January is the special month when pre-vet students learn if they made it into vet school or not. After all of the preparation, hopes, and dreams, bad news is depressing. And unfortunately, an overused saying is that “there is always next year.” So here is my two cents on getting back in the saddle and making the most of this next year, including the advice I received on getting into vet school and what I think worked for me. Please remember that I only know about the two schools I applied to (CSU and WSU), and that things may have changed in the last few years. This is just my advice and by no means a guaranteed path into vet school.
It’s a numbers game: Applicants should have at least 500 to 1500 hours of vet experience, depending on the college you are applying to. This can include internships, work experience, and volunteering. Don’t forget, every vet experience counts and shows applicants’ diversity of experiences, enthusiasm, and willingness to try something new. A range of vet experience is probably a good thing, too. Small animal emergency is different from large animal chute work, and a single vet practice is different from a hospital with board-certified specialists. Try everything; even if the experience is not positive, at least you will learn something.
It’s about diversity: Animal experience plays a big part in the application. I was told to get animal experience in four areas: large animal, small animal, exotics, and lab work or research.
The GPA: I was told that this is one of the main screening tools for the acceptance committees. First, the overall GPA should be above a 3.5, at least, and the average for CSU and WSU is often between 3.6 and 3.8. The grades received in pre-vet courses weigh more heavily than an art elective, and science courses like organic chemistry are particularly important. Also, the credit load in conjunction with grades is looked at, so it is important to take 15-18 credits rather than 12 credits.
The GRE: This was a pain in the butt for me; when I took this test, loud construction was going on in the next room. There are three components to this test: verbal, quantitative, and analytical writing; scores above a 60% in each area should be competitive. It is a good idea to take the test early so that you have time to retake it if necessary and that you will get your official scores back in time for your application.
Employment, Honors, and Community Activity: These are the catch-all sections that show off the applicants and are a really good place to stand out. List all extracurricular activities, community involvement, leadership, and communication experiences. This is an area that you can demonstrate that you are well-rounded, mature, a future leader, and are willing to go above and beyond the regular requirements. Multi-cultural experiences could also be beneficial in this area. This is where you can list all the activities that do not fit under animal or vet experiences, but make you a good candidate for the vet program.
Personal Evaluations: The application asks for three letters of recommendations; make sure you talk to these three individuals early! Vets especially are busy and may take a long time to write these. I asked two vets and a professor to write mine. Provide these three with your updated resume so they can be thorough on the evaluations, and don’t forget a formal “Thank You” afterward.
Personal Essay: This is a tricky part of the application and I have heard a lot of different approaches. One thing I was told was, “Don’t just write about how you love animals.” My approach was to use a personal story to highlight all of the different aspects of vet med and why I loved each, then reviewed my work and volunteer experience,“selling” the committee on my leadership and communication skills and showing what I would bring as a vet student. Other students said that they discussed personal hardships that they have overcome or a singular moment that made them want to be a vet.
From personal experience, recording everything during undergrad and even reaching back to high school for some important experiences is helpful. Buy a little booklet that will fit in your back pocket and bring it to every (EVERY) event you participate in. Record the date, the event, the coordinator or person in charge, and the time you dedicated. This will help immeasurably when filling out your application, and also for future scholarship applications and resumes. I have been told over and over that schools are looking for the complete package, so every little experience counts!