The classic path to becoming a veterinarian looks a little like this: graduate high school and head straight to college to obtain an undergraduate degree, During your last year of college, apply to veterinary colleges and spend the next 4 years in veterinary school. Some students even speed this up by only spending 3 years at an undergraduate institution, graduating from veterinary school when they are 24 to 25 years old. But what about those who decide they want to pursue veterinary medicine later in life?
How old is too old to start pursuing a dream of becoming a veterinarian? There’s a saying that “it’s never too late to follow your dreams.” And this is mostly true for career changes as well. If you feel up to spending 4 years in professional school and think the career is the right fit for you, then age is just a number. Of course, there are a few things to consider when weighing the pros and cons of starting veterinary school later in life.
Below we will discuss what applying to veterinary school entails, the average age of a veterinary student, and some pros and cons to working as a veterinarian as a second career.
What does the process look like for someone interested in becoming a veterinarian later in life?
While the order might be different compared to a student who heads into veterinary school right away, the requirements are the same. Make sure you have completed the pre-requisite college classes, taken the GRE (or equivalent test that your ideal veterinary school requires), gained veterinary experience, and completed the VMCAS.
While you may have to brush up on some of your college classes from your undergraduate days, there are many veterinarians who have chosen veterinary medicine as a second career. And your extra experience can be a great asset when it comes to writing a memorable personal statement and standing out in an interview. In my veterinary school class, we had a previous journalist and lawyer among many others who had taken a gap year or performed graduate studies.
The average age of a veterinary student
At my alma mater (the University of Minnesota), the most recent class admitted (class of 2023) had an age range of 19-32, with a mean age of 23. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t apply if you are older than 32. In fact, this is a relatively young class for MN, as often there are students well into their 30s and even 40s attending school at the U of MN.
For example, the U of MN’s veterinary class of 2019 ranged from 21 to 44 years of age. The UC Davis veterinary class of 2018 ranges in age from 20 to 53, and their 2019 class ranges in age from 19 to 42. Iowa State’s veterinary class of 2018 has students from 21 to 40 years of age. Purdue University’s veterinary class of 2018 has students ranging in age from 20 to 37.
HowIGotIntoVeterinarySchool.com has a great article about a 36-year-old who applied to veterinary school successfully. And on DVM360.com they tell the story of a veterinarian who graduated from veterinary school at the age of 49.
So don’t let age stop you. In fact, there are many ways that age can benefit you as you apply to and navigate veterinary school.
Pros of Becoming a Veterinarian Later in Life
I think most of us can agree when I say that most people have changed significantly from who they were in their early twenties. Life experiences have helped us grow as people, and we have had the chance to learn from more of our failures and successes. Oftentimes a 40-year-old knows much more about what he or she wants from a career, then he or she did when they were 21.
I applied to veterinary school when I was 21. And while I can’t see my life taking any other course, I also feel that a gap year to gain more experience in veterinary medicine or to see more of the world before entering veterinary school would have been beneficial. Veterinary school is an all-consuming period of life when it is hard to develop much of a life outside of classes and studying.
Additionally, having a previous career can help you see veterinary medicine in a slightly different light. The knowledge you bring from a previous job can enrich your veterinary experience. And that knowledge can also help you be a leader among your veterinary school peers.
And while you may feel nervous competing for a seat against those who are taking the classic path straight from undergrad to veterinary school, admissions departments understand that with increased age often comes increased experience and knowledge.
VetStreet.com has an excellent article on becoming a veterinarian later in life, and I love this paragraph from their article:
Far from being leery of older candidates, admissions departments are well aware of their capacity to excel. In fact, of the five or so over-35 classmates of mine, two graduated in the top five in our class, two went on to attain board certification and another went on to acquire a Ph.D.and board certification.
The last one is now considered a luminary in his field. He didn’t get his vet degree until he was 42. And the oldest of my classmates didn’t graduate until she was well over 50!http://www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/why-its-never-too-late-to-go-to-vet-school
Cons of Becoming a Veterinarian Later in Life
If you have already started a family, veterinary school can be hard on family life. Several of my classmates successfully balanced a spouse and children with their veterinary studies, but it takes determination and dedication.
Also, while having a previous career means that you might have a little more money in the bank to help pay for veterinary school, it may also mean that you are accustomed to a lifestyle made possible by a full-time income. Veterinary school is expensive and that often means living frugally. For those coming straight from undergraduate, this isn’t really a change. But losing your bi-weekly paycheck may take some adjustment.
Additionally, while you will likely find many friends among your veterinary school classmates, many of your classmates may be at a different stage in their lives. This has the potential to feel a little isolating if you let it.
And finally, with the big financial strain of veterinary school, it is important to consider retirement plans. If you don’t have a good retirement savings already, you will need to factor in how fast you can pay -off your student loans in order to retire at the age you want. Personally, it will take me 15 years to pay off my student loans and during that time I am not saving as much as I should be for retirement.
There is no age limit for becoming a veterinarian
So really, there is no age limit to becoming a veterinarian. You are never too old to pursue your dreams. Just make sure to calculate your own pros and cons lists carefully. Weight the potential financial strain and impacts on family life carefully against the benefits of a fulfilling career working as a veterinarian.
How many hours of veterinary experience are needed to apply to veterinary school? Most successful veterinary school applicants have a minimum of 100 hours of veterinary experience. However, others may have close to 1000hrs or more. Personally, I listed 209 hours on my veterinary school application.
How does the veterinary medical college application service (VMCAS) work? The VMCAS is an online form that is filled out by most aspiring veterinary students. It includes sections to enter hours of experience, a personal statement, and ways to attach letters of recommendation. It is typically due in September of the year before you hope to start veterinary school.