The path to veterinary school is, quite frankly, long and difficult; often the ‘easiest’ part of the whole process is making the decision to pursue veterinary school. My best overarching advice to anyone looking to apply for veterinary school is to be organized because there are a lot of moving pieces that need to be nailed down before you even start the formal application. Here are some points of advice that you might find helpful on your path to vet school!
- Pre-requisites: This is one you have to stay on top of and something I started my first semester of freshmen year of my undergraduate program. If you are making the decision to apply for veterinary school further into your undergraduate career, it is especially important that you plan accordingly to make sure you have all the necessary classes. It doesn’t matter what your major is so as long as you have all the pre-requisites. It is important to note, though, that even if you are at a school that has a specific ‘pre-veterinary’ major, you still need to make sure that major fulfills all the pre-requisites for veterinary school! The requirements for a university major may not allow the school to include ALL the pre-requisite courses within the major, so you may still need additional classes outside your major.If you go on the website for each vet school, they should have a pretty readily accessible page for their required pre-requisites. For the most part, the pre-requisites between schools are very similar, but some schools have specific pre-reqs – so don’t assume after looking at a few schools that all of them are the same! Also periodically check in; the year before I applied for vet school, a few pre-reqs were added and I had to scramble to fit them into my senior year.
- Choosing Schools: This might have been the most overwhelming part of the whole process for me, so I broke it down as logically as I could. If you have a ‘home school’ (in-state), make sure that school is on your list. From there, I made a chart with each and every veterinary school in the United States (If you are looking at schools in other countries, include those too! That just wasn’t an interest of mine). For each school, I looked at a variety of factors including minimum and average GPAs, GRE scores, tuition, number of applicant interview, class size, number of in-state vs. out-of-state students in each class, course requirements, how long students are in clinical rotations, and if they had the clinical rotations and electives I was interested in. It was a very labor intensive project, but it made me research each school to a very detailed degree, and let me explore the intricacies of each program.Then it came time to narrow down my choices. As someone interested in a career in equine veterinary medicine, a lot of schools were ruled out because they didn’t have specifically equine electives.I had to be brutally honest when narrowing my choices. You have to keep in mind that for each school you apply to, there is an additional fee. There is no ‘right’ number of schools to apply to, but for financial reasons, I limited myself to 4 schools. So, I had to realistically look at class sizes and how many out-of-state students were accepted. There were a couple schools I would’ve loved to go to, but knew in my heart of hearts that the chances of me getting in were slim to none based just on being an out-of-state applicant, so I chose to use those spots for other schools that have a larger proportion of out-of-state students.Tuition and geographic location were also factors I used to help narrow my choices.
- Extra-curriculars and Leadership: Having a 4.0 GPA is great, but the notion that ‘grades aren’t everything’ is becoming quite mainstream. Vet schools are looking for well-rounded individuals with not just the passion for veterinary science, but also interpersonal and communication skills, leadership qualities, and a life outside the classroom. Make sure you are building your resume in areas beyond your test scores. Explore a variety of clubs, activities, and volunteer opportunities – even if they are completely unrelated to veterinary science.
- The VMCAS: The Veterinary Medical College Application Service (VMCAS) might be the most time-consuming part. Much like the Common App for undergraduate college applications, the VMCAS has a central portion that is universal to all the veterinary schools, and then there are supplemental applications for each school. There are few schools that do not have supplemental applications, but the ones that do generally have an additional fee for submitting the supplemental – so plan accordingly. To tackle the VMCAS, I gave myself a personal deadline – I wanted to have everything done a month before the actual deadline. This meant picking away at the mundane stuff, like transferring over my resume/CV information, contact info, etc. while watching TV in the evenings or when I had a spare moment. For the parts that required more thought, like my personal statement, I kept a Word document open to jot down ideas. There’s a lot of information to cover in the essays within the VMCAS, and not a lot of characters in which to do it. I wrote out everything I wanted to say and then condensed to fit the parameters. I’d recommend having someone proofread all your supplemental essays, personal statement and the overall application to catch any typos you might have missed.At the end of the VMCAS application, there is a section where you have the ability to defend any part of your application if you feel it needs further explanation. It is a totally optional section; I know people who did not utilize that section because they did not feel the need to explain anything; I know people who didn’t feel the need to explain anything but still utilized the space to talk about their path to veterinary medicine. If you feel there is something that might cause a ‘red flag’ when the reviewers are looking over your application, do not be afraid to use that space, and do not be afraid to be totally honest.Be sure to plan ahead for your letters of recommendation, too. Most schools accept 3 letters; some will accept more (and actually look at them); others will accept more, but only look at the first 3, so choose wisely! Your recommenders should be individuals that know you more than as a student in a class; they should be able to speak to your character and why you are an outstanding individual and candidate for the veterinary profession. When I asked my recommenders, I specifically asked them if they felt comfortable writing a strong letter of recommendation for me. GPAs and test scores are pretty self-explanatory; an exceptional letter of recommendation speaks volumes, so I wanted to make sure that the individuals I asked were willing to advocate on my behalf.You will be required to have at least one letter from a veterinarian, but there is plenty of room for choice. One of my letters ended up being from my intercollegiate equestrian team coach who had never written a letter of recommendation for a prospective veterinary student, but I knew that she would be able to speak to my passion for the equine industry, for the veterinary field, and who I am as a person.
I asked my recommenders if they would write me letters the day that the VMCAS opened, promptly followed up with copies of my resume and CV, and any other information they needed. VMCAS actually sends your recommenders a link, so your only job after that is to make sure your letters are submitted on time, which you’ll be able to see in your application if they have been submitted or not. During my application cycle, we had the ability to set a deadline for our recommenders, so I set it as the month early deadline I’d given myself. But be sure to check in with your recommenders periodically; don’t rely on that deadline solely; not having your letters in can hold up your entire application.
- Stay Organized! I cannot stress this enough. Keep a checklist of pre-reqs you still have to complete. Keep a list of dates; when applications open, when they close, when you asked a recommender for a letter. Set mini-deadlines for yourself when moving through the VMCAS to keep yourself on track. It is something you do not want to have to leave until the last minute!
There is a lot to do between deciding you want to go to vet school and actually getting to vet school; the task can seem insurmountable. But if you break it down, make lots of checklists, stay organized, and never lose sight of the end goal; it is possible.
Good luck to everyone working on their applications this cycle!