No Easy Day

January 30, 2013

Often, when people find out that I’m a veterinarian, one of the first questions I’m asked is: “Veterinary school is harder to get into than medical school, isn’t it?” This is a commonly held belief, and there is some truth to it. I’m also frequently asked “What does my daughter/son need to do to be admitted to veterinary school?” And “Why is my dog so gassy?” (This last one is a question for another day!)

There are 170 accredited medical schools currently in the US. There are only 28 accredited veterinary schools currently in the US. Since there are so few veterinary schools, it does make competition for admission very competitive.

For example, the class of 2015 at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, one of the top five veterinary schools in the country, had 1,043 applicants, of which 163 were accepted. That’s an acceptance rate of only 15%! The same entering class at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine had 798 applicants, of which 141 were accepted, resulting in an acceptance rate of 17%.

Compare this to medical school acceptance rates. The reported acceptance rate for the medical school at the University of California-Davis (one of the top-ranked medical schools in the nation) is only 5%. The University of Florida College of Medicine receives, on average, 1,800 applications of which only 135 students are accepted; this is an acceptance rate of 7%.

Based on these statistics, it seems as if medical school admissions are, in fact, more competitive than veterinary school admissions. However, since there are so many medical schools in the United States, some schools are much more competitive than others. Medical schools ranked in the top 50, as determined by US News and World Report, are vastly more competitive than those with lower rankings. The medical schools at UC Davis and the University of Florida are both very highly ranked, and their admissions statistics reflect this.

Since there are so few veterinary schools, rankings among the vet schools are meaningless. Virtually all veterinary schools in the United States have the same acceptance rates, which probably leads to the perception that it is more difficult to be accepted to vet school than medical school.

The truth is, whether applying to medical or veterinary school, an excellent undergraduate academic record is essential. The average GPA for students accepted to veterinary schools in the US is 3.5. All veterinary schools have a rigorous list of required courses that need to be completed prior to application for admission. For instance, my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine requires 8 credits of physics, 12 credits of chemistry, 9 credits of biology and 3 credits of biochemistry, among others. Most veterinary schools also require prospective students to submit GRE or MCAT scores.

The best advice I can lend to students considering a career in veterinary medicine: study hard and get the best grades you possibly can. While high school and undergrad science courses may seem challenging (and they are), trust me when I say they are nothing compared to the difficult curriculum in veterinary school. In vet school, for the first two to three years, students sit in a classroom eight hours a day, cramming inordinate amounts of information into their overtaxed brains. Even small animal majors need to learn about horses, cows, goats, pigs, chickens, rabbits and guinea pigs. (At Penn Vet, the motto is “Many Species. One Medicine.”) There is little to no fluffy animal contact in the first few years, since so much of it is spent in the classroom; it’s easy to lose sight of the end game: a rewarding career as a veterinarian.

Previous experience with animals, ideally in a veterinary hospital setting (whether as a kennel assistant or volunteer) is also essential for veterinary school applicants. How else to determine if you can handle the exploding anal glands, oozing cat abscesses, major abdominal surgeries and cacophony of odors that accompany a day in the life of a veterinarian? Not to mention the sadness of having to euthanize cats and dogs, the empathy needed to commiserate with mourning clients and the frequent conversations about costs that are a reality of veterinary medicine in 2013. There’s more to being a veterinarian then excelling at biochemistry. It’s the best career I can imagine, but it’s not for the faint of heart.

I know plenty of students who had to apply two or three times to veterinary school before they were accepted. Admissions are competitive, but the admissions staff is often helpful in counseling unsuccessful applicants on how to improve their applications for next year. It’s a long road to veterinary school, but the rewards of a veterinary career are unmeasurable.