Animal doctor school
August 9, 2006 9:24 PM   Subscribe

I am 32 and I recently decided that I would like to become a veterinarian. As I am getting on in the "picking a career" years I have a few questions. I only have a B.A. in Psych to start with. Would it make sense to go to school to become a vet technician or vet technologist first? I'm a little lost on how to get started with the whole thing.
posted by josher71 to Work & Money (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Call the Career Counselors or Admissions at Texas A&M's College of Veterinary Medicine.

My ex-gf is going through their program ... but I can say right now that it's extremely competitive to get into and DAMNED difficult to get through this program. She graduated with a 4.0 from high school and Summa Cum Laude from her BS/Animal Science program at A&M, and had to repeat a year in the doctorate program because she wasn't good enough. You would probably need to complete another BS first in a hard science, i.e. biochem or animal science, before you would be permitted into the doctorate program.
posted by SpecialK at 9:36 PM on August 9, 2006

Washington State University in Pullman has a great vet program, but I understand it's really hard to get into. They get far more applicants than they can accept.
posted by richg at 10:12 PM on August 9, 2006

When I did some research about this it seemed that it would take a few years to get certified as a vet tech, even with a BA in Biology, so going back to school may not be the best use of your time.

I haven't done research about other schools' requirements, but the MD/VA regional vet school requires general experience with animals and experience in an animal medical setting. Working (or volunteering) for a vet would be a good plan. I know I've seen vet tech positions advertised that do *not* require certification, so I'd try to jump straight into that if I were you.

Also, check out this book. My *guess* is that you're better off spending time getting experience and taking only the hard science classes you *need* for admission instead of going back for a second bachelors.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:16 PM on August 9, 2006

I briefly considered becoming a vet, and explored the requirements, so here's my $0.02...

For some hard data, start with the Assoc. of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, which handles the VM school application process and provides some statistics on students (like undergrad gpa, etc).

To echo SpecialK, it is wickedly competative to get into any VM school - harder than getting into med school usually. If you only have a BA in Psych, you'll probably have to go back and take a lot of undergrad-level science courses (and at a 4yr college, not a community/2yr college). I don't know the exact requirements, but expect something like 2 yrs of biology, 2 years of chemistry (including organic chem), and 1yr of physics - but you shouldn't need to complete another entire degree. On top of that, you'll have to take the MCAT, which is no picnic either.

In addition, I've also been told by a uni pre-professional advisor that vet schools pretty much require you to have some significant animal experience - volunteering at a shelter, vet tech, etc. Nothing's a silver bullet, but the one person I know currently in vet school had a lot of great and varied experiences (shelter volunteer, zoo internship, horse farm experience, etc).

I hope I haven't discouraged you, its definitely a big undertaking, but if its what you want to do - go for it!
posted by dicaxpuella at 10:16 PM on August 9, 2006

First off, what kind of a veterinarian would you like to be? I'm personally aiming for a career as a rural veterinarian with an emphasis on large animals, equines in particular, but you could go the extreme opposite and be an inner-city exotics vet. Detainling exactly what you want to do will help us better help you.

Anyways, speaking as someone who's about to start a biomedical science undergrad at Texas A&M with the hopes of getting into the vet school there, let me say that first you should go look at A&M's vet college's website (which I see SpecialK linked to above). They have a list of all of the requirements for applying to the college there, and the sort of competitive you'll have to be (and those requirements will pretty much be the same across the board at the goodvet schools). And vet colleges, as mentioned above, are mad hard to get into.

It's very likely that you are going to have to take a lot of college courses. In fact, I think the vet college has a cap on how long ago you can have taken a college course. Because of that, you may need to pretty much get a whole other degree. With part-time college for that, and the 4 years of vet college, you're looking at easily 8 years of school. At this point you will be in your 40's. Are you still certain this is the job for you?

I would also recommend also thinking about just settling to be a vet technician, which still lets you do a lot of the same thing (though obviously it will be at someone else's practice).
posted by internet!Hannah at 10:36 PM on August 9, 2006

I'll share my perspective - I'm now a second year DVM student at the University of Wisconsin. Two things will be crucial for you if you are seriously considering applying to veterinary school. You will need to, if not get a BS in science, at least take current courses at the university level and do well. You will need to have all of the prerequisites noted by dicaxpuella, but you should note that you do not, in fact, have to take the MCAT. Nearly all the veterinary schools in the United States require the GRE, and only a few will accept the VCAT instead (but not the MCAT).

The other cruicial factor is of course your experience, but if you are serious about becoming a vet, I would bet that you already have significant experience with animals. Don't worry too much if this experience isn't in a veterinary clinic. What I've found within my class is that people were creative in how they discovered that this profession was right for them. The non-traditional students (of which you'd be one) are generally amazing, nice people. You might want to snoop around for the feeling you get from schools about how they view non-traditional students. A the University of Wisconsin there are quite a few and they are some of the best people there in terms of what kind of vet they'll make. Other schools may be more biased against non-traditional students.

A very important thing to consider is that in-state residents often have a MUCH easier time getting into the vet school in their state rather than applying to out of state schools. If at all possible, do your research and decide which school you'd like to attend before you apply and move to that state to establish residency. I got into the UW as an out of state student, but it was about a 1 in 50 shot versus the 50% acceptance rate of in-state applicants. None of this applies to the University of California, of course, which has so many in-state applicants that it seems more likely that you'd win the lottery.

The best advice I can give you and really the most direct answer to your question is that I wouldn't waste time going to school to become a veterinary technician if you'd like to be a veterinarian. You can start working as a tech or receptionist at a local clinic without that kind of schooling, you'll just have to work your way up. What I would do, though, is find out what classes at your local university would fulfill the prerequisites and start taking them. Do well, get to know your professors, make contacts with people, get involved in some research, and your career goals should start to gain a life and momentum of their own...

Good luck!
posted by RealHorrorShow at 10:37 PM on August 9, 2006

You don't want to go to school to become a vet technician. That's essentially a vocational degree, and it won't have much value to vet schools. If anything, go back and get a BS in a hard science. With a 4.0 GPA, preferably.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:42 PM on August 9, 2006

A good friend of mine just did this, starting from her undergrad BA in psych.

She went to Columbia (in NYC) which has a special post-baccalaureate pre-med/pre-vet program for students in exactly your situation. She did I think 3 years of hard science coursework, along with internships at the zoo, with the local humane society, and with a wildlife rehabber. Then she did the application process, which is -- as others said -- more competitive than the med school application process. She got in to one of the good schools (the ones I remember are Cornell, Tufts, University of Pennsylvania; I think there are something like 3 other good vet schools), and is now in her second year. It is incredibly, incredibly hard -- it really is like med school, class and studying and lab for 16-20 hours a day -- but she loves every minute of it.

She is going to be a full vet. It will have taken her something like 7 or 8 years from the time she decided to go back to school, and it has been really, really hard work the whole time. (She is very smart; it's just a ton of work. Also there is all the poop-shoveling, etc, of the required animal-care internships.) She loves it and is very, very happy that she decided to do it.

To be a vet tech is a totally different process, and much, much less work. But I don't know much about the specifics.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:43 PM on August 9, 2006

There are pros and cons to being an actual vet as opposed to being a vet tech. A vet will have more responsibility, more power, more prestige, more knowledge, more intellectual challenges, and -- after years of school -- will make more money. But s/he also will probably have much longer working hours, bigger worries, and certainly the 8 years of 16-hour-a-day school/internship commitment is the hard front end of that. A vet tech doesn't have to do those 8 years, and gets to go home at the end of the day and not worry about owning his/her own practice, or about getting an emergency phone call at night, etc. To become an actual vet, I think you have to be willing to give over your life to it. To become a vet tech, you don't.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:56 PM on August 9, 2006


Hey, Hannah - Welcome to Aggieland! I work in the Athletics department after moving here a few months ago, and you're really about to embark on something awesome from everything I've seen! I'll see you drilling with the rest of the Fish Corps outside of Kyle Field... 0_o Good luck!
posted by SpecialK at 10:59 PM on August 9, 2006

My old boss's daughter did her vet school down in the Caribbean for cheaper... but she was able to get her residency at a clinic in the States.

You may need to take some undergrad level biology courses first, but like others said, look at vet schools' requirement pages for more information.
posted by k8t at 3:58 AM on August 10, 2006

Purdue (located in Indiana) also has a vet school. As others have pointed out, these schools are very competitive. And the vet student that I knew worked her ass off getting through the program. And then their were the stories of sticking her arm up some cow's ass and then.....
posted by bim at 4:20 AM on August 10, 2006

My wife is a vet tech, and she wouldn't become a vet if someone offered her a DVM degree for free. In addition to the insane difficulty in getting into vet school, the grinding workload and the intense stress, you will likely come out of vet school with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt, and your income (especially starting out) is significantly less than human doctors, so paying it off can be very onerous.

If you like animals and just want to work in that field, consider becoming a tech (my email is in my profile if you'd like to talk to my wife -- she loves evangelizing).

Now to actually answer your question, if you are set on being a vet, don't bother becoming a tech first. While you definitely need experience with animals, you can do it in other ways in less time and for less money. Find out exactly what courses you need, take them (and really, if you don't get a 4.0 it may not be worth going further) and volunteer or get an entry level job in an animal care facility of some kind.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:25 AM on August 10, 2006

Yeah, I was about to point out the debt... I am not familiar with DVM programs but it sounds like the good income would be offset by tons of debt.
posted by zek at 7:26 AM on August 10, 2006

I am in the process of applying to vet school right now. It is (according to many involved with these programs) a myth that you have to have a hard science degree. Schools look for people who stand out. I am applying with an entomology degree (I go to Purdue-go Boilers!), and I know people who have gotten in with liberal arts degrees, even one with a degree in art. You just have to take the prerequisite classes and do well (i know a lot of the people in the program now, and they definitely did NOT have 4.0s). Most schools require:

2 semesters gen chem
2 semesters organic chem
2 semesters of biology
2 semesters of physics
one semester of biochem

A lot of them have requirements that are specific to their school. Check out the requirements at

And veterinary/animal experience is a big part of the application too. Get a job at a clinic somewhere. I worked as a vet tech (which you can do in some states w/o a degree) for a year, and I learned so much!

I wouldn't poo-poo a technician degree, either. Here at Purdue they offer a 4-year vet tech degree, and they definitely don't take slackers. They work their butts off.

If it's what you want to do, I say go for it. So what if you're 32? 40 is the new 20 now, you know. And you will have your head screwed on straight, a definite advantage over the younger crowd.
posted by bolognius maximus at 8:58 AM on August 10, 2006

Life is a series of careers. 32 is young. Do whatever you want! People go to med school and law school all the time, even in their late middle age. 32 is brand spanking new by comparison.

Good luck!
posted by FauxScot at 10:56 AM on August 10, 2006

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