The veterinary field is held in high regard by the general public as well as the professional world. Making the decision to become a vet shouldn’t be made without some thought and consideration. Veterinarians provide a service to both animals and their human owners which can be both rewarding and fulfilling.

A person who becomes a vet will enjoy the satisfaction of aiding animals, but will also endure the stress of caring for extremely sick and sometimes seriously maimed or injured animals for which difficult choices will need to be made. You should be prepared for the possibility of long and unpredictable hours. Additionally, the veterinary occupation is a highly competitive field which requires extensive education and substantially more dedication. Consideration of these factors is crucial in deciding whether the veterinary field is the right fit for you. A love for animals will not necessarily guarantee that becoming a veterinarian will be a suitable career choice.

There are a number of paths from which to choose if you decide to enter the veterinary field. The vocation is not limited solely to providing treatment to family pets in a private practice. Veterinarians also work in laboratories developing new medications and treatments to improve the quality of life and care for animals. Job opportunities are available in private practice, but also in teaching and research, the military, the government and even public health. Some veterinarians specialize in caring for livestock. There are also a number of specializations from which you can choose; dermatology, cardiology. In terms of a career, the salary range is comfortable but also limited. Generally speaking, the average salary can range between $65,000 and $97,000. As a career choice, the occupation may not make you rich but will provide a comfortable life. There are about 86,000 currently practicing vets.

Step 1

The first steps to becoming a veterinarian begin during the high school years. Developing good study habits and work ethics early on will prepare you for the challenges which lay later down the road. Maintaining good grades is crucial, as the competition to get into veterinary school is fierce due to limited enrollment acceptance rates. A high grade point average will boost your chances considerably. Though all classes are important in your preparation for college, certain courses are clear indicators of whether the veterinary field is an appropriate choice. Concentrating on courses in biology and the other sciences will ensure that you develop a strong foundation in these subjects. Mathematics is also vital to success in the veterinary field. Certain universities require four years each of laboratory sciences, mathematics and English composition courses. You should complete as many of these courses as allowable during high school.

The preparation for becoming a veterinarian doesn’t conclude with the courses you complete or the grades you achieve. Experience in the veterinary field will afford you valuable insight while making you a more viable candidate for veterinary school. Working in the field is the optimal means of assessing how much you will enjoy the veterinary vocation and whether you have an affinity for it. Obtain an after school or summer job at an animal hospital or veterinary clinic. If you cannot find any positions available, volunteer at your local SPCA or for a local animal shelter or group. Consider a position at a pet store, a farm, a zoo or even a stable. You can also joint a 4-H club which has animal projects. If you are unable to attain a position at any of these places, try a position in a laboratory or in a field related to medicine or science.

Step 2

Predictably, step two is college. You should complete an undergraduate degree in a related science or medical field. Biology, biochemistry, animal or wildlife sciences are productive choices. Some colleges or universities offer a pre-veterinary program, but not many. When determining the degree program you want to pursue, take into consideration that veterinary schools require the successful completion of specific courses before you will be considered for admission. These courses will likely include social sciences, mathematics, biology, physics and chemistry. You can check the course requirements of the schools either by reading them on the websites for the various veterinary schools or you can check on the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) website:

While in college, continue to find employment or volunteer opportunities in related medical, science or veterinary fields. Some universities have partnerships with organizations or corporations who perform veterinary services or research. Internships are another option to consider. The school may also promote participation in a veterinary shadowing program. If not, you should try contacting various organizations to see if they offer this program. The veterinary shadow program is just what it sounds like. You would ‘shadow’ or follow a practicing professional around to observe what he/she does during routine days. You would be able to witness how animals are cared for and treated medically, how the veterinarian handles the patients’ owners, and how he/she adapts to various situations which arise. Shadowing will provide the opportunity to learn the profession and to develop specific career goals based on what you learn and observe.

Step 3

Veterinary schools require that you complete a standardized test in order to be considered for admission. The test you take will depend on the school you choose. Some require the GRE. Some will accept the MCAT. You can determine which test you will be required to take by contacting the school at which you intend to apply and asking which test is required. In the event you want to apply to more than one veterinary school and the ones you select require different exams, you may have to plan to take both. Most graduate level standardized tests require that you register in advance of the test date and pay a fee. Check the website for the exam and you should find both the fee and exam schedules listed. Registration is usually offered directly on the website for your convenience.

There are a very limited number of accredited veterinary schools in the United States; only 28 with an acceptance rate of less than 45%. In order to gain acceptance, you must have an aggressively competitive application. A high grade point average and experience in the veterinary, medical or science fields will demonstrate your dedication. Your graduate school test scores should be high so that you might stand out from the other applicants. Preparation for the standardized test should be taken very seriously. You can obtain books from the library to help you study. Or you can use practice tests available on the web to help strengthen potential weak areas you might have.

Step 4

Apply to Veterinary School. Research the school prior to applying. Many of the veterinary schools offer preference to students who are residents of the state in which the school is located. With a mere 28 veterinary colleges, not every state in the country has a school. Out of state students would benefit from checking with the schools to determine if their state of residence has a contractual agreement with a specific veterinary college. If so, the college with which the state has an agreement will offer preferential treatment making the acceptance process a little easier. Also, you want to make sure you have satisfied all of the requirements for the veterinary college at which you are trying to apply. If you haven’t met the requirements, your chance of acceptance will be in jeopardy.

Acceptance is extremely limited so you want to be certain your application is complete. Plan to include a personal statement detailing the reasons you want to pursue a career as a veterinarian. Include the areas of veterinary medicine in which you would prefer to concentrate and the reasons behind your selection. Letters of recommendation should also be included. If you have worked within an animal health or science field, a recommendation from the professional with whom you worked is preferable. And make certain your application emphasizes any work related experience you have attained from high school forward as this type of experience is an integral factor in the acceptance determination process.

The Veterinary Medical College Application Service, or the VMCAS, assists with the veterinary school application process. Create an account on the website. You can then complete applications on the website which will then be forwarded to the school(s) of your choice. The VMCAS website provides admission information for all schools both national and international. The specific admission requirements for each school are detailed. General informative information is offered clarifying important points and differences. The evaluations required by the various veterinary schools can be requested and submitted online. All of the vital documentation is compiled through the website and forwarded to the veterinary colleges to which you are applying. Fees are mandatory and based on the number of schools to which you apply.

Step 5

Graduate from veterinary school. The four years of veterinary school are spent learning all of the facets of animal health. Similar to undergraduate school, the first two years in veterinary college are spent learning the basics of anatomy, pathology, pharmacology, physiology and all other relevant sciences. The final two years are concentrated on practical experience through treating patients in clinics. Students are supervised by licensed veterinarians while completing this portion. The classroom portion of these years is dedicated to more specific medical conditions and treatments such as diseases and diagnostics, radiology, anesthesiology and surgery. Students intending to pursue a career in a specialization will spend these years studying the various aspects of the area of concentration.

Step 6

Attain your license to practice veterinary medicine. After the completion of your veterinary degree, you will need to take and successfully pass the licensing exam. Each state may have its own licensing exam. You will want to research the licensing requirements of the state in which you intend to work or practice. Generally, veterinarians are required to complete a certain number of clinical work hours to qualify for licensing. You will need to apply to take the licensure examination and schedule the test in advance.

Step 7

Continuing education is a required by most, if not all, states for practicing veterinarians. You must complete a certain number of course hours in a predetermined period of time. The medical and technological fields are constantly updating and evolving. It is important to stay abreast of changes and advances in the field. New discoveries and treatment methods will advance your ability to treat your patients and understand their health issues. Most licenses have to be renewed every couple of years and are contingent on the completion of the continuing education requirements. You should know these requirements in advance so that you don’t risk non-compliance and lose your license. Check with your state licensing agency to obtain this information.