How to Become a Veterinarian

May 3, 2024
5 min read


Reviewed by:

Akhil Katakam

Third-Year Medical Student, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Reviewed: 3/28/24

Are you considering becoming a veterinarian but aren’t sure how to start? We’ll cover how to become a vet, your daily responsibilities, and more!

Are you considering a career working with animals? You may be interested in becoming a veterinarian. Vets have the opportunity to work with and treat animals every day.

If you’re passionate about animal wellness, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s everything you need to know about becoming a vet, from the veterinary school timeline to future considerations. Let’s get started!

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How to Become a Veterinarian: The Step-by-Step Guide

Here’s our simple guide on veterinary education requirements and more to get you started. 

Step 1: Decide If Vet School Is Right for You

Before making any decisions, you should ensure becoming a veterinarian is the right path for you. Although a strong passion for animals is required, you must make difficult decisions in the animal’s best interest. For example, if euthanizing an animal would be too hard for you, becoming a vet may be mentally draining. 

Working in pet care is a great way to know if veterinary school is a good option for you. Anyone can apply to work at an animal shelter or a private pet care company. There, you can learn how to care for different types of animals and even administer medication. 

Step 2: Complete an Undergraduate Degree (With Prerequisite Courses)

Most veterinary schools expect applicants to have completed a bachelor’s degree before applying. The prerequisites for vet school vary but generally are:

  • Biology/Zoology
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Mathematics/Statistics
  • English Composition
  • Humanities/Social Sciences

Some schools require additional courses, such as genetics, microbiology, and anatomy. The prerequisite courses for each school vary, so check the requirements for your target schools before applying. 

For example, these are the requirements to apply to UC Davis, the country’s #1 vet school: 

To ensure you’re taking the necessary courses, see if your school offers a pre-veterinary medicine educational track. This program includes prerequisites to ensure you’re prepared for vet school regardless of your major. 

Step 3: Gain Experience 

Before applying for veterinary school, build your resume with relevant volunteering and job experience. There are many ways to gain experience, including: 

  • Joining a pre-vet club
  • Volunteering at shelters
  • Working in pet care
  • Shadowing vets
  • Any other experiences that involve working with animals

This is an essential step in the vet school application process. According to the American Association of Veterinary Medicine Colleges (AAVMC) data report, most applicants logged hundreds of hours working with animals before applying to vet school.

Step 4: Apply to Veterinary Schools

Ensure you check each of your target school’s admission requirements. Most schools require:  

  • A personal statement
  • Two or more letters of recommendation
  • Secondary essays
  • Resume
  • A Veterinary Medical College Application Service  (VMCAS) application or an application through another service

To ensure you’ve ticked all the right boxes, consider seeking the guidance of a professional admissions consultant for veterinary school.

Note: Each veterinary school has unique requirements, so ensure you check your target school’s admission requirements thoroughly before submitting your application.

To get a better idea of your odds of getting into vet school, you can take our vet school admission quiz down below! Get an in-depth look at different factors that go into vet school admissions decisions and how your application measures up. 

Step 5: Complete a DVM Degree

Once you’ve been accepted into a veterinary school, it’s time to complete your four-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree. The first two years focus mainly on science courses with labs, while the third year typically focuses on clinical experience. Your final year often includes clinical rotations to give you hands-on experience. 

Step 6: Take the NAVLE

The North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE) is a multiple-choice exam required for U.S. veterinary licensure. Once you’ve successfully passed the NAVLE, you can practice veterinary medicine. You should give yourself ample time to study for the exam: this is your last crucial step to becoming a vet!

Step 7: Complete Any Additional Steps 

Some states have additional requirements to obtain veterinary licensure beyond taking the NAVLE. To ensure you’ve completed all the necessary steps, check your state requirements before applying for positions.

Step 8: Complete a Residency Program (Optional)

Although you’ve completed the necessary veterinary education requirements, you can attend a residency program after completing vet school if you want to specialize. Residency isn’t necessary to begin practicing as a vet, but it can help you obtain positions tailored to your interests with higher pay.

The AVMA currently recognizes 22 veterinary specialty organizations. Between these organizations, there are 46 distinct AVMA-Recognized Veterinary Specialties. The veterinary specialty organizations recognized by the AVMA are he:

Each AVMA-recognized specialty organization contains a directory with excellent specialty programs. When applying for a specialty program, it’s critical to ensure you meet all of the eligibility requirements. For more information on veterinary specialties, take a look at the AVMA’s specialty information page.

Step 9: Begin Your Veterinary Career!

Once you’ve completed all these steps, you’re ready to begin applying for jobs. Ensure you consistently update your CV throughout your veterinary education path so it’s ready when the time comes.

Regularly updating your CV through these steps also ensures you don’t accidentally omit important experiences or information. 

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Veterinarian?

The cost of becoming a veterinarian varies greatly depending on several factors. For example, vet school tuition in the U.S. can cost anywhere from approximately $19,500 to $65,000 annually, depending on the school, your state of residence, and what year you’re in. Many schools cost less in the first year and gradually raise tuition throughout your degree. 

Aside from tuition, other costs to consider when creating your budget for vet school include:

  • The cost of living in your area
  • Transportation
  • Application fees 
  • Textbooks
  • Out-of-state fees (if you’re traveling for school) 

Remember to consider these additional costs when determining the final cost of your vet school experience. In four years, most veterinary students spend over $200,000 for a DVM on average.

However, most students don’t pay for their entire degree out of pocket. Financial aid is available through the government and schools. There are also plenty of scholarship opportunities for future vet students on the AAVMC website.

What Does a Veterinarian Do?

What is a veterinarian? In short, they’re the doctors of the animal world. They prevent, diagnose, and treat animals while advising their clients on proper care for their pets. With veterinary training, you can work in various settings, such as: 

  • Animal clinics
  • Farms
  • Laboratories
  • Government
  • Other industries

The daily duties of a veterinarian generally consist of:

  • Morning physical exams of each overnight animal (taking vitals, checking for abnormalities)
  • Reviewing lab analysis of bloodwork
  • Diagnosing illnesses and creating treatment plans
  • Obtaining patient histories from clients
  • Preparing animals for surgery
  • Performing surgeries (mostly in the morning to allow animals to recover throughout the day)
  • Seeing new patients
  • Prescribing medication, therapy, or other treatments
  • Requesting tests (x-rays, lab work, etc.)
  • Sending emergency patients to an emergency animal hospital
  • Discharging patients in recovery

As a future veterinarian, you should know there are many exciting yet disheartening aspects of your future career. While veterinarians experience the positives of animal care, plenty of challenges are involved in dealing with animals in stressful situations. 

How Long Does It Take to Become a Veterinarian? 

Considering the typical length of schooling, it takes 8 years to become a veterinarian. However, depending on the school you attend, specializations, and internships or residencies, becoming a vet may take nine years or longer.

Normally, students will attend an undergraduate institution for four years and then a veterinary school for an additional four years. However, some specializations can take up to six additional years to complete adequate schooling.  

Once you complete your degree, you’ll then need to begin your career by finding a job. There are many possible career paths for vets, from private practice to food supply medicine and everything in between. 

Here’s an overview of some career paths where you can apply your DVM. 

Career Path Description
Private Practice You can own and run your own vet clinic, or you can work for one that’s privately owned. You can practice general veterinary medicine or a specialty.
Corporate Veterinary Medicine You can work for corporations that provide veterinary care to produce animal products or test human drugs.
The Federal Government The federal government employs vets through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The U.S. Army Corps or U.S. Air Force You can work in areas such as food safety or providing care to military working dogs.
Research Research can be done in multiple settings, such as a university, lab, corporation, or company.
Teaching You can choose to teach in academia or non-professional schools.
Public Health You can work with government agencies like the United State Public Health Service, which focuses on controlling the transmission of zoonotic diseases.
Food Supply Medicine You can work with the government or a food company.
Global Veterinary Medicine Working in this path allows you to work in private practice or with international agencies.
Public Policy You can work for governments and focus on animal welfare, disease control, or public health issues.
Shelter Medicine You can work at a shelter to improve the health of animal populations in shelter care.

Source: The American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges 

You’re not limited to working only for a private practice. Explore your options and evaluate your interests before choosing your desired career path!

How Much Do Veterinarians Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for veterinarians is $103,260

How much you earn annually as a veterinarian can vary based on numerous factors. Location, job setting, and specialty can impact your annual salary. The best-paid states for veterinarians are Hawaii, Wisconsin, Connecticut, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia - all of which pay a mean annual salary of over $135,000. 

The highest-paid veterinary positions often require special training of three years after vet school.

Other Considerations for Future Vets

Let’s go over some further aspects of life as a veterinarian to consider before making your final decision. 

Becoming a Vet Takes Time

Without specializing, it typically takes eight years of post-secondary education to become a veterinarian in the U.S. The first four years are spent earning a bachelor’s degree, while the other four are spent completing vet school and obtaining your license.

If you choose to specialize, you may add up to three more years of education to your training time. For example, becoming a specialist in veterinary surgery may take up to eleven years of education. 

Passion and Commitment Are Key

Veterinary school is competitive, and the jobs are challenging. If you want to become a veterinarian, you’ll be up against applicants who are extremely committed to animal healthcare. 

To show your passion and to ensure that a veterinary career is right for you, you should log plenty of volunteer hours. Shelters and foster programs are always looking for volunteer workers. If you can log over a hundred hours of animal-related volunteerism, it gives your application a competitive edge.

Vet Life is Not Always Glamorous 

As you may know, working with animals is not always petting kittens and puppies. Vets must remain professional, get their hands dirty, and deal with potentially temperamental animals. Your passion for animal care should extend far beyond the ones that are easy to handle. 

Veterinary life is challenging yet rewarding and can be emotionally draining. Volunteering and owning your own animals can give you a good idea of the good and not-so-glamorous aspects of animal care. 

FAQs: How to Become a Veterinarian

Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about becoming a veterinarian in the U.S.

1. What Is a Veterinarian? 

A veterinarian is a doctor of animal medicine. Veterinarians diagnose, treat, and care for different types of animals. 

2. What Is The Best Vet School In The U.S.?

According to U.S. News, the University of California Davis is the country’s best school for veterinary medicine.

3. Are Veterinarians Doctors?

Veterinarians practice medicine on animals. To do so, they spend many years studying veterinary medicine. Although veterinarians are doctors of veterinary medicine, they don’t attend medical school and aren’t qualified to treat humans. 

4. Does Veterinary School Have Prerequisite Courses?

Yes, most veterinary schools require prerequisite courses or comprehension in certain subjects. Typical prerequisite courses for vet school are Biology/Zoology, Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry, Inorganic Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics/Statistics, and others.

5. When Should I Start Preparing for Veterinary School?

Assuming you have completed a bachelor’s degree or are on track to do so, you should begin preparing for vet school at least two years before you intend to apply. This will give you time to prepare your CV, take prerequisite courses, acquire letters of recommendation, and complete all application components.

6. What Education Is Required to Become a Veterinarian? 

Veterinary education requirements include graduating from college and completing vet school to earn your DVM. While not required, you can also pursue a residency to learn more about a particular specialty.

7. Is Becoming a Vet Worth It? 

Becoming a vet is worth it if you’re passionate about working with animals and love science. However, you’re the only person who can decide if becoming a vet would be worth it: you must also consider the time commitment, how much school becoming a vet requires, and other factors. 

Final Thoughts

Working as a veterinarian isn’t easy, but it can be gratifying. Your passion for animal care should be a driving force, and you should be able to handle pressure and emotional situations. 

Keep in mind the cost and time it takes to become a vet. Ensure you budget and plan so you can enjoy your time learning in school without added pressures. If you’re having trouble with the application process, consider seeking assistance from a professional admissions consultant

Now that you know how to become a veterinarian, we wish you luck on your journey! 

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