If you are getting ready to go to veterinary school, the first step in your formal acceptance process is preparing your application through the Veterinary Medical College Application Service (VMCAS). There are many sections to this application, from general demographic information to a list of your academic history and veterinary experience, and this application takes a lot of time to fill out. While most of the application is just about listing facts, one of the more daunting aspects for many hopeful applications is crafting the perfect personal statement for the VMCAS.
The VMCAS personal statement or essay portion has changed some over the years, from a one or two-page essay during my application cycle to the most recent three essay questions with specific prompts. The prompts from the 2020 application cycle were the following:
- There are many career choices within the veterinary profession. What are your future career goals and why?
- In what ways to veterinarians contribute to society and what do you hope to contribute?
- Consider the breadth of society which veterinarians serve. What attributes do you believe are essential to be successful within the veterinary profession? Of these attributes, which do you possess and how have you demonstrated these in the past?
Regardless of the format of the essay portion when you apply to veterinary school, the following tips are sure to help you create a great essay portion for your own VMCAS application.
1. Read the Requirements and Stick to Them!
This is an obvious suggestion, but it is important to adhere to the following requirements that VMCAS lists.
- Keep your topic general (not program-specific), as this application will be sent to multiple veterinary colleges.
- Stay within the character limits! Last year it was 2,000 characters per essay.
- Use your own words and DO NOT plagiarize.
- Use simple formatting.
2. Don’t Try to Re-List Your Experience and Achievements
The admissions committee members can see the rest of your application, where you will have plenty of space to list all of the bullet points on your resume up to this date. So when it comes to the essay questions, don’t waste time trying to re-highlight your previous experiences within your answers. Focus on answering the prompts directly without feeling the need to list your qualifications.
Except for your answer to question three, you do not even need to list any specific past examples. And when you do get to essay number three, keep in mind that you can think outside the box and are not limited to instances where you demonstrated these qualities in a veterinary-related capacity. Your attributes and personality traits outside of school and veterinary clinics are just as reflective of who you are. And who you are outside of a veterinary clinic or formal education setting can have a big impact on your personality and future success as a veterinarian.
3. Don’t Be Vague
Come up with specific examples for your essay answers that really help the admissions committee get to know you. Telling the admissions committee that you want to help improve the lives of animals doesn’t really tell them anything. You want to demonstrate insight, maturity, and depth in your essay. Show that you put a lot of thought into your answers.
Instead of generally helping animals, maybe you want to contribute to society by donating your time at a local humane society providing veterinary care at lower cost to qualifying low-income households. Maybe you want to work in rural Iowa to help decrease the barriers to accessing veterinary care for those that live in underserved regions of the United States.
Being specific will help you demonstrate more of who you are and help you stand out from the crowded pool of applications.
4. Avoid the Cliches
Another way to stand out with unique answers is to avoid cliches. For example, you probably don’t need to mention that an essential attribute to becoming a successful veterinarian is to “love animals.” Instead, think about things that are less cliche but just as essential and more specific, such as being a great communicator, so that you can improve the lives of animals by clearly discussing the importance of preventative care with a dog’s caretaker.
In addition to loving animals, it can be cliche to discuss that you have wanted to work with animals since you were young or that you feel that veterinary medicine your passion or calling. When you craft your answers to these essays it can help to write down multiple ideas for answers and get rid of the obvious responses. The more obvious the response, the less likely it will be to stand out from other applications.
5. Match Your Future Goals with Your Experience
Make sure your future goals are in line with the experience that you have listed on your VMCAS application. If not, explain why. For example, if most of your veterinary experience has been obtained working with cats and dogs, it would be expected that you are interested in working a small animal veterinary clinic after graduation.
If your future goals do not match your experience, let the admissions committee know why. Maybe you had a recent experience assisting with a research project and found purpose in research as a way to improve the lives of cats and dogs.
By explaining any discrepancy between your future goals and your past experience, you create a cohesive application and don’t leave the admissions committee wondering about the differences.
6. Set a Confident and Positive Tone
When you discuss your future goals, write about the good things that you are going to do WHEN you graduate from veterinary school. Not the things you will do IF you graduate from veterinary school. This will help you come across as confident and capable. Other people are more likely to believe in you when you also believe in your success.
And don’t make any excuses or focus on any negatives in these 3 short essays. You want to leave the admissions committees with a positive overall impression after they finish reading your essay responses.
7. Pick 3-5 Main Points for Each Answer
Since you only have 2,000 characters in which to write a great essay answer to each question, it can be helpful to list out your ideas and main points before you begin writing. Then you can review your ideas and pick the 3-5 strongest ideas for each answer. Throw out any ideas that seem cliche or vague.
By focusing your thoughts ahead of time, you can write a more clear and concise essay that clearly answers the question.
8. Write Your Essay Answers without Focusing on the Character Count
Once you have picked your main 3-5 points, write without focusing the character count. After you have written what you want to convey, read the essay and then cut out information that you don’t need and work on shortening sentences.
No fluff is needed, get straight to the point. Any sentence that isn’t directly supporting your answer can be shortened or removed. And limit descriptive words to help get as much information as possible across in your 2000 character limit.
That being said, if you have the opposite problem and your essay is not close to the 2000 character limit, consider adding another point to that essay. You do want to try and fill most of the space allowed.
9. Proofread, Proofread, Proofread!
Type your answers out in a program like Microsoft Word or Google Docs so that you can easily proofread your essays. I recommend having at least 3 other people read through your essays to look for any spelling or grammar mistakes.
When you proofread the essays yourself, read them aloud so that it is easier to catch any errors.
If you don’t have anyone in your life to help you proofread your personal statement, then head over to The Student Doctor Network Pre-Veterinary Forum. There is a whole topic thread of people willing to help read personal statements for the prospective class of 2025!
Time to Get Writing
Good luck in your journey to veterinary school! I remember how stressful the application process can be, but remember to take a deep breath and leave plenty of time to fill out your application in as stress-free a manner as possible.
And if you are looking for more advice on writing your personal essays, check out this great guide for writing a personal statement from Loop Abroad. It is very thorough and helpful!