Now that the beginning of my first semester of veterinary school is drawing eerily close, I have been doing a lot of reflecting on exactly what I did to get here. What steps along the way helped me decide that this was the career for me, and what did I do to set myself apart from other applicants in order to be accepted to not one but three different programs? I thought I would share some of these thoughts with anyone here for anyone considering going to veterinary school.
When it comes to studying in your undergraduate program, my advice is to push yourself. Show your professors what you are capable of. Make your grades, especially in your science classes, your priority. What you learn in these classes will be the foundation for veterinary school, so absorb as much as you can. Being competitive and engaged in your lectures and labs will help you stand out, and it will pay off for you in the end with glowing letters of recommendation. Prepare well in advance for the GRE and any other standardized tests you need to take to apply for veterinary school. I started sporadically studying for the GRE about six months in advance, and I buckled down about 2 months before my test date.
I knew that one of the most important factors for my acceptance into vet school would be my shadowing experience. I took calculated steps to make sure I had a broad range of experiences. For one summer, I shadowed one to two days a week at a large animal clinic. Being that I don’t plan to end up in a large animal practice, I did not allocate as much time to shadowing in a large animal clinic as I did for the small animal practices. However, I still made sure I had a sufficient number of large animal shadowing hours to include on my application! This is important! Even if you don’t think you want to work in a particular section of animal medicine, you still need to do some shadowing in that area to show that you have some understanding of the nature of the work.
The next summer, I started shadowing at a small animal hospital several days a week, and that experience turned into paid employment in the fall! If you can get in the door and show the hospital staff that you are motivated and you care, it could very easily turn into a part-time job for you during the school year. This gives you more hours and experience to add to your application, and you will hopefully make friendships and professional connections in that clinic. Both doctors and one of the techs I worked with happily wrote me letters of recommendation when I applied to vet school!
The last real shadowing experience that I documented on my application was from a zoo! I had no idea that zoos would allow shadowing, but I contacted a zoo a few hours from home that does month long internships and they supply housing for their interns! I found out that there are several zoos that do this. I was not able to take a month off from work, but this zoo was able to work with my schedule and let me come shadow for a whole week! I think this really helped with my application because it can be very difficult living in a predominately rural area to get experience with exotic animals. My zoo internship actually became a talking point at one of my vet school interviews, and really helped me connect with one of the interviewers, as she specialized in exotic animals!
The last two places to really focus are on your volunteer and extra-curricular activities. I was lucky enough to be able to volunteer for two and a half years at an animal outreach program associated with my university. I was able to be involved with the daily care of multiple birds of prey, reptiles, mammals, and amphibians. While your volunteer time certainly doesn’t have to be animal related, it was very meaningful to me and helped me focus in on my career goals. As for my extra-curricular activities, the one that stands out the most was working as a university ambassador. This is the person that gives college tours to incoming students. This really helped me with my people skills and prepared me to answer some off the wall questions similar to what I was asked in my interviews.
The one thing I regret is not being able to be involved in any published research. My undergraduate university did offer several opportunities for research, but due to time constraints, I had to make the choice between working at my job and being more involved with research. While I do regret not being able to be involved with more research, I feel that the experience I learned while working was just as applicable to my future! If you are able to include research on your application, I recommend it!
I would say the most important preparation you can make for applying to veterinary school is to make yourself stand out from the crowd. Push yourself in your classes, do your best to always be engaged, try to ask relevant questions. Diversify your experiences so you have a lot that you can talk about during interviews.