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Steps to Becoming a Veterinarian

There are 30 veterinary schools accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) in the U.S.  There were nearly 6,800 applicants competing for approximately 2,700 openings in 2013. In other words, it is very competitive to gain admission to a veterinary school.

Admission requirements for veterinary schools have many things in common; however the specific requirements may vary among schools. It is therefore advisable to become familiar with the entrance requirements (PDF) early in your career as this may affect course selection especially after your first year of college.

Most U.S. veterinary schools utilize the centralized application service operated by the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (Veterinary Medical College Application Service-VMCAS). This application service accepts your application and your letters of evaluation and distributes them to each school you indicate. Applicants should make sure to submit their transcripts to VMCAS.  Many schools have a supplemental application as well and require that this information be sent directly to the school.

Steps to Take

In High School: Start preparing as early as you can

Take all the mathematics, chemistry, biology, and physics courses which are available to you in middle and high school; they will open up many career opportunities in college including veterinary medicine.

In College: Undergraduate Degree Program

Choose a degree program which will provide you a strong grounding in the biological and physical sciences. Make a list of degree programs at various universities and colleges and visit them individually.  Find a program that will suit your needs the best.  There are various undergraduate pathways to study prior to be admitted to vet schools.

Penn State Program

All the required courses for you to get admitted to most vet schools are required in the Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences Program at Penn State.

Essential College Criteria

Criteria that you should accomplish during your undergraduate degree before your application to Veterinary Colleges

  • Grade Point Average (GPA): Maintain a competitive GPA, preferably 3.5 or higher. Most veterinary schools examine courses taken in the last 3-4 semesters closely.
  • Animal and Clinical Experience: Volunteer with a veterinarian to gain wide variety of animal and clinical experience, and appreciation for the veterinary medical field. This might be an opportunity to find out if veterinary medicine is for you.
  • Graduate Record Examinations: You think that you are done after taking SATs or ACTs for your college applications.  Not quite!  The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is widely accepted by most veterinary colleges while MCAT is another standardized test that is accepted by some in addition to by Medical Schools.  Check each school’s web page for their target standardized test scores. 
  • Letters of Recommendation: Choose three individuals to provide letters of recommendation. One is required from an academic adviser; one is required from a veterinarian; and the third one can be from an individual of your choice (typically one of your course instructors).  It is important to get to know your academic adviser and/or professors during your college education.  Some schools may require letters from two veterinarians. The application will give you a choice to waive your right to see letters of evaluation. You also have the choice not to waive that right and therefore request to see the letters after your application has been evaluated.  While it is your right to see the letters, our advice is to waive the right to examine the letters. Evaluators will know before they write the letter if you have waived the right to see the letters or not. Some schools will think that evaluators may be hesitant to make negative comments about students do not waive their right to examine the evaluations. This can influence the evaluation of that letter by the admission committee.
  • Leadership and communication skills; and co-curricular activities: It is highly recommended that you get involved in student club activities, such as, Pre-Vet club which will provide you numerous opportunities to serve in your community which will provide you to interact with people from all walks of life.  Make effort to hold an officer position or to serve on a committee which will provide numerous opportunities to gain leadership and communications skills.  Remember admission committee is looking for tomorrow’s leaders.

Make sure to have a back-up plan!

Undergraduate Course Requirements

Most U.S. veterinary schools require the following college courses (specific Penn State courses are listed in parentheses):

  • Two semesters of general chemistry with lab (CHEM 110, 111, 112, and 113)
  • Two semesters of organic chemistry with lab (CHEM 202 and 203; or CHEM 210, 212, and 213)
  • One or two semesters of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology with laboratory (B M B 211, 212, and 221; or B M B 401 and 402)
    • B M B 251: Molecular and Cell Biology is also required by some veterinary colleges
  • Two semesters of general biology with labs (BIOL 110, and BIOL 220W, 230W, or 240W).
  • Two semesters of physics with lab (PHYS 250 and 251)
  • Mathematics—The minimum requirement ranges from algebra and trigonometry to two semesters of calculus and varies with each school. Note that it is a minimum requirement. Most schools do not accept students who have not taken calculus, even if their published requirement is algebra and trigonometry (MATH 140 and 141).
  • General education—Penn State students rarely have difficulty meeting this requirement if they meet Penn State's General Education requirements for graduation.
  • The specific number of credits required in each of the above categories may vary among veterinary schools. Thus, it is important to check the specific admissions requirements for each veterinary school.

I am Finishing (Finished) College? Now What?

Most college students traditionally apply to vet schools in the fall of their senior year to meet the deadline of October 1st (generally speaking).  Hopefully you will have the entire junior year to prepare to take GRE test and decide on which vet schools and how many vet schools to apply. 

There are many factors to consider when choosing which schools to apply.  While all 30 veterinary schools are good quality schools, there are different strength(s) that each school has to offer.  You just need to match your strengths and desire with theirs when making a decision.  We recommend you apply to 5 to 7 schools.

Take time to evaluate schools to determine the best schools for you and save on application costs.  Start your VMCAS online application as soon as it becomes available.  Ask your recommendation letters on a timely fashion.  Utilize VMCAS’s check-list to send a complete package to them. 

After receiving interview offers from the vet schools, you start preparing for the each interview.  Consult with your academic adviser, pre-vet club advisers, and career counseling advisers on your campus to prepare for your interviews.  Usually Pre-Vet club holds sessions on previous year’s applicants about general do’s and don’ts on veterinary school applications/interviews.  April 15 is a general deadline to "accept" or "decline" on admission

Veterinary Medical Education in the U.S. is 4 years beyond undergraduate degree.  After completing the D.V.M. (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) or V.M.D. (Veterinariae Medicinae Doctoris) degree, candidates have to take the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE) in order to practice in the U.S.  Each state has its own licensing procedures and requirements which are listed online. 

There are currently 22 AVMA-recognized veterinary specialties.   Applicants may pursue board certification in a particular specialty or two after obtaining a DVM/VMD degree.  You may visit the website of any of the AVMA-recognized veterinary specialty organizations by visiting the AVMA American Board of Veterinary Specialties website.

    Veterinarian's Oath

    Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health, the relief of animal suffering, the conservation of livestock resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.  I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity, and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics.  I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence.

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