So, You Want to Be a Vet?
You’ve loved animals since you were little, and now you’re thinking you may want to become a veterinarian (or vet tech).
Here are some frequently asked questions about what you can expect in terms of classes and starting salary, as well as things you can do while you’re still in high school that can support your choice of career path.
How many years will I be in school?
You’ll likely take four years of undergraduate courses followed by four years of veterinary school, although some grad schools offer five-year dual-degree programs in fields such as veterinary medicine and public health.
If you’re interested in a certain focus, such as emergency and critical care, veterinary dental, or veterinary behavior, expect that a specialization will add to your time in school. There are also seven- to eight-year programs with rigorous and demanding curriculums that allow students to earn a combined master’s and doctoral degree.
The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges currently lists 30 accredited colleges of veterinary medicine (CVMs) in the United States. With only about 3,000 students graduating from these CVMs each year, it’s easy to see why the schools are competitive.
Despite the number of years it takes to get your degree, it’s worth it—not only because you’ll love going to work most days but also because the starting salary for vets is quite good. According to PayScale, the median salary for entry-level veterinarians is $71,194, and it’s likely that any specialization will increase that starting salary.
What will I need to do in college?
You may want to enroll in a pre-vet curriculum, which includes math and plenty of science classes, including biology, biochemistry, zoology, anatomy and physiology, microbiology, animal science, nutrition and physics, among others. Although you don’t have to be a pre-vet major to get into vet school, you will need to complete the prerequisites.
Maintain a high GPA and study hard for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test, which is required by most veterinary schools, as well as the biology GRE Subject Test, which is required by some. Some veterinary schools also accept the Medical College Admission Test in place of the GRE.
Because veterinary school is so competitive, go beyond the requirements. Anything you can do to give yourself an edge will help. Join a pre-vet club if your college has one, and look for opportunities to job shadow or intern with scientists, veterinarians, animal shelter staff or farmers.
Get to know your professors, and make a good impression on them. You’ll need to submit a minimum of three, but no more than six, letters of reference (often referred to as “evaluations”) with your application to veterinary medical college.
Take on leadership roles whenever possible, and hone your verbal and written communication skills with courses that will shine on your application.
What can I do now to prepare to major in veterinary science?
Here are a few things you can do to prepare for a career in veterinary science while you’re still in high school:
- Take as many math and science classes as possible. Advanced classes are great, assuming you can maintain at least a B average.
- Maintain a high GPA.
- Put extra effort into studying for the SATs and ACTs to give yourself the best chance of high scores.
- Volunteer at a farm, a veterinarian’s office or at your local animal shelter to get hands-on experience.
- Join 4-H or the National FFA Organization.
If you really love working with animals, most of the hands-on volunteer work will feel less like a requirement and more like fun!