How To Become a Veterinarian: 6 Steps

By Diana Kelly Levey · March 08, 2024 · 7 minute read

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How To Become a Veterinarian: 6 Steps

If you’re considering pursuing a career as a veterinarian, you probably have tremendous affection and compassion for animals and want to help them via medical training. That probably means you’re considering attending veterinary school. Among the questions you may be wondering about are, How long is vet school? How do I apply? How much will vet school cost, and how can I afford it?

This guide will help you understand the process for how to become a vet and how you might afford this fulfilling career.

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Veterinarian?

The cost for a four-year veterinary school for in-state residents is over $200,000 while students with out-of-state tuition may pay more than $275,000, depending on the school, according to the VIN Foundation Student Debt Center.

While that’s a lot of money, getting a doctorate in veterinary medicine (DVM) can lead to a median salary of $103,260 a year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A vet’s salary depends on what kind of practice they go into and where they are located.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Veterinarian?

The path to becoming a vet can vary, and the length of time it takes to become a vet can vary as well. In general, most vet schools are four-year programs for a DVM. Some, however, have accelerated programs and semesters and get the work done in three years.

Those pursuing a veterinary career path might also want to factor in how long it takes to complete the prerequisites. In general, that will require students to have a bachelor’s degree, which also takes around four years to complete. If you have already completed your bachelor’s degree but didn’t take the courses required for vet school, then you may need to pick up those credits as well before you start your applications.

That said, what follows are six key steps if you are wondering how to be a veterinarian.

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6 Steps to Become a Veterinarian

The steps to becoming a veterinarian are often as follows:

Step 1: Check Off The Prerequisites

These points can help you move towards your degree as a veterinarian:

•   The Veterinary Medical College Application Service resource will show you the list of prerequisite college courses that are generally required for students applying for veterinary school. Required courses for most veterinary schools include biology, chemistry, animal sciences, and advanced math.

•   Students interested in pursuing vet school who are currently enrolled in undergrad may want to review their current course of study to be sure they are on track for vet school prerequisites.

•   Another tip is to volunteer, get an internship, or do part-time work with an animal hospital, local business, or charitable organization that helps animals. See if your college has a prevet extracurricular club that could broaden your experience and help you learn more about the field.

Getting a lot of hands-on animal experience can help build your resume and help you make sure that you’re pursuing a career path that appeals to you.

Also, know that to file your vet school application, you’ll most likely be required to submit your undergraduate transcripts and provide a reference from a college professor or professional in the animal sciences.

Step 2: Determine How to Pay for School

Before you decide on which veterinary school you want to attend, consider evaluating what savings you have to put toward vet school and estimate what you may need to borrow in student loans or fund with grants and scholarships.

It’s important to think about veterinary school costs as you begin researching schools so you have a good idea of what your veterinary school debts may look like.

According to the most recent data from the American Veterinary Medical Association, the average educational debt among the 82% of US veterinary college graduates who take on debt was $179,505. While vets do earn a good salary once they find employment, that is a significant sum to consider.

Working a part-time job while attending school might help offset some of the vet school costs or the amount you have to take out in loans in order to cover living expenses, but it might be challenging to balance work and school, especially as your schoolwork increases.

Recommended: Why Your Student Loan Balance Never Seems to Decrease

Step 3: Research Veterinary Schools

Once you have an idea of how much money you have to pay for vet school, research the veterinary schools in the country. You’ll likely consider the location, costs, and the types of programs offered if you’re pursuing a specialty veterinary degree.

This step can be an important part of the journey on how to become a veterinarian. As you read above, it may be more affordable to attend a vet school in your state.

Also, check that the vet school(s) you are applying to are suited to the type of vet medicine you want to practice. For example, if you’d like to pursue a career working with horses, research schools that offer equine programs.

If you plan to pursue a general DVM degree, find an accredited veterinary program that fits the criteria most important to you, such as your budget or where you want to live.

Step 4: Apply to Veterinary Schools

Check out the schools’ admissions website to determine the specific graduate school application requirements. Some pointers:

•   Most vet schools require students to submit scores for either the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Some schools may also require applicants to take the Biology GRE.

•   You also might need a letter of recommendation or two, as noted above.

•   Some applications may also require a personal essay.

•   Once your application is received, there may also be an in-person interview.

Yes, the vet school application process can be involved and long. It can get expensive, too. Vet schools often charge a non-refundable application fee; many schools follow the fee structure set by the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges, which sets the first application fee at $227, and then each additional application fee is $124.

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Step 5: Attend Veterinary School

A three- to four-year vet med school degree often involves a few semesters of coursework, followed by clinical training and intense clinical training to gain hands-on training at one of the college’s affiliates.

Students can apply for scholarships and grants to help alleviate some of the costs of a veterinary degree. By managing your budget and minimizing extraneous expenses, you may also lower the amount of student debt you end up borrowing.

In order to practice veterinary medicine and become a veterinary, students will also need to study for and pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE). Generally, vet students take the exam during their senior year.

Step 6: Begin The Job Search

The experiences you had during clinical rotations can help you determine which area of veterinary medicine you want to go in. Options include private veterinary practice, vet hospital, research, education, diagnostics, or even public health with a DVM degree.

In general, it can be helpful to start looking for a job in veterinary medicine before graduating from vet school. After passing the NAVLE and graduating from school, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running if you have a job in place.

Having a job secured before you graduate may also provide peace of mind as you start thinking about student loan repayment.

The Takeaway

A career in veterinary medicine can be a rewarding one. You’re helping sick or injured animals heal, providing preventative care, and getting to interact with animals all day long. When it comes to discovering how to become a veterinarian, the process takes planning, dedication, and hard work.

Attending veterinary school can be a challenging but fulfilling journey. It’s also typically an expensive one. After graduating, refinancing student loans may be an option that can lower the loan’s interest rate, and potentially reduce the cost of borrowing in the long term. However, you may pay more interest over the life of the loan if you refinance with an extended term. Also, refinancing federal student loans means you forfeit some borrower protections, such as loan forgiveness and deferment.

Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.

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Where do veterinarians work?

Veterinarians work across the country and around the world in a variety of settings, such a s private clinics, animal hospitals, and zoos, or they may operate out of an office and then visit homes or ranches.

What does a veterinarian do?

A veterinarian cares for the health of animals, whether pets, livestock, or other animals. They diagnose and work to heal issues animals endure and may protect public health by doing so.

What’s the salary and job outlook for a veterinarian?

The median salary for a veterinarian is currently $103,260 a year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The need for vets is seen as increasing, with a projected growth of 19.4% between 2021 and 2031.

What hours do vets work?

The hours a vet will work can vary tremendously depending on a specific job, type of employment, and location. Most vets work four to five days a week, eight to 10 hours a day.

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