A cat in a vet clinic

How Long Is Vet School? A Complete Timeline

September 21, 2021
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1. Introduction2. Bachelor's Degree3. Typical Vet School Timeline4. Online Vet School Programs5. Internships6. Certifications and Examinations7. Is Vet School Worth It?8. FAQs9. Conclusion

Introduction

Vet school is no easy feat. A successful veterinarian needs more than just a love of animals and a passion for care-taking. This career path takes dedication and hard work, but if you’ve made it this far, you already knew that. 

You know what it takes to be a successful veterinarian. You’ve probably dreamed of this moment for a while. You’ve decided you’re capable enough to tackle the challenge, but there’s just one question. How long is vet school? Any medical career requires extensive knowledge and you can’t learn everything you need to know in a short amount of time. 

The process seems daunting, but don’t let that keep you from following your dreams! We’ve compiled this timeline to show you how long vet school takes so you know exactly what to expect when you begin your vet school journey. 

Bachelor’s Degree

Earning a bachelor’s degree helps boost your likelihood of acceptance into vet school, but a few students have been accepted with only having finished the prerequisites for vet school. 

For example, Cornell requires that applicants complete a total of sixty semester credits before applying to the DVM program, and you can achieve this without earning a bachelor’s degree by only taking the prerequisite courses. However, most applicants accepted into vet school earned a bachelor’s, so if you have the ability to earn one it definitely improves your chances.

If you decide to pursue a bachelor’s degree before applying to vet school, keep in mind that you don’t have to choose a major that is relevant to a career in veterinary medicine. The admissions team heavily focuses on your grades, so you want to make sure you choose a degree that interests you, not one you think is your ticket into vet school. 

If you pursue a bachelor’s degree, it takes an average of four years to complete, but the timeline varies among students. You set the pace for your achievements. 

Typical Vet School Timeline

Vet school requires an additional four years of education. As with medical school, vet school becomes increasingly more difficult as you advance through the years. Unlike medical school, vet school teaches its students about varying animal species so you can determine what field of veterinary medicine you want to specialize in. 

Below you’ll find a complete breakdown of your four years of vet school so you get an idea of what is expected of you. 

First Year

The first year of vet school consists of the basics. You’ll spend most of your time in labs or lectures learning the building blocks of subjects like anatomy and physiology. 

You’ll spend a lot of your time learning general knowledge that you should carry with you throughout your career, so you should develop good study habits as well. Don’t learn the information just long enough to pass an exam. Make sure to stay on top of your work as well. 

If you have any time to spare between classes and studying, you should also consider joining some clubs. Cornell offers a wide variety of vet school clubs and associations. These clubs give students a chance to discover possible specialties and provide more exposure to the world of veterinary medicine.

Second Year

The second year of vet school expands on your existing knowledge of veterinary medicine while also diving deeper into pathology. You’ll learn all about diseases and treatments, as well as what these diseases look like in your furry patients. 

Your labs will continue in your second year, but you’ll get more hands-on experience. This is where joining clubs comes in handy. The clubs give you outside experience that differs from what you do in class and it’s a great way to get more practice. 

Third Year

The third year of vet school introduces your technical skills, such as diagnosis and treatment, while also giving you the opportunity to develop surgical skills. You can also pursue different electives during this time to explore your interests and help determine if you would like to pursue a specialty in your veterinary career.

Fourth Year

The fourth and final year of vet school fully immerses you in the life of a veterinarian. You work in clinical rotations, where you get to meet patients and start learning the process of diagnosing and treating them. These are your final steps in the metamorphosis from student to doctor. 

When you’re not working in your clinical, you need to devote a substantial amount of time preparing for the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE). You must pass this exam in order to practice veterinary medicine. As with medical school, you cannot move on with your career in veterinary medicine until you pass this exam. 

This exam consists of two parts that are continuously changed and updated through the years as technology and diagnosis processes change. The first portion of the exam is the competencies in which students are tested on things relating to daily operations as a veterinarian. This section includes subjects like communication and professionalism. 

The second portion of the exam tests students on diagnosis, and this portion of the exam deals with different species of animals to test the full extent of your knowledge. 

If you’re nervous at the thought of this exam looming over your career, don’t fret. Make use of your free time to study the topics you struggle with while also honing the areas you excel in. You don’t want to neglect any subject as you work towards your dream. 

Once you’ve received a passing score and meet all state requirements, you’re ready to begin your career as a veterinarian!

Online Vet School Programs

We understand the draw of online education and the ability to earn a degree from the comfort of your home where you can work at your own pace. Unfortunately, a degree in veterinary medicine cannot be fully obtained online due to the hands-on requirements of the degree. 

Some schools might allow hybrid courses, where part of the class is done online while the other half occurs on campus. If you’re unable to commit to on-campus education, you can earn a degree as a veterinary technician online. Through Penn Foster, you can get an Associate’s Degree or a Bachelor’s Degree in Veterinary Technology. Ashworth College also offers a veterinary technician online program. 

Understand that a veterinary technician is different from a veterinarian. You’ll get a lot of experience, but you’re essentially assisting the veterinarian like a nurse assists a doctor. 

Internships

Internships are not a requirement of vet school graduates, but they do give you a few more years of practice as a veterinarian before you get a job in a clinic or animal hospital. Internships help ease you into the transition from student to doctor, allowing you a small reprieve before you’re thrust into the responsibilities of a full-fledged veterinarian. 

We also understand that you might feel ready to dive right into your career, or that you’re swimming in debt and don’t want to spend another few years without pay. 

If you decide an internship is the next step for you, you’ll find a list of schools and the internships they offer on the Veterinary Internship and Residency Matching Program (VIRMP) website. Here are two examples.

You can also try to find internships through local vet clinics or animal hospitals. Some offices will post a listing that specifically targets vet school students or recent vet school graduates. Just make sure you meet all of their requirements before you apply. 

Certification and Examinations

In order to become a practicing veterinarian, you must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE). In order to pass this exam, you must get at least 55% correct on the exam, with a score of 425 being the minimum passing score. 

If you fail your first testing attempt, you’re allowed to take another test during a different testing window, but make sure you check with the licensing board to see the number of times you’re allowed to retake the exam, as well as the amount of time that has to pass before you can retake the exam. 

You also need to make sure you meet the requirements for the state in which you wish to practice veterinary medicine. Different states have different requirements concerning things like the licensing period as well as how much (if any) continuing education you need and how often you have to update that education. 

For example, the state of Florida has a licensing period of 2 years and requires their vets to complete 30 hours of continuing education every two-year period. New York has a licensing period of 3 years and requires their vets to complete 45 hours of continuing education every 3 years. 

Also understand that if you decide to move to a different state, you’ll have to complete that state’s requirements in order to practice veterinary medicine, similar to how lawyers have to take the BAR for a certain state in order to practice law in that state.

For example, if you complete the requirements for the state of Georgia but later moved to Michigan, you have to complete the requirements for the state of Michigan before you’re allowed to practice veterinary medicine.

Think of certifications like a master’s degree or PhD. Certifications are not required, but they can open the doors to a higher salary in your career. There are many different specialties and certifications you can pursue, ranging from epidemiology to oncology and even dental certifications. 

If you’re interested in pursuing certification, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) lists all the different specialties you can delve into. 

Is Vet School Worth It?

You know you have a deep love for animals and you want to dedicate your life to helping animals in need. But after reading about the long and arduous process of vet school, you might find yourself wondering if vet school is really worth the challenge. 

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), vet school students graduate with an average of $150,000 in student loan debt. It’s difficult to refrain from concentrating only on the costs, but keep in mind that you can help cut costs by choosing schools with cheaper tuition and applying for scholarships and grants. 

If money motivates you, veterinarians earn an average salary of $84,982. These earnings will help you pay your student debt, while also providing financial security. However, your pay depends on your experience as well as the area you work in. The average salary in smaller, rural areas is lower than in heavily-populated urban areas.

It’s important to understand that veterinarians experience a substantial amount of stress. You will deal with life-or-death situations constantly which can end up taking a toll on your mental health.

Depending on the clinic you work at, you might have to work long hours, especially when you’re establishing yourself as a doctor. Long hours affect personal relationships, so consider the sacrifices you might face when you take on this career. 

Ultimately, you decide if vet school is worth it. Consider all of your options before traveling down this path. Understand that you deal with people just as much as you deal with animals. Like any job, there are people who make your job more difficult. Don’t let this be a deterrent though. If you truly want to be a veterinarian, you shouldn’t let anything hold you back.

FAQs

1. How many years in total will it take to become a vet?

If you decide to earn a bachelor’s degree before pursuing vet school, it will take about eight years in total for you to become a vet. Experiences vary from person to person. You decide when you finish whether you want to fast-track the process, or if you want to take your time, but the average timeline is eight years. 

2. Is there an age limit for vet school?

It’s never too late to pursue your dream. There are pros and cons to applying later in life, but pros and cons loom over any decision. Older students have the benefit of gaining real-world experience and might even have the financial stability to afford tuition without the use of student loans.

However, older students probably have more familial obligations than younger students, and this career path can put a strain on your personal relationships. Don’t let your age stop you from achieving great things. Life is too short to hold yourself back. 

3. How much do vets make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for veterinarians is $99,250 per year, while the average is $84,982. However, salary ranges will vary from state to state. 

As an example, Hawaii ranks the highest salary with $198,340 per year, while Arkansas ranks the lowest with a salary of $69,130 per year. 

As with any life-changing decision, consider the listed salaries of the states you want to practice veterinary medicine. Money isn’t everything, but it certainly helps. 

4. Can I take a gap year after my undergraduate degree?

Absolutely! An undergraduate degree can be draining, especially if you had to work a job while attending school. Take some time away from school to relax and catch your breath if you need to 

Vet school requires a lot of dedication and you don’t want to feel burnt out before you’ve even started. Use this time to travel, spend time with friends, or get experience working at an animal shelter before you apply to vet school. Just make sure you fit some study time in before you apply to vet school so your mind stays sharp. 

5. How long are my vet school prerequisites valid?

The answer to this question varies from school to school. According to UC Davis, as long as you’ve completed the prerequisites, it doesn’t matter how much time passed since you took them. However, if you wait too long, you may forget important information. 

Check the requirements for the schools to which you apply to see if your prerequisites have an expiration date. Most vet schools like to see the work completed within the last five years.

6. Why is the process for becoming a vet so long?

Vet school requires a long process because you learn a lot of information dealing with varying species of animals. You can’t learn how to diagnose and treat multiple illnesses overnight. Until you determine a specialty, you have to learn how to treat all animals. 

7. How long is vet tech school?

The answer to this question depends on whether you seek to become a veterinary technologist or veterinary technician. Veterinary technologists earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Veterinary Technology that takes about four years to complete, while veterinary technicians earn an Associate’s Degree in Veterinary Technology that takes about two years to complete. 

If you want to open the door to job opportunities outside of hospitals and clinics, like labs, you should consider earning a bachelor’s degree. 

8. How long is vet assistant school?

Vet assistant school has the quickest completion time. You can earn your degree in as little as 9 months. This career choice works best for people who want to start a vet career as quickly as possible and gain a lot of experience. 

Conclusion

The road to veterinary medicine is paved with long hours and hard work. It requires dedication and tenacity. Don’t take this decision lightly. Understand the sacrifices you’ll make when pursuing vet school. It won’t always be easy, but if you truly want this career, the pain is worth it. 

Remember that you can also pursue a career that still helps animals that doesn’t lead to becoming a veterinarian. You can always consider the path to becoming a veterinary assistant or technician if the thought of enduring 8 years of school seems too difficult. Just don’t let your insecurities hold you back from following your dreams.

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