There are only so many veterinary schools in the US and Canada and each one is unique. After you’ve submitted your VMCAS applications and waited for what seems like an eternity, you start to receive decision letters. And if you’re fortunate to have been accepted to not only one school, but multiple, now comes another challenging part of the vet school application process: deciding which school to attend. Here’s a breakdown of some criteria I think are key areas to evaluate when it comes to choosing the right veterinary program for you.
Warm or cold? East coast or west? Close to home and family, or get me outta there? This can be a big factor when it comes to deciding on a school. You should consider how easy it is to travel to or from your school. How often will you want to go home or leave town? Is there a major or regional airport nearby? What is the city like? Is there stuff to do outside of vet school (yes, you must get out once in a while or else you’ll go crazy).
For many of you, this will be one, if not the most, important factor. When it comes down to the difference in cost between an out-of-state tuition versus in-state tuition, the numbers are staggering. Often times, out-of-state tuition is over twice that of in-state. This can translate to a difference of over $150,000 in just tuition costs. Add in loan interest and you’re looking at a difference of $280,000 over a 20-year loan repayment period.* Crazy, right? And I’m just talking about tuition here. You’ll need loan money to live, too.
*This example compares a $150,000 loan vs $300,000 loan payed over 20 years at 7% interest
You may have noticed that veterinary school class sizes have increased drastically over the past couple of decades. Not long ago class sized averaged about 50 students and now we’re seeing averages exceeding 100 students. Typically, the smaller the class size the better, but this probably shouldn’t be a make-or-break criterion.
Teaching Hospital and Caseload
First off, does the school have a teaching veterinary hospital? The vast majority do, but some don’t, and that can make clinical training more challenging. The next question would be how high is the caseload at the hospital? Is it adequate for you to see a variety of cases? Are the patients from the community or are they from a teaching herd or group? In my opinion, you want your clinical training to be as similar as possible to practice out in public.
Years in Clinical Rotations
The majority of vet schools structure their curriculum as 2-3 years as didactic (lecture) training, and the other 1 year as clinical rotations. We’re starting to see more schools structure the training more like human medical schools where 2 years are spent in didactics and 2 years are spent in clinical rotations. If your goal is to be a clinician or if you are a better learner in a practical setting versus lectures, this may be an important factor for you.
NAVLE Pass Rate
In order to be accredited, North American vet schools are required to have a NAVLE pass rate of at least 80%. But the higher the better. It’s not uncommon for schools to have rates close to or at 100%. Though this isn’t a perfect indicator of the quality of training, it can give you a good idea.
Areas of Specialty
We’re lucky to have a wide range of specialty areas of medicine. Does the school have any strengths in these areas? Which specialty services are offered at the hospital? What elective classes are offered during your didactic training? For example, if you are interested in exotics does the school do any work with exotic species? Or if you’re interested in oncology, is there a boarded oncologist or oncology service at the hospital?
Time Allowed for Off-Campus Training (Externships, Preceptorships, etc.)
Veterinary school teaching hospitals are great for many reasons, but sometimes the work we do there does not mirror what veterinary medicine is like in private practice. Check to see how much time you are allowed to spend off campus during your clinical year(s) for training at other sites. This time can be incredibly rewarding and educational. Also, some states even require a certain number of hours of off-campus externships in order to obtain a veterinary license.