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These are typically 100 hours minimum and capped at 600 hours on the application but the more hours you have the more it will help you. I have friends who have over 2,000 hours. I think it is best to shoot for around 1000 but to not beat yourself up about it if you don’t get there. It is also important to consider diversity when obtaining these hours. For example, if you want to be a small animal vet, don’t just work with one small animal doctor. Go to multiple hospitals and clinics, work in different departments (surgery, ICU, etc.) and do some hours in large animal hospitals or exotic animal hospitals. You never know you might wind up liking large animal medicine better. They really want to see you exploring your options.
So, You Want to go to Vet School? Advice from a Current Undergrad
Applying to vet school is no easy task. In fact, many people say that it is harder to get into veterinary school than it is to get into medical school.
All in all, I would say applying to vet school is about a 4-year process. There are many requirements you must meet before applying and you need the most amount of time possible to get them all done.
My advice to you is to decide that you want to pursue a career in veterinary medicine as soon as you possibly can. This means you can even start trying to meet requirements in high school. Taking AP classes such as chemistry, physics, math, history, and english can potentially push you ahead an entire year meaning you go into college as a sophomore not a freshman, it can also help you take less classes per semester so you don't have to take a full load of classes when you take your hard classes. This saves money that you will need for veterinary school. AP classes also show undergraduate colleges you can handle college course loads and they will be more likely to accept you. I cannot stress the importance of AP classes enough, they really saved me.
It is also important to note that, currently, you can put the animal handling and veterinarian shadowing hours you obtain in high school on your vet application. Choose your undergraduate college and major based off of where you want to go to vet school. The best majors for people wishing to become a vet are Animal Science (BS) and Biomedical Sciences (BS). If your school does not have an animal science/pre-vet program I recommend either a Chemistry or Biology major as they should cover most of the pre-requisites; just make sure that even if it is not required for your undergraduate major, that you still take the pre-requisite classes that you need for vet school.
***Disclaimer- most of the information is based off of the Texas A&M and UC Davis application. Vet school application rules and requirements often change slightly year to year. Please do your research on your school this is only to serve as a basic guideline***
The application for vet school is a points-based system. Every school does it slightly differently but essentially you will get a certain amount of points for:
-Difficulty of your classes/ class schedule/ honors
-Hours working with veterinarians
-Animal handling hours
-Letters of recommendation
GPA is dependent on where you are applying and what your status is. For example, at Texas A&M, a competitive GPA for in-state residents applying to the vet school is around a 3.7, a competitive GPA for out of state is 3.9-4.0. This means that to get ahead you really need to decide as an undergrad as to where you want to go. For example, if you want to go to Texas A&M, it is best to do your undergrad work there or at the very least in Texas, so you don’t have to compete with out of state applicants. You can also try to gain residency in the state you school is in, this means establishing a domicile. Typically you must prove you have been in the state for over a year, have had a job in the state for over a year where you work at least 20 hours per week, claim yourself as an independent on your taxes, and pay for more than 50% of your expenses yourself. Make sure to do your research, this does vary from state to state.
This also varies vet school to vet school but typically they will want to see:
-General Chemistry 1 and 2 with lab
-General Biology 1 and 2 with lab
-Organic chemistry 1 and 2 with lab
-Physics 1 and 2 with lab
-Animal Nutrition (not all schools require)
-Genetics with lab
-2 semesters of English
If you complete all these classes prior to applying, you get extra points on your application.
Make sure that you contact the vet school office of admissions prior to applying to make sure that all of your classes will transfer over to them properly and to see if you are missing any requirements. If you are a transfer student, especially from a private school, make sure to keep the syllabi from all of your classes. That way if there are any questions about whether or not a certain class counts as a prerequisite you have a syllabi they can look over.
Class Difficulty/ Class Schedule
On your application, they want to see that you are challenging yourself. This means taking harder classes and not just intro level classes, honors classes, and taking most of your classes at a 4-year university, not a community college. They also like to see a minor or a certificate. This does not have to be related to animals. Popular minors are business, Spanish, leadership studies, international studies, wildlife, and zoology. At Texas A&M they also offer certificates such as the equine certificate and meat science. Certificates are essentially minors. The equine certificate is an extra 8 classes (23 hours) that you can take any time. Classes cover topics such as equine care, equine industry, internship/research, disease and epidemiology, behavior and training, and reproduction. Certificates are a good way of showing the vet school that you have a specific interest in a certain animal or part of the veterinary industry.
Hours Working with Veterinarians
Animal Handling Hours
Animal handling hours include any of the following:
-Volunteering at shelters
-Classes where you handle animals
-Teaching training classes
-Training guide dogs
-Hours in classes spent with animals
-Jobs you had where you worked with animals (ex: groom, barn manager, pet hotel employee, etc.)
Basically, anytime you touch an animal you can count it as animal handling hours; however, it is best to highlight the things that look good. For example, it 3,000 hours of owning a dog doesn’t look nearly as good as 100 hours-worth of cattle handling clinics. If you are short on animal handling hours you can include the owning the dog hours; but it is important to be reasonable. They can tell the difference between fluff and quality. For example, if you already have 4,000 animal handling hours don’t add the fact that you owned a dog or pet a cat one time in high school. It is also important to remember diversity here as well. It looks much better to have 250 dog, 250 horse, 100 alpaca, 100 cattle, 100 cat, 100 reptile, 100 bird than it does to have 800 of just one species.
Volunteer hours is another way to show diversity on your application. Funny enough, they don’t want to see that you only do things that are related to animals. This is a place on the application to show them you care about other things and have other interests.
Below is a list of common volunteer ideas/opportunities:
-Beach clean ups
Clubs/ Extracurricular Activities
Clubs and extracurriculars aren’t a huge part of the application but yet again it is a good place to show diversity and to show you have a social life. These clubs can be animal related or not it doesn’t matter. Personally, I really recommend becoming apart of the pre-vet society at your school if they have one. The one at my school is excellent and has really helped me throughout the whole process. They offer animal handling clinics, volunteer opportunities, guidance from upperclassmen, tips and classes on how to fill out your vet school application and seminars from industry professionals. Don’t be afraid to put sororities or fraternities on your application either, especially if you have a leadership position. Make sure to highlight any leadership positions that you have.
In the other categories we talked a lot about diversity. Here is a little recap and some extra things you should mention:
-Foreign languages you speak
Anything that can distinguish you from the person sitting next to you should be added to your application. Tell them why you are special. As of recent years, the “diversity factor” has been gaining importance on the applications. It is imperative that you make yourself stand out from the crowd.
The GRE is best explained as the SAT or ACT on steroids. The way in which the questions are asked are purposefully confusing. My advice is to start studying lightly 1 year in advanced and start studying hard 6 months prior. It does cost money to take so you don’t want to have to take it a bunch of times. That being said, it is totally ok to take it more than once, I personally wouldn’t go past 3 attempts. Competitive scores are also based off of where you apply. At Texas A&M a competitive score is considered 155-158 as of 2017.
Letters of recommendation
Typically, 3 letters are required with at least one being from a veterinarian. I recommend 2 veterinarians and 1 teacher that you really were involved with.
Thank your lucky stars, you got an interview! No this does not mean you are accepted into vet school, but it does mean that they are seriously considering you. If you did not get an interview you did not get in. The interviews are not your typical interview either. You will go to 5 different private rooms where there will be 2 people, 1 admissions officer and 1 veterinarian (may work at the vet school, may not) you will not know who is who. They will give you a problem related to veterinary medicine and you will be asked to solve it in about 5 minutes. These questions/ problems range from anything like “please tell you client that their animal needs to be euthanized” to “this dog got hit by a car what are your first steps”. After you leave, they will score you. This is really a test to see how well you work with people and to see your bedside manner. Applicants with high scores will be accepted, those who have the lowest scores will be denied.
I know this all seems like a lot, and yes, it is a huge time commitment and it is very challenging, but you have years to get this all done. This is not something you can get done overnight. Here is some advice to incoming undergraduates:
-Keep an excel sheet of your animal handling hours and your working with a veterinarian hours. Make sure to keep track of who, what, when, where, and what you did.
-Don’t try to work or shadow during the school year, trust me, your classes are very challenging and will take up most of your time. Stick to winter and summer breaks and work full time during those breaks. You can get 500 veterinary hours during the summer if you work all summer full time.
-Do try to do animal handling hours/ volunteer hours during the school year. Try to do 1 thing a week, whether that’s volunteering for 5 hours every Sunday afternoon at a shelter or going to an animal handling clinic those hours will add up.
-Remember to have a social life/make time for you. It may seem like it, but school shouldn’t be all that you do. If you do that you will mentally wear yourself out. Try to do something fun for an hour everyday whether that’s getting coffee with friends, going to a club meeting, or even taking a nap (trust me your nap will sometimes be the highlight of your day). You will thank yourself for it.
There are 30 schools with accredited DVM programs. Here are some of the top schools. (These are not specifically ranked in any order, but I did put the better-known schools towards the top.)
University of Pennsylvania
Texas A&M University
Colorado State University
University of Georgia
North Carolina State University
Ohio State University
University of Florida
University of Minnesota
Iowa State University
Washington State University
Michigan State University
Kansas State University
University of Missouri
University of Tennessee Knoxville
Louisiana State University
University of Illinois
Mississippi State University
Oregon State University
Oklahoma State University
There are also numerous vet schools in Europe that are well known for their programs. To name a few; University of London, University of Cambridge, and University of Liverpool.