The field of veterinary medicine comprises professionals who work on behalf of the health and welfare of animals. To study animal medicine, students should attend veterinary school. Veterinary schools offer various degrees and certificates depending on their programs and requirements. Those who work in the field of veterinary medicine are medically trained through a rigorous course load that prepares them to monitor the health of animals, ensure human public health and safety, and participate in medical research.
Veterinary schools offer undergraduate and graduate programs that lead to degrees in animal medicine. To become a veterinarian, a person must earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree and become licensed to practice. Most veterinary schools educate people who already have a bachelor’s degree in pre-veterinary studies, biology, or another science-related field. Veterinary school usually requires undergraduate coursework in biology, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, physics, statistics, and other areas of mathematics and science. Veterinary schools offer rigorous programs that require students to understand the anatomies of different species of animals.
Going to veterinary school will require admission tests such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), the Veterinary College Admission Test (VCAT), or the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Students typically follow a four-year program that includes courses in animal sciences, diagnostic medicine, and hands-on experiences in animal hospitals. Veterinarians can specialize in a certain area of veterinary studies through three- or four-year residencies, which they can pursue after earning a DVM and passing the required licensing exam. In addition to the intense schooling, veterinarians must pass a state licensing exam in order to be able to practice veterinary medicine. These exams vary from state to state and are comprehensive tests of candidates’ animal science knowledge.
Many veterinary schools offer programs other than, or in addition to, the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree program. People interested in pursuing a career as a veterinary technician can earn two- or four-year degrees in veterinary technology. Veterinary technicians provide support in veterinary offices, at veterinary hospitals and care clinics, and at biomedical laboratory research facilities. A veterinary technician can become a Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT), Licensed Veterinary Technician (LVT), or Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT). The specific meanings and requirements of these designations are dependent on the state in which the veterinary technician is working.
Preparing for Veterinary School
The application process for entrance to veterinary school is highly competitive, and students should be familiar with the requirements of each school to which they plan to apply. Many veterinary schools do not require a bachelor’s degree; however, they do require that a student has completed at least two to three years of full-time college work and maintained a 3.0 grade point average. Many schools with programs in veterinary medicine also request potential students to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), the Veterinary College Admission Test (VCAT), or the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).
While there are some undergraduate veterinary school programs, it is far more common for students to pursue veterinary medicine in graduate school. In general, students interested in entering veterinary school should plan to major in pre-veterinary medicine if it is offered at their institution. Other possible majors include chemistry, biology, zoology, and math. Pre-veterinary medicine programs include coursework in biology, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, animal science, physics, statistics, and other math and science courses. They also include writing and communication courses, as the ability to communicate effectively is a requirement for a good veterinarian. If a school does not offer a major in pre-veterinary medicine, students should gain strong backgrounds in science and math, as well as communications. Most veterinary schools do not require a major in pre-veterinary medicine; the most important things veterinary programs look for in potential candidates are a strong background in science and math and actual veterinary observation or experience.
High school students interested in increasing their chances of pursuing veterinary medicine or pre-veterinary medicine as undergraduates should have strong experience and comfort with advanced math and science coursework. College students interested in entering a graduate program in veterinary medicine, which eventually leads to a doctoral degree in veterinary medicine (DVM), should also have followed a rigorous program of advanced math and science courses during their undergraduate years. All science courses should include a lab.
Experience with animals is also an important factor in one’s application to programs in veterinary medicine. This experience could be paid or volunteer, and it can include work at an animal shelter, a veterinarian’s office, a laboratory that uses animals, or in any other capacity. Many entrance committees at veterinary schools also require a personal essay to accompany applications. Personal essays should include reasons why candidates are applying to veterinary school and relevant experiences and goals. Personal essays should also showcase the applicant’s relevant animal experience, coursework, and ability to communicate well.
Choosing a Veterinary School
Admission to veterinary school is highly competitive, and potential candidates should wisely consider several issues when they are choosing before they apply to a school. Students should consider what kind of veterinarian they want to be. Among the many specialties from which to choose are orthopedics, internal medicine, and geriatrics. Students can also consider what kinds of animals they want to treat: exotic animals, wildlife, small pets, livestock, large animals, and others. Potential veterinarians can choose how they plan to work: by running their own small practice, working for another veterinarian in a clinic, working in a laboratory for a corporation, or in a research facility for the government. These are just some of the many options aspiring veterinarians should consider.
Students should research various veterinary schools to find out which ones offer coursework in the field or fields in which they are interested. Talking to current students or recent graduates of veterinary schools gives potential students information about schools, as does speaking with the admissions office. Many school websites provide valuable information about current students and recent graduates, such as percentage of job placement and even contact information for those who are interested in talking with students. Another factor to consider is location: Is the school’s location a place where you want to spend time? Job placement, internship opportunities, and clinical experience availability may also be important to potential veterinary school students.
Students should contact schools in which they are interested to get information about tuition, financial aid, employment opportunities, and housing. Students should visit the schools in which they are interested. They should take a guided tour of the campus and the facilities, as well as note the area around the school. Potential veterinary school students should make sure this is a place where they will want to spend a lot of time.
Before applying to veterinary school, a prospective student should understand the costs involved. Tuition costs and the costs of living vary dramatically from school to school, so students should be certain about financial feasibility before applying. Another factor to consider when applying to state schools is the number of out-of-state students that are accepted. Some schools only accept a limited number of out-of-state students, and tuition varies depending on whether a student is considered in-state or out-of-state. Students will be spending at least four years at their veterinary schools, so they should be aware of all their options and complete thorough research when considering veterinary schools.
Veterinary School Accreditation
Students interested in veterinary schools should only consider schools and programs that are properly accredited. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is the foremost authority for accreditation of veterinary schools and educational programs. The Council on Education (COE) of the AVMA determines accreditation for Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) and other veterinary education programs. The AVMA’s Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (CVTEA) determines accreditation status to veterinary technology programs. Accreditation is important so that students know their education meets or exceeds standards established by the veterinary medicine community. This is even more important when it comes to
online veterinary schools.
It is essential that anyone interested in attending veterinary school understand the issues surrounding accreditation. Graduating from AVMA-accredited schools vs. non-AVMA-accredited schools affects the graduate’s licensure and career opportunities. Because of rigorous accreditation standards, the AVMA ensures that students who graduate from AVMA-accredited schools have achieved specified learning goals and are prepared to begin professional practice. In addition, the veterinary medicine community and the public can be assured that students graduating from AVMA-accredited schools are well-educated in contemporary veterinary medicine, technological advances, modern medical theories, public health concerns, safety issues related to veterinary care, and medicine. Prospective veterinary school candidates should understand the importance of accreditation by the COE of the AVMA.
Rankings of Veterinary Schools
Students interested in pursuing a degree at a veterinary school should consider issues pertinent to the rankings of various veterinary schools. It is difficult to assess rankings for veterinary schools, such as "top veterinary schools", because there are so few veterinary colleges. The 28 veterinary schools in the United States are all accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and, therefore, are considered schools whose students will meet or exceed established standards set by the veterinary medicine community.
U.S. News and World Report ranks veterinary schools by weighing several factors, such as research funding, faculty resources, student selectivity, mean VCAT scores, and student acceptance rate. Because schools can differ so dramatically with regard to programs, a general ranking of all 28 schools is generally unreliable. One school may have a good large-animal program, while another has an excellent exotic-animal program. Many in the academic veterinary community regard rankings of veterinary schools as irrelevant. Prospective students should pay attention to programs in which they are interested, rather than these rankings. Prospective students can rest assured that they are attending a “good” veterinary school if it is accredited by the AVMA, and they should base their choice for veterinary school on the school that offers the aspects in which the student is interested.
Last Updated: 08/20/2013