There’s never been any question about whether you would start down the path to becoming a veterinarian — it’s always been when. You took the time to make sure you were fully prepared before trying to get into vet school. But now you’re feeling ready to tackle those applications.
If you’ve started doing your own research, then you’ve probably noticed there are many vet school requirements you’ll need to complete for your applications. You might even feel a little bit overwhelmed.
Getting yourself organized is a great way to figure out how to proceed. We can help with that part. We’ve complied information about all the important requirements, thanks to some expert help. We’ve even got some tips on how to make sure your applications are as strong as possible.
Your simplified guide to vet school requirements
1. Complete all course prerequisites
Finishing a four-year college education isn’t necessarily required to enter a veterinary medicine program, but most schools do prefer applicants who obtain a bachelor’s degree. You’d need to take a fair number of college classes just to meet all the course prerequisites, anyway.
Choosing a major is up to you. You can feel free to pursue any degree you find interesting, so long as you make sure to perform well in all of your core science and math classes. Those are what veterinary school admissions teams are going to evaluate most critically out of all the courses on your transcripts.
“They want to make sure that students have been doing well in science courses along the way and that they’re going to be able to succeed in vet school,” explains Jeffrey Bates, Director of Student Enrollment at St. George’s University (SGU). Paying such close attention to one portion of your undergraduate education might seem harsh, but Bates says schools want to make sure they’re accepting students who are prepared. “If you're not doing well in biology and chemistry, you're probably going to have a tough time in veterinary school,” he adds.
"If you're not doing well in biology and chemistry, you're probably going to have a tough time in veterinary school."
It’s also wise to remember that some schools have minimum grade requirements, both for your science GPA and your overall GPA. Even those that aren’t as specific still have averages, so it’s smart to know where you stand.
2. Tackle the GRE
Test requirements vary depending on the school. For example, many Canadian veterinary medicine programs don’t expect applicants to complete a specific entrance exam. And some schools allow students to choose between the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).
In most cases, you’re going to be better off completing the GRE. It’s a comprehensive test that evaluates verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. Though the computerized option is offered much more frequently, the paper version is available in certain areas on specific dates.
"I always tell students to do as many practice exams as possible."
You obviously want to perform well on this entrance exam, so preparing is key. “I always tell students to do as many practice exams as possible and make sure that they are pacing themselves appropriately,” Bates says. He adds that many students who struggle with the GRE end up running out of time and leave too many questions unanswered. It may be worth signing up for a practice course if you’re still struggling after a few practice exams.
Try to think of the GRE as practical experience rather than a frustrating requirement. It may actually prepare you for obtaining your veterinary medicine license. “We want to ensure that students are good standardized test takers, because we want to make sure that they do well on their North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE) in the long run,” Bates explains.
3. Gain as much animal experience as you can
Animal experience might be the most important part of your application. Most schools require a minimum of at least a few hundred hours, and many expect even more. It’s also wise to seek as much variety as possible. “A lot of schools do require a breakdown of large-animal experience and small-animal experience,” Bates says.
Be sure to note whether schools differentiate between animal and veterinary experience. “As far as SGU goes, we really want to know that you’ve worked alongside a veterinarian long enough that you have truly seen what veterinarians do on a daily basis,” Bates explains. “You see the hurdles that they have — the ugly side of veterinary medicine.”
“You see the hurdles that they have — the ugly side of veterinary medicine.”
Additional exposure to animals can be helpful as well, but you should make sure you devote a lot of attention to veterinary experience. Shadowing a vet will always carry more weight than volunteering at an animal shelter.
4. Take your time crafting quality essays
The Veterinary Medical College Application Service (VMCAS), the application service most students use to apply to programs, recently changed the essay section. Applicants used to be responsible for a single personal statement with a 5,000-word maximum, but they’re now expected to respond to three essay prompts related to goals and positive qualities. The first two responses have a 1,500-character limit and the final one has a 2,000-character limit.
“Just be as concise as possible — and be honest.”
Though it can be daunting to answer such big questions, taking some time to reflect on why you want to be a vet and what you want to achieve can help guide you. “It’s really to allow the schools to get a better understanding of who you are as a person, and where you see your career going,” Bates says. “Just be as concise as possible — and be honest.”
Make sure to review specific requirements for each school you plan to apply to as well. Some might only require some of the essays, while others may specify additional written responses.
5. Secure great letters of recommendation
Veterinary programs want to know about the strategies you use to overcome problems, and also how you work with others. While your essays can speak to these specifics, it’s even more impactful to hear opinions from your instructors and supervisors. This is why letters of recommendation are so important.
VMCAS requires a minimum of three letters and a maximum of six, but make sure you examine each school’s requirements to ensure you understand the specifics. You want to make sure you obtain enough letters, but also that you choose the appropriate evaluators.
"We really prefer to see letters from veterinarians who students have worked with or shadowed."
“We really prefer to see letters from veterinarians who students have worked with or shadowed,” Bates explains. “Somebody you've been with long enough and can tell us more about you.”
You would also be wise to choose an evaluator with whom you’ve developed a close working relationship. “You want to ask somebody who knows you well and who may have seen you struggle — but overcome that struggle and succeed,” Bates notes.
6. Make sure to address any school-specific requirements
Some program-specific requirements, such as interviews or secondary applications, won’t require action until after you’ve submitted your initial application. But there are some veterinary programs that request additional application materials to be submitted through VMCAS. You’re better off reviewing these requirements well in advance to make sure you don’t forget anything.
The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) keeps a list of admissions requirements for individual schools. It’s worth reviewing these requirements for all schools you are considering.
7. Submit you VMCAS applications
While there are a lot of pieces that go into completing your application, VMCAS does make things a little bit easier. There’s even a timeline that can help you understand what you should be focusing on every step along the way.
Make sure all information has been filled out. Pay particular attention to the sections on evaluations and transcripts, and be sure you’ve paid all fees. You should receive an email notification when your application is complete, and your status within VMCAS should change to “received.”
Remember to be smart about applying to the right schools. Bates says many students apply to too many programs that might not accept them simply due to geographic location.
“Because most of the vet schools are funded by their state, many have to accept a large number of students from within that state,” Bates explains. He suggests asking programs how many out-of-state seats are available and making sure that your academic metrics are competitive for those slots.
While you wait to hear whether you’ve been accepted to these schools, work to tie up any loose ends and consider practicing your interview skills for programs that include an interview component.
Move forward with confidence
Considering vet school requirements one by one clearly helps make the application process less daunting. Instead of trying to tackle everything at once, you can use this guide to help you focus on each step as you approach it.
As we mentioned above, it’s a good idea to apply pretty broadly. But you’ll want to start focusing more on which schools you would prefer attending as you get closer to enrolling. If St. George's University (SGU) is on your list, you probably have some lingering questions. Learn about the School of Veterinary Medicine at SGU by checking out our article, "10 Things You May Not Know About the SGU School of Veterinary Medicine/"
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