want to do for a living until they’re a few decades old. You’re the exception. Your sights have been set on becoming a veterinarian since you were a child.
Now you’re feeling ready to start applying to veterinary programs, but you’re a bit nervous about one application requirement: the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). For whatever reason, your exam performance doesn’t always reflect how much you know.
You find yourself wondering how critically admissions committees evaluate vet school GRE scores. Could a substandard score cause schools to discount an otherwise stellar application? Keep reading to find out how much your GRE performance matters and what other factors you should keep in mind.
Do vet school GRE scores really matter?
Every veterinary medicine program cares about academic metrics, and that includes the GRE. This test has three portions – verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing – and you’ll receive a score for each section. Veterinary programs obviously want to accept applicants who’ve demonstrated a clear understanding of the material, but they also want to make sure students ultimately succeed.
Every future vet will have to pass a standardized test, the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE), in order to practice. Your GRE performance can actually help veterinary programs form a rough idea of how well you’ll perform on the NAVLE. There’s even research to support this idea.
Clearly, you want to perform well on the GRE. There isn’t really a set number or percentile that will guarantee you get accepted, but you can get a better idea of where you stand by examining data from the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC). The class of 2022 averaged GRE percentile scores of 65.1 for verbal reasoning and 53.5 for quantitative reasoning.
It’s also a good idea to evaluate schools individually. Though it’s unlikely any of them will list minimum scores or percentiles, programs typically share their averages each year. You can reach out to the schools directly if you have any difficulty locating this information online.
5 Other important factors beyond the GRE
Veterinary programs consider numerous criteria when evaluating each applicant. Some give a little more weight to academic performance, others lean more toward nonacademic factors, and some consider both types of criteria equally.
Regardless of the exact breakdown, there are certain criteria that matter significantly to nearly every admissions committee. It’s a good idea to focus on making these portions of your application as strong as possible to help increase your odds of acceptance.
This sounds simple enough, but it’s important to know that veterinary programs evaluate both your overall GPA and your science GPA. The mean science GPA for accepted vet students who will graduate in 2022 was 3.5, and the mean overall GPA was 3.6. You should also know that many programs focus more closely on your last 30 to 45 credits.
Examining a student’s performance near the end of their education might seem odd, but schools like to see positive trends. Someone who has a stronger overall GPA might be less appealing than an applicant who performed significantly better near the end of their undergraduate education.
Don’t count yourself out if your GPA is on the low side, either. Remember, expectations differ by school, and many pay closer attention to how you perform near the end of your education. You can also help yourself out by buckling down on science prerequisites you still need to complete.
2. Animal experience
On the nonacademic side, animal experience is one of the most important criteria veterinary schools evaluate. Maintaining a 4.0 GPA and obtaining GRE scores in the 90th percentile aren’t going to matter if you feel uncomfortable around sick and injured animals. You need to prove you’re dedicated to the field and understand what you’re getting yourself into.
While few schools require a specific amount of animal experience, you should aim for a minimum of a few hundred hours. You should particularly focus on getting as much experience as you can working alongside, or under the supervision of, a veterinarian. Many schools actually require at least one letter of recommendation be from a veterinarian with whom you’ve worked.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) says programs also like to see applicants with a wide variety of experiences. Aim for a mix of small- and large-animal experiences with different types of vets—and don’t forget about research and other relevant activities. Some schools even consider participation in 4-H as animal experience.
While you won’t be expected to show proof of your hours, keeping a log is a good way to make sure you’re being honest. A simple notebook or spreadsheet will work.
3. Letters of recommendation
Letters of evaluation are not only required when applying to veterinary schools, but they’re also among the most important criteria programs consider. They allow admissions committees to hear from someone who’s worked with you and has a good understanding of your skills and overall attitude.
If you’ve been diligent about gaining animal experience, you’ll be in a good position to ask for letters. Make sure you select evaluators who can write you a strong recommendation. You also want to allow your evaluators plenty of time to write a strong letter. And be sure you provide them with any materials they may need to complete the task, such as your resume and transcripts.
The essay portion of the Veterinary Medical Colleges Application Service (VMCAS) recently changed from a single personal statement to three separate essays. That’s a pretty good indicator of how important this portion of your application is.
You’ll be expected to address your future goals, how veterinarians contribute to society, and how your skills and qualities lend themselves toward veterinary medicine. You should write essays that demonstrate why you would be a good vet by backing up your assertions with specific examples. It’s not enough to talk about how excited and smart you are.
5. Extracurricular activities and other experiences
Have you received any awards or special honors? Did you overcome some sort of adversity as a student? The AAVMC reports many schools have moved to a holistic review process in recent years to account for nonacademic factors. Any experiences that demonstrate perseverance, leadership, or communication skills can give your application an edge.
Put your best foot forward
While strong vet school GRE scores certainly matter, you can see they’re just one component of your overall application. Most veterinary programs take a look at the whole picture. They want to choose students who will make great veterinarians, not just students with the highest test scores.
If you put together a strong overall application, you have every reason to believe you can gain acceptance to a veterinary school. But make sure you don’t enroll in just any program. Learn more about how to make a smart decision by reading our article “6 Things the Top Veterinary Schools Have in Common.”
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