Animal and Veterinary Experience. Everyone knows that having a good GPA in prerequisite courses is a must, but veterinary schools look at more than just grades and your GRE scores. Depending on the college, animal and veterinary experience count as 20-40% of your “admissions formula.” In other words, in most cases the animal and veterinary experience is weighted more than the individual components of your GPA, GRE scores, and essays. These experiences help you, the applicant, get a feel for what veterinary medicine encompasses and what type of medicine you might be interested in (large animal vs. epidemiology, exotic vs. research). They help you acquire animal handling skills, and in the best case scenario, help you learn some clinical skills (like how to analyze urine samples, draw blood, and stain ear smears). Furthermore, your animal and veterinary experience helps you develop interpersonal and teamwork skills, hone your communication skills, and develop your local network of veterinarians and other medical professionals. In later posts, I’ll give you some advice on the types of animal and veterinary experience you should try to get and some helpful tips on arranging those internships or jobs.
Extracurriculars and Employment. This is your chance to show vet schools how well-rounded you are. Employment duties as well as extracurricular activities are a testament to your responsibility, time management skills, and various other skills. This may sound rather wishy-washy, but showing admissions officers other aspects of your personality and some of your values really helps them get to know you as a person, which ultimately makes their admissions decision easier. Don’t list ALL your extracurriculars on your application; instead, focus on the activities that you were most involved in or in which you had a leadership role. For example, I listed my experience as a microbiology teaching assistant, my duties as program chair of my programmed housing, and summarized my various instrumental and choral endeavors.
Essays. Some schools require multiple essays, while others like Cornell require 250-character responses to prompts. You won’t have to worry about these until after you submit the VMCAS and are starting on any supplemental applications. Arguably the most important essay is the personal statement needed for the VMCAS application. The prompt (describe the development of your interest in veterinary medicine, any relevant activities or experiences, and your understanding of the medical profession) seems fairly generic, but it’s actually a chance to personalize your application. No one knows how closely an admissions officer will study your animal and veterinary experiences or if they’ll even bother scanning your employment and extracurricular activities sections, but you can bet that almost 100% will read your personal statement. It is not only an example of your writing and communication skills but also a window into your attitude, values, and personality. I highly recommend starting your personal statement early, even before filling out other portions of the application, and perhaps even writing multiple drafts on different topics. Also, getting anyone and everyone to read your draft is important. Having at least one veterinarian give feedback on your personal statement is extremely helpful; he or she will understand any technical references you write about and can also give you some personal advice on what to include in your essay.
I’m planning on writing a future post specifically on navigating the VMCAS application, so stay tuned for that if you’re interested. Read the next post for some helpful tips to keep in mind as you’re gaining veterinary experience and performing prerequisite coursework.