by Heather Strauss
Applying to veterinary school can seem very far away when you are in the midst of SATs and undergraduate applications. However, if you are considering going down that path, there are a few things to keep in mind early on to set yourself up for success.
First, it is important to realize that there are only 30 veterinary schools in the entire United States (compared to 141 medical schools). There are also significantly fewer students applying to vet school each year, but suffice it to say that getting into vet school is very competitive.
One of the most important aspects of your future vet school application will be your undergraduate GPA and specifically your GPA in your pre-veterinary courses. Therefore, it is important to choose an undergraduate school where you can thrive, not just survive. Maybe that means going to a smaller school where you can get more personal attention, or maybe it means going to a school that has great pre-vet counseling and advising. Every student is different, but it is important to understand that simply attending the most prestigious school possible may not effectively help you reach your goals.
Another factor to keep in mind is that most vet schools are state schools and reserve a large number of their spots for state residents. Therefore, if you wish to attend an out-of-state vet school, the expectations for your GPA and GRE scores are going to be even higher. For example, at UC Davis, they interview the top 25% of California applicants and only the top 10% of non-resident applicants. They also invite additional California residents who did not make that cut to interview after a more holistic review process, which does not include non-residents. Additionally, some states have agreements with neighboring states who do not have vet schools of their own that allow students to be placed in a “contract resident” category; for example, Auburn reserves 41 spots for Alabama students and 38 spots for contract students from Kentucky, leaving only 41 spots for non-resident and non-contract students. Therefore, it is important to know if there is a vet school in your state, and if not, whether your state is part of a contract system.
Not only do you need to be accepted to vet school, you also need to pay for it, and the veterinary profession has a notorious problem with student debt. According to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, the mean student debt for 2019 vet school graduates was $176,920. Since most vet schools are state schools, they offer in-state tuition, which can lower your debt burden after graduation. Therefore, you may consider setting your sights on your state’s institution. Alternatively, if you want to attend an out-of-state vet school, you may choose to attend a school that offers in-state tuition for your undergraduate study in order to lower your aggregate educational debt. Keep in mind that states and schools have their own rules for establishing residency: some schools allow you to establish residency during your first year of vet school and receive in-state tuition starting your second year, whereas others require you to be a resident when you apply in order to receive in-state tuition at any point. In this case, if you have your sights on a certain school, you may wish to establish residency in that state prior to applying, either during your undergraduate study, if allowed, or during a post-bachelor year.
If you are confident in your choice to become a vet and debt is a major concern for your family, there are other options you can consider. For example, some schools, such as Purdue, offer early admissions programs. Each school is different, but at Purdue’s Veterinary Scholars program, admitted students typically complete their pre-veterinary courses in three years and have a guaranteed spot in Purdue’s vet school. This lowers the amount of undergraduate tuition paid and takes away costs associated with the application process itself, such as application fees, travel for interviews, GRE test prep, etc.
Depending on your family situation, the state you live in, and your goals for your undergraduate education, your path to vet school can vary significantly. Therefore, early planning and awareness of what is ahead will lead to greater success down the line.