Veterinary Medicine

There are 27 accredited schools in the US that offer the DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) degree. Completion of the degree requires four years, and about three-fourths of all recipients work in private practice. The first two years focuse on coursework and the last two on clinical studies and surgical procedures. Students often pursue specialized tracks in small or large animal science during their last year. As an undergraduate, your primary focus should be on completing all requirements for applying to veterinary school, excelling at academics, preparing to take the standardized test, and gaining hands-on experience at veterinary clinics. Many people regard veterinary school as more challenging to gain admission to and more difficult to complete than medical school, so it is important that you work exceptionally hard and do as well as possible during your undergraduate career.

What are the minimum course requirements?

Course requirements are not standardized, but most veterinary schools require:

  • 6 hours of English
  • one year (8 credit hours) of biology
  • one year of general chemistry
  • one year of organic chemistry
  • one semester of biochemistry
  • one year of physics
  • college algebra, and
  • 6-10 hours of social sciences/humanities

In addition, many schools require an animal or human nutrition course, genetics, microbiology, and statistics. Check with the universities that interest you early and make sure you take all of the courses required for admission.

What other coursework will strengthen my application and prepare me for veterinary school?

If not required, courses that are recommended include:

  • comparative anatomy
  • microbiology
  • genetics
  • vertebrate or mammalian physiology
  • parasitology
  • statistics
  • biochemistry

Must veterinary students major in the natural sciences?

No. Pre-vet students may major in anything that they want so long as they complete the minimal course requirements for each school. A four-year degree is not required, although most students complete an undergraduate degree. Most veterinary professionals recommend that students attend schools with strong biological science programs and major in biology or in a major that has a strong biological component.

What are the advantages of majoring in biology?

The Cell and Molecular Biology concentration provides a very strong grounding in both chemistry and biology. With respect to chemistry you will take 5 semesters of course work that includes biochemistry. You will also be exposed to additional biochemistry that is directly relevant to veterinary medicine in courses such as cell biology, microbiology, and genetics. A second advantage is that you will have the opportunity to take upper division biology courses such as animal physiology, cell biology, genetics, and microbiology that will prepare you for the first two years of coursework in veterinary school.

What standardized tests are required?

All veterinary schools require the GRE general exam.

When should I take the standardized test?

Most students take the standardized test in the summer or fall of the year preceding the academic year that they wish to apply. For example, if you plan to begin veterinary school in fall 2003, then you should take the exam before summer or fall of 2002. Application deadlines are from October to mid-January of the following year, depending on the program. One option is to take the exam the summer after completing your junior year so that you can spend the summer preparing for the exam. Talk with your advisor about the best strategy for you.

How important is my grade point average?

Your grade point average is an important criterion for evaluation. Entering freshman in veterinary colleges have average undergraduate grade point averages that are typically in the 3.3-3.6 range. Students who exceed these numbers and who take additional science courses beyond the minimal requirements are more likely to be accepted. It is critical that you do well from the onset, and that you learn to develop good study skills during your freshman year. Your advisor can provide helpful suggestions on developing good study habitats beyond the obvious of attending every lecture and taking copious notes.

How important is veterinary or animal husbandry experience prior to applying?

It is strongly recommended that you have veterinary or animal husbandry experience prior to applying. If possible, volunteer or seek paid positions at veterinary clinics, wildlife parks, or animal rehabilitation centers. There is probably no better way to decide whether you wish to pursue veterinary medicine as a career than through hands-on experience. Students who are accepted to veterinary colleges often have a year or more of veterinary-related experience.

Should I plan to visit a vet school?

Yes. Visiting a veterinary college is a great way to become familiar with faculty and resources and provides a better understanding of the profession. Most universities offer a spring open-house so that prospective students can tour the facilities and speak with faculty and staff. Plan on visiting at least one school during your freshman or sophomore year.

Letters of recommendation?

Most veterinary colleges require three letters of recommendation from university professors or other individuals who are qualified to judge your abilities. One of these often must be from a veterinarian. You may want to obtain a joint letter from the Pre-Health Professions Advisory Committee, as recommendations from this body may carry more weight than letters from individuals. Ask your advisor or one of the pre-med committee members if you want to seek a committee letter. In all cases, the better the faculty members know you, the better the letter of recommendation they can provide, so talk to your professors. Fortunately, small classes and close relationships between faculty and students at UNC Asheville will make it relatively easy for you to get to know your professors. Before asking anyone for a recommendation, come prepared with a summary of your accomplishments, your coursework and grades, and any other relevant information that can facilitate writing the letter. Have forms filled out and signed and envelopes pre-addressed. Let individuals know that you are both organized and unique!

Should I engage in college and extracurricular activities?

These are used to assess applicants, so you should plan on being active in campus activities such as the biology club or the pre-professional club. Active participation and leadership roles may help distinguish your application from the crowd.

What will I do if I do not get accepted to veterinary school?

Only about 35% of applicants are accepted into veterinary schools and many who are not admitted have excellent credentials. Competition is so keen that it is wise to consider graduate school or other alternatives. In particular, you should give much thought to your major. If you are not accepted, then your future career pathways may be limited by your choice of major. By majoring in the subject you are most passionate about, you will be assured of having meaningful alternatives if you are not accepted to veterinary school.