How do I become a veterinarian?

I get asked all the time by students of all ages who want to be a vet and to get their degree in California. What should I do? What should I major in?

First, let me address vet assistant and vet tech hopefuls who don’t want to be in higher education for 8-12 years: I will deal with you later.

For the rest of you, there are really 2 routes to vet school, particularly UCD SVM: community college transfer to 4-year university or entering a 4-year uni directly. 4-year as in five years of trying really hard to get a 3.6 GPA.

Community college is really a way to get all your prerequites done at a reasonable price. I recommend spending the bare minimum of time there by taking your public speaking/composition, biology, chem, ochem, calc, stats, physics, and maybe RVT program and NOTHING ELSE (not even IGETC) unless there’s a mind-blowingly fun class. RVT programs have the additional benefit of setting you up for a part-time job that can get you a fabulous letter of rec (now called “evaluation letters” or something). CHECK to make sure you’re taking the right ones: not all science classes are created equal. For example, AP Bio or the equivalent at a community college only counts for BIS 10 at UCD. BIS 10 is completely useless and I quote, “Designed for students not specializing in biology.” Science classes are central to any career with animals so do not cut those corners.

Now read this aloud three times: “Going to UCD as an undergraduate will not improve my chances at the UCD vet school.” I actually had a full ride honors scholarship at Cal Poly Pomona that I turned down (after much deliberation). Their Animal Science major is tailored for pre-vets (Animal Health Sci is their RVT major), the tuition is lower than a UC even without scholarships, and the smaller classes are probably more conducive to higher grades. CPP aside, I’ve glanced through the statistics and applicants from other universities have had about the same probability of getting UCD SVM acceptance as applicants from UCD.

You just need to be sure of two things. You need to be sure that the required classes are offered at the university you want, and you need to be sure that you will be able to pull a 3.5 GPA, give or take a fifth of a point. Besides having awesome grades in the required classes (and their prerequisites, don’t forget those), you can take whatever classes you want as long as your college/uni lets you get a degree with it. Chances are, the unit cap gives you enough space to major in something interesting while completing the minimum requirements for all AVMA vet schools (never hurts to keep your options open).

After you settle your academic strategy, you can start thinking about finding work with veterinarians and maybe other respectable adults such that you can get an evaluation from them. These evaluations are scored, so make sure you’re awesome enough to rate high. It’s also possible to get a supervisor that couldn’t care less and would give you great scores even if you only did the bare minimum but would that be that a gamble you’d want to take?

Getting into vet school is simple in theory but life happens and that’s something else that you should watch out for. Maybe you’ll realize that you actually like plants better, maybe you want to go into research, maybe you love the fluffies but you’re just as interested in human medicine or music or education or business. You don’t have to be a veterinarian to be an intelligent person promoting animal welfare. Welfare is an interdisciplinary field. To achieve what we want, we need people who know a lot (economics, politics, sociology, philosophy, ethics, ecology, physiology, psychology/cognition), people who can reach out (rhetoric, graphics, marketing), and people who can integrate both (canny business people, managers). When you decide that you’re going to gun for vet school, the pressure to beat the competition and the prospects of debt from dealing with rising tuition can get to your head. You need to be sure that you can do this, that you want to do this, and that you have the flexibility needed to achieve your goal: maybe not on schedule but eventually is good enough.