Tuesday, February 7, 2017

How to Get into Veterinary School: The General Application Process

By Mary Harman

Is this where you want to be?
Photo by Elizabeth Martens.
The field of veterinary medicine is not only a profession that has been around for centuries, but is one that remains respectable and ever-expanding in the modern world. However, the field also remains a highly competitive one; according to the AAVMC (Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges) there are 30 accredited veterinary colleges in the United States and each one only accepts, on average, 80-100 students a year. There are also 25 accredited veterinary colleges outside of the United States if studying abroad is more your style. A full list of accredited vet schools is available on the AAVMC website. So, while a passion for animals and their care is indeed important to becoming a veterinarian, more aspects must be taken into account when looking into the field of veterinary medicine: the cost, work, applications, grades, and most importantly: reward. But if you’ve decided that you are willing to jump into this world, then there are a few things you need to do before you start applying.

The application process for vet school tends to be quite lengthy, and it is highly recommended that you begin this process long before the application deadlines. Most of the accredited veterinary colleges in the US and many outside the US require the completion of a Veterinary Medical College Application Service (VMCAS) application. This application is essentially a single, secure, online copy of your vet school application that can be distributed by AAVMC to your desired schools electronically. The goal is to allow you to keep all of your shadowing hours, courses taken, GPA, and personal information in one convenient location. Note that there is a fee associated with submitting your VMCAS application that is based on the number of schools you are applying to, and a strict VMCAS deadline each year (to learn more about the VMCAS: check out “VMCAS- In Depth!”-coming soon, or VMCAS FAQs).

One important thing to note is that you do not, and I emphasize the not, need a bachelor’s or even an associate’s degree to apply to veterinary school. However, there is often a list of college classes and credits that you need to complete before applying (see The Academic Phase, below). Since most veterinary schools require similar courses, they will also follow a similar application process that is designed to pick out the best applicants. These processes often involve at least three steps, or phases. Each one is important, but some colleges may lean more heavily on one of the three when making the final decision.

The Academic Phase

The Academic Phase is where the admissions staff look at your grades and all of the academic aspects of your application. They glance over the courses that you have taken to see if you have fulfilled the set of requirements they believe are important. In general, most vet schools require a minimum amount of English, math, and social science credits. They will also require general biology classes, including genetics, some form of animal biology or zoology, and several upper level biology classes (often including physiology, microbiology, and anatomy). Every school is different on the exact specifications of the classes they expect, so you should research the requirements for any school you are considering applying to. A List of course requirements for each AAVMC accredited school can be found here.

Getting into vet school requires lots of this.
Photo by Mary Harman.
The admissions staff also look at your cumulative GPA, and some schools will look at your science GPA and/or your GPA of your last 45 credits. Most veterinary colleges list the minimum GPA needed to apply as somewhere between 2.75 and 3.0; however, most have a competitive GPA between 3.5 and 3.75. That means that during senior and junior year, you need to work just as hard to maintain your grades as any other semester: No senioritis allowed (okay maybe a little, but that depends on the classes you are taking).

For studying advice, read this.

This is also where they look at your GRE composite score, but some schools will look at the individual sections as well. The GRE, or Graduate Record Examinations, is a standardized test that consists of three sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. The GRE is completely computerized and lasts about 4 hours. This test must be taken and sent to your preferred schools before you send in your applications. For many veterinary colleges, a competitive GRE composite score for admittance is above 300 out of a possible 346.

The Personal Phase

It is important to get a range of animal experience.
Photo by Mary Harman.
The Personal Phase is the section on the application where you will talk about yourself. This section often starts with a personal statement. The personal statement is basically where you explain why you want to go to vet school and why you think you have what it takes. This section is also where you include all the animal experience and veterinary experience you have obtained going all the way back through high school. There is no minimum number of hours of experience that is required for vet school, however most applicants have at least 500 hours.

Some schools will differentiate between animal experience and vet experience, so keep that in mind when you are applying to schools, and when you are obtaining your shadowing hours, internship and work hours, and volunteer opportunities. All of these areas count towards your experience one way or another. It is extremely important to try and work with a variety of animals, clinics, and vets to help your application stand out among the mountainous stacks of applications that the veterinary colleges receive.

Many veterinary colleges require that you shadow more than one vet in a certain discipline, and in other areas of the practice to make your application well-rounded; however, the general rule is that most of your shadowing hours should be with vets in the certain discipline you want to work in once you graduate. For example, if you wish to work in a small animal clinic after you graduate the majority of your hours shadowing should be with small animal vets. Keep in mind though, when you are in vet school you will be learning about and working with several different species.

Another benefit of shadowing is forming a professional relationship with the doctors, which can come in handy for obtaining your letters of recommendation, and also once you graduate and are searching for a job. The letters of recommendation are required for vet school, and most schools require three letters. The letters do not all have to be from veterinarians, but most prefer at least one letter of recommendation from a veterinarian. This generally nerve-racking task can be made slightly easier if you have already established a relationship with a vet that you have been shadowing or working with.

The Interview Phase

The interview phase is the most exciting, and probably the most nerve-racking, phase of the whole process. It often signals that out of all the applications received (some of the larger schools receive over 800 applications a year) the administrative members were impressed by yours, and would like to interview you personally. This is generally a good sign. For most schools a good interview can have a huge influence on your acceptance; good interview skills and be a major advantage in such a competitive process. If your undergraduate college offers a seminar on interview etiquette, it may be in your best interest to attend at least one. This way you can be prepared for your interview, and hopefully feel a little less nervous.

Another piece of advice, as you consider veterinary medicine, is that many prospective veterinary students find it helpful to go and visit their schools of interest. Don’t be shy about reaching out to the admissions directors about taking a tour of the facilities. Many veterinary colleges offer days that are strictly designed for interested students to go and get a tour of the school. These tour days usually are led by a student currently in the program, at least for a portion of the day, and most of them are super open about answering any questions you may have (after all, they were once in your shoes too).

The processes and preparations needed to get accepted to vet school requires an enormous amount of dedication and commitment to education (but it is possible I promise); you must be willing and eager to pursue shadowing hours, internships, and jobs, on your own. However, if you are willing to put in the work and the time required the reward is great. Some day you will get to go home from work with the knowledge that you are saving numerous animals’ lives, easing their pain and illness, and creating a sense of peace for the owners who call them family.


AAVMC website, FAQ’s

VMCAS FAQ’s and Instructions


For more advice on careers with animals, check this out.


  1. Our personal statement proofreading is often the most important part of your application no matter what subject area you are applying in or at what level. Often your grades and other qualifications are very similar to many of those competing with you for a place so your personal statement is the only area that allows you to differentiate yourself.

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