How To Become a Veterinarian: 6 Steps

By Diana Kelly Levey · May 17, 2021 · 6 minute read

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How To Become a Veterinarian: 6 Steps

If you’re thinking about how to become a veterinarian, you probably have a compassion for animals and a calling to help animals through medical training. You know that you’ll need to attend veterinary school but are likely wondering how long is vet school? You might even be wondering how much vet school will cost and how you will pay for it.

The cost for a four-year veterinary school for in-state residents is over $200,000 while out-of-state students 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, earning a doctorate in veterinary medicine (DVM) can lead to a salary that averages almost $100,000 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 too. In general, most vet schools are four-year programs for a DVM but some 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 the duration of time 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.

Here are six steps on the road to becoming a veterinarian:

6 Steps to Become a Veterinarian

When deciding on a veterinary school, consider the location, costs, and the types of programs offered if you’re pursuing a specialty veterinary degree.

Step 1: Check Off The Prerequisites

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 or do part-time work with an animal hospital, local business, or charitable organization that helps animals. See if your college has a pre-vet 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.

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 2020 data from the American Veterinary Medical Association , the average educational debt for US veterinary college graduates was $157,146. Some good news from that survey was that 94% of graduates secured full-time employment or had accepted a position in advanced education by two weeks before graduation.

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: How to Pay Off Veterinary School Loans

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 as 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 application requirements. 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. Some applications may also require a personal essay. Once your application is received, there may also be an in-person interview.

Not only is the vet school application process involved and long, but 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 $220, and then each additional application fee is $120.

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. Managing your budget and minimizing extraneous expenses may also help you limit the amount of student debt you end up borrowing.

In order to practice veterinary medicine, 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 help 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.

Applying to vet school can be arduous and once you’re accepted into veterinary school, it’ll take years of schooling—and money—in order to pursue your dream of helping animals.

As rewarding as it is, becoming a vet can be an expensive journey and many future-vets lean on student loans to help them pay for their education.

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.

Refinancing federal student loans eliminates them from borrower protections, so it doesn’t always make sense.

Those interested in refinancing student loans with SoFi can apply online. Find out what SoFi’s lowest rates are today!

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