Interested in becoming a veterinarian? Then you probably know that there are a lot of steps involved in the journey from life as a young aspiring veterinarian until your first day of veterinary school. It can be tricky to keep track of everything that can be done as you take the steps towards veterinarian school, so the Aspiring Veterinarian Checklist was created to help.
The Aspiring Veterinarian’s Checklist
This checklist is broken up into 4 sections (elementary students, middle school students, high school students, undergraduate students), based on where you are in your veterinary journey. Feel free to skip forward to the section the best applies to you.
At this stage of your life, the best way to explore veterinary medicine is through books, toys, internet resources, and by going with your parents or family friends when their pets head to the vet. The following are some specific ways to help you explore veterinary medicine while you are in elementary school.
[ ] Read at least 10 books about being a veterinarian
For some great book suggestions, check out the lists created by Barnes and Nobles, PetHelpful, or A Mighty Girl. I would also recommend a book written by a veterinary acquaintance of mine: Dr. Chuck’s “A Hedgehog with a Sneeze” is a lovely read with great illustrated pictures.
[ ] Go with your pet (or a friend’s pet) to a veterinary visit
One of the best ways to get an early glimpse into what happens at a veterinary clinic (or out on the farm) is to join your family dog, cat, horse, or farm animals when they are examined by the veterinarian.
[ ] Check out veterinary blogs aimed at aspiring veterinarians
One of the best websites I have found for young students interested in veterinary medicine is VetSetGo.com. With a search function for finding a veterinary camp near you and lots of information about a day in the life of a veterinarian, there is plenty to discover on this well-made website.
[ ] +/- Participate in a Veterinary Camp
There are a wide variety of veterinary camps throughout the United States. In my local area (Minnesota), the Animal Humane Society runs a half-day program all about life as a shelter veterinarian that is made for kids from 3rd to 6th grade. Each veterinary camp is a different length and aimed at different age groups, so do a little research to find the best one near you.
Middle School Students
As you get older, more volunteer opportunities will be open to you. Consider some of the options listed below.
[ ] Volunteer at your local humane society
While volunteering age varies between humane societies and animal rescues, middle school is a good time to start looking into volunteer opportunities.
To keep with my local example, the Animal Humane Society in Minnesota allows regular volunteer roles to be filled by those who are 16 years or older. But they have a list of opportunities for those who are younger than 16. If you live in Minnesota, check them out here.
But Paws and Claws, the animal rescue I grew up volunteering at in Rochester, MN, allowed volunteers to start at 12 years old. All volunteers 12 through 17 have to be accompanied by a parent at the orientation session. And volunteers aged 12 through 15 have to be accompanied by a parent or guardian at all times while volunteering. But if your parent/guardian is on board with volunteering with you, then this can be a great option for middle school students.
So, search your local animal rescue and see what their guidelines are. If they don’t have them listed online, send them an email or call.
[ ] Volunteer at least 20 hours for any organization that interests you
No matter what career you end up pursuing, volunteering in your community looks great on a resume or application. And not only does it look good, but it helps you connect with your community, helps you build experience, makes you feel good, boosts self-esteem and more. Check out this article on the benefits of volunteering for more reasons to volunteer.
[ ] Check the age requirement to job shadow at the various veterinary clinics in your town
Many veterinarians require students to be 16 years of age, or at least in high school, in order to begin job shadowing. However, occasionally you will find a veterinarian that allows you to job shadow at a younger age. It is always worth checking with your local veterinarian to find their age limit. That way you will be ready to start job shadowing as soon as you are old enough. For more information about hold you need to be to shadow a veterinarian, check out our recent post: “The Best Age to Begin Job Shadowing a Veterinarian”.
[ ] Start logging hours worked with animals, spent job shadowing, or spent volunteering
The application for veterinary school includes a section where you list experiences you have in a few main categories:
- Veterinary experience
- Animal experience
- Work experience
- Community service
- Honors and awards.
Logging each of these as you complete different experiences and volunteer opportunities can help make sure your veterinary school application is as accurate as possible.
High School Students
Once you are in high school, your opportunities for job shadowing and volunteering will expand significantly. Plus, you will likely get your first real job during these 4 years.
[ ] Job Shadow
You are now old enough to job shadow! Find a local veterinarian (or 2 or 3) and start logging those hours. Not only is this important for a successful veterinary school application, but it is also important in deciding if you truly enjoy the day to day life as a veterinarian. There are many different types of veterinarians, so try to get experience with as many different veterinarians as possible.
[ ] Volunteer
Keep volunteering. The benefits of volunteering never stop.
[ ] Get your first job (consider veterinary assistant/kennel staff)
Work experience is important also. Many students interested in veterinary medicine will attempt to find jobs as a veterinary assistant or kennel attendant. These are great part-time jobs.
However, any job that involves customer service is beneficial at this point in your life. Veterinary medicine involves A LOT of customer service skills. I had two different jobs during high school: I worked at Target and at a local horse barn (cleaning stalls).
[ ] Be involved in extracurriculars
Extracurricular activities are also a great way to build connections, learn, and build leadership skills. Veterinary schools like to see that you are involved in a variety of activities.
[ ] Take all the science and math classes available to you
These will set you up well when you get to college. Pre-veterinary programs involve a fair amount of chemistry, biology, and some math and physics, classes.
[ ] Keep logging hours
Keep logging those hours! Trust me, you really will thank yourself when you fill out the VMCAS (veterinary school application).
[ ] Check out the AVMA’s Veterinary Admissions 101
While many of the information is covered in this blog post, the AVMA has many great resources for aspiring veterinarians. Find these resources at AVMA.org.
Undergraduate (College) Students
Once you make it to college, it is time to get serious about preparing for veterinary school and making sure working as a veterinarian is the right career for you.
[ ] Keep job shadowing
Keep job shadowing. The closer you get to applying for veterinary school, the more important it is to determine if you truly want to become a veterinarian. Spending time observing the day to day workflow will help you make this decision.
[ ] Try to find a veterinary assistant job
This is also a great time to see if you can find a job as a veterinary assistant. If you are in a small town, then the local veterinary clinics might be oversaturated with available pre-veterinary students, but working in a veterinary clinic is a great way to gain experience and also earn some spending cash.
Don’t worry if you can’t find work inside a veterinary clinic. Many successful applicants (myself included) were accepted into veterinary school without ever having earned a paycheck from a veterinary clinic.
[ ] Pick an undergraduate major
It truly doesn’t matter what major you pick as long as you complete the pre-requisites for the college(s) that you are going to be applying to. Find out more about the pre-requisites at aavmc.org.
Some majors overlap more with these pre-requisites making it easier to complete them. Many pre-veterinary students major in Animal Science and Biology. Chemistry is also a good major or minor. However, engineering, art, and many other majors have successfully applied to veterinary school.
[ ] Maintain a good GPA
A good GPA isn’t everything when it comes to a veterinary school application. But it also never hurt an application. Be diligent in your studies and ask for help when needed. The mean GPA for the various veterinary schools in the United States ranged from 3.2 to 3.8 for the Class of 2022. (source AAVMC.org)
[ ] Stay involved in extracurriculars,
This helps keep your application well rounded.
[ ] Keep volunteering,
Honestly, never stop volunteering. It helps applications but also helps you become a great human being.
[ ] Develop relationships with veterinarians/professors
The better someone knows you, the easier it is for them to write you a good letter of recommendation. Develop good relationships with at least 3 different professionals in your life. Most veterinary schools require at least one letter of recommendation to come from a veterinarian.
Check the requirements for the schools you are interested in attending early. That way you can make sure you have good relationships with the right people to help your applications stand out.
[ ] +/- Study abroad
This isn’t necessarily needed to apply to veterinary school. However, in my opinion, college is the perfect time to study abroad. It gives you a different perspective of the world and helps you grow as a person before diving into the world of veterinary school.
[ ] Go to a pre-veterinary conference or symposium
This is another way to create relationships with other pre-veterinary students and to gain more information and exposure to topics in veterinary medicine.
Consider the American Pre-Veterinary Medical Association (APVMA)’s annual conference. Find out more information about this conference at APVMA.org.
[ ] Join the Student Doctor Network (SDN) pre-veterinary forum
This was one of the best resources I found during my own application process for veterinary school. Just about any topic you are curious about can be found in this forum. And if not, just ask yourself.
The most helpful part for me was the sample interview questions. A few of my own interview questions where almost word for word from the samples that other students had posted from previous years.
Here is a link to the SDN Pre-Veterinary forum (or you can just search for it).
[ ] Get involved in a research project
Another way to diversify your veterinary school application is to spend some time working on a research project. Research is one of the career options you can pursue as a veterinarian and getting a taste of it in undergrad helps you make an informed decision about career choices later on in life.
[ ] Take the GRE
In the year leading up to your veterinary school application, make sure to prepare for and take the GRE (Graduate Record Examination). Find out more about the GRE at Ets.org.
Some veterinary schools also accept the MCAT. More information about requirements for applying for veterinary school can be found at the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges website.
[ ] Complete your VMCAS application
VMCAS stands for Veterinary Medical College Application Service and is the application that needs to be submitted in order to apply to any of the 30 veterinary schools in the United States.
This application is typically due the September before the year that you hope to start veterinary school. Make sure to start on this application early, as it can take a fair amount of time to complete. And since you need multiple letters of recommendation, you will need to plan ahead in order to give people time to write these letters.
Share your thoughts
Any other successful veterinary school applicants have more to add to this checklist? Comment below!