Preparing for Your Vet School Interview

By Paige Roth

I almost fell out of bed when I received my first vet school interview. After submitting my application, it truly never occurred to me that this day would actually come — the day where I would actually have to book my flight to a new city, dry clean my suit and delve into the facts about a program that might actually accept me.

When the excitement died down, I realized I really didn’t have the first clue what to expect from a vet school interview. Sure, plenty of my friends had come home with war stories from medical school interviews, but if I have learned anything from this process it is to never assume the vet schools and med schools think alike. And while I have had my fair share of professional interviews, I knew better than to underestimate the task ahead of me. I once again set out on the familiar quest through the interwebs.

As I scrolled through lists of possible interview questions,  I found myself stuck on the simplest inquiries — “Tell me about yourself.” I rattled off a practice answer while alone in my bedroom. Wait. Did that sound “vetty” enough? I could have given that response to the Starbuck’s Barista. I tried again. Now that just sounded like the silly little girl who decided to become a vet at her best friends puppy party. This was going nowhere.

I needed professional help. Below are a few tricks I tried to prepare for my interview — everything from what to say to what to wear. Ultimately, I was very happy with my interview. I was well prepared, had a wonderful experience, sweat through my suit and GOT ACCEPTED!!

  1. Sign up for that Career Services Interview Prep Course. For a moment the thought crossed my mind: “I’ve done interviews before. I can just read over the practice questions. No need for this session.” Banish that thought. You are wrong. A practice interview was the single best decision I made before my interview. Why? First, I had to practice talking for over an hour. It is hard to form coherent thoughts, especially when you are asked to do it over and over again. It gave me the chance to fine tune my answers and get some valuable feedback. Not to mention, every single question in my actual interview was something I had practiced during my career counselor’s session.
  2. Write out and practice your answers. I hand wrote bulleted answers to each of the major questions (i.e. Why this school? Why do you want to be a vet?). I practiced them enough so that they flowed, but not so much that I sounded like a robot. As a flashcard addict, this strategy made me feel so much better. I was able to review my bullets before my interview to calm my nerves.
  3. Get to your interview VERY early. I showed up an hour before my interview (because that’s when my ride could drop me off). I was sure I would be foolishly early, but wasn’t the first one there! In fact, two vet students were sitting in the admissions office answering questions. Their insights were some of the most helpful facts I learned during my visit and I’m sure our hour-long conversation reflected well on my interest in the school.
  4. Be prepared to wait. There were a limited number of panelists for about twenty students. Naturally, I was last on the list. I was stuck in a room full of anxious fellow applicants. I had to force myself to tune out over-confident Charlie who rattled over every medical mystery he’d solved to date and timid Tina who wanted to tell anyone who would listen how terrifying the panelists were. Bring a book or bury your nose in some admissions materials and just remind yourself that you deserve to be in that room just as much as everyone else.
  5. Wear your most professional outfit. I was afraid I would be stuffy and over dressed. I wore a black suit with a conservative black and white blouse. I’m short, so I opted to wear low heels. My outfit was just right. If there are any more interviews in the future, I plan to wear the exact same thing! I would, however, recommend a change of flats if the day involves a tour. There was no way to look elegant while climbing over cattle grates in heels. But, as the dean put it, “Vet students don’t complain” : )


It’s worth noting that this interview was not in the MMI format, just a panel of interviewers with a sheet of set questions. If I do attend an MMI interview, you can expect another post!!


Which vet schools should I apply to?

By Paige Roth

The million dollar question. Last week I spoke to a pre-veterinary advisor from Duke University who shed some light on the surprisingly daunting task of choosing a vet school.

Unlike selecting an undergraduate institution, there are a limited number of vet schools to choose from and they are generally fairly comparable. Of course, some have stronger shelter medicine programs or exotic focuses etc., but they will all set you up well to do the job. On the other hand, undergraduate institutions vary dramatically in terms of size or subject- matter strengths.

However, unlike medical schools, veterinary schools all have slightly different prerequisite courses, which means you need to first pick your schools, then choose your undergraduate courses accordingly. Read more about prerequisites here.

There is one school that should definitely be on your list – your in-state institution. It will offer you the best chance of admission and the lowest tuition. Focus on completing that school’s prereqs first, before expanding your list. If you don’t have a designated in state school, check out reciprocity arrangements. Some schools will extend the in state qualification to other states without vet schools. Also look into private schools that don’t give preference to applicants from a certain state.

I found this general info chart helpful when wrangling all this information.

According to the pre-veterinary advisor, some students only apply to their in state school because it is by far the best option and they can save money on additional applications to schools where their odds of acceptance are slim.

If you are like me, applying to only one school seems far too risky given the years of preparation involved in my application. I am planning to apply to 4-5 schools, including my home institution. As someone who would be willing to live virtually anywhere if it means becoming a vet, choosing those additional schools gets tricky.

My first instinct was to base my decision on applicant statistics – where do I have the best shot of getting in? But my advisor cautioned me against ruling out schools with low acceptance rates.

First, compare the list of prerequisites you plan to take for your instate school with the requirements for other universities and see if you can kill multiple birds with one stone. Then, if you want to add schools to your list that require additional courses, try to pick one or two classes that will open the most doors. For example, an animal science course or taking physics II could mean way more options.

Ideally, you should pick additional programs based on your specific areas of interest. However, I plan to pursue equine medicine, which most schools offer at comparable levels.

It may sound obvious, but consider tuition. Some schools, like North Carolina State, will grant out of state students the in-state tuition rate after their first year in the program. When we are talking about 10s of thousands of dollars saved during the course of the degree, this is a huge factor.

Finally, if you have a particular affinity for one state, he assured me that it’s ok to target that school, even if it seems a bit arbitrary. I was struggling to narrow down my list, but I have family in California and Florida, which may be the deciding factor.

While picking the right vet school can seem frustratingly arbitrary for people who like to quantify their decisions, it is critical to making the most of your undergraduate coursework.

Current and aspiring vet students: What helped you decide which schools to apply to? Did you have critical determining factors? What advice helped you the most while crafting your list?

Pre-Requisite Courses for Vet School

By Paige Roth

What is the number one reason veterinary schools reject applicants? Low GRE scores? Lousy GPAs? Minimal clinical experience? The real answer surprised me. According to VMCAS, “the applicant doesn’t meet the specific minimum requirements for that school.” My first response – how could anyone possibly screw that up? – soon gave way to some deeper criticism.

Most veterinary applicants are probably pretty smart people – or at least doggedly persistent – so there must be some reason pre-requisites threw them for a loop. In an effort to avoid the same fate, I took a closer look at the required courses.

For those of you just learning about pre-veterinary requirements (and if you aren’t, read ahead), each veterinary school has its own specific list of required courses. While there is certainly a good amount of overlap between the schools, the variation is just enough that students can’t blindly submit to any school that suits his or her fancy. The common courses tend to coincide with the pre-med list (read: all the chemistries, upper level biology, physics, statistics and calculus, a helping of humanities, and an English course for good measure.)

For a complete list of requirements for each school, click here.

But beyond those “core” classes, most schools have their own specific requirements. For example, some want genetics or microbiology, some want both, some want just upper level biology. Others require one semester of physics, more require two – but disagree on whether or not you need a lab. Animal nutrition is the famous added requirement (for schools like Texas A&M, Purdue and a few others). If you didn’t go to an agriculture school, finding this course can be a needle in a haystack. (Hint: Purdue offers the course online and most schools will accept that credit).

The bottom line: plan way ahead.

The best strategy is to start with your in-state school (because that’s where you have the best chance of admission) and design a plan of study to fulfill their requirements. Then sprinkle in a few more widely required courses (a microbiology or an animal nutrition) or classes to fulfill pre-requisites for a few of your other favorite schools. It feels a bit like putting the cart before the horse to write up your carefully selected list of schools before you even know if you can pass general chemistry, but that’s the nature of the beast.

Beware of credit hour requirements. Some schools require three, four, five, six or eight hours of physics (one semester or two? yay or nay on the lab? and I have no explanation for five). Because these requirements are generally based on the schools own curriculum, be sure you ask if your course counts. Same goes for courses with slightly different names (ex. my school’s public speaking course was called “human communication”). A few schools make this easy for you with lists of courses that count from other institutions. However, in most cases, your best bet is to contact the admissions team, unless you have a seasoned advisor.

Like many things in the veterinary application process, pre-requisites can seem a bit muddled. But take heed, it’s nothing a good spreadsheet, some direct emails and the occasional online course can’t fix.

Clinical Experience

By Paige Roth

The successful veterinary applicant has over 2,000 hours of quality “hands-on” experience in the veterinary field (according to UC Davis). But where do all these hours come from?!

“Hands-on” veterinary experience is one of the main things standing between me and a viable veterinary application, so I have dedicated a post to mapping out a realistic path to get these hours.

Like many pre-vet students, I have buckets of hours of normal animal experience – and vet schools will have you know that owning a pet does not qualify. I have had horses for most of my life, done Pony Club and 4-H, taught riding lessons and fostered dogs. But clinical experience was hard to come by.

First of all, most vet clinics aren’t looking to employ an eager pre-vet student who has no hands-on experience. I interviewed for several vet assistant positions at small-animal clinics, thinking the staff would be willing to train me, but when they realized my main animal experience was with horses and that I had never actually set a catheter or taken a cat’s blood pressure, they were less than enthused. Ultimately, I was offered a position as a kennel assistant (read: poop scooper and occasional dog walker) that paid less than $8 an hour. Disheartened and in need of some semblance of financial security, I passed.

vet tech 2

Basically, like many things on the road to vet school, you have to climb a certain ladder to even be eligible for relevant “hands-on” experience. Generally this means work as a kennel assistant, then a vet assistant, then a tech. While I know some people get lucky and have a friend or neighborhood vet who enthusiastically takes them under their wing, shows them the ropes and makes sure they check the boxes to certification, I am under no such wing.

So, here is my game plan for getting clinical experience:

  1. Volunteer – Because I am a full time employee and student, I can’t take a low paying kennel assistant position to gain experience and keep a roof over my head. Instead, I decided to volunteer with the Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services Veterinary Public Health group as a kennel assistant. I feel better about voluntarily performing menial tasks to help rescue animals, rather than having a clinic lord an $8 pay check over me while I bleach their floors. I can keep my pride, work flexible hours and make important steps toward a real clinic. There are lots of great sites to help place volunteers with organizations that interest them. I found my opportunity here and they responded to me the same day.
  2. Online Veterinary Assistant Certification – Most clinics want someone with a credential, or at least working toward one. I was discouraged to see that most vet assistant programs take almost a year in the classroom, and technician programs take closer to two years. That’s basically the equivalent of becoming a nurse before you become a doctor. No can do. While I’m volunteering and keeping up my grad program, I enrolled for about $700 to work toward my veterinary certification online with this program. At first I was skeptical of an online certification, but after some LinkedIn stalking, it looks like their students land where they say they are and I’m willing to give it a shot.
  3. Teaching Riding Lessons – Though this is not clinical experience, I found a way to keep up my animal hours, make some money and make connections with large animal vets (the veterinary specialty I’m most interested in). If you can find a way to involve yourself with the local animal community, I think it will help keep your spirits up and remind you why you want to do this in the first place.

I should mention that I am planning to apply in the summer of 2017. That means I have a full summer and school year to get these preliminary credentials, and ideally hope to work as a vet tech during the year I’m anxiously awaiting interviews and admissions decisions.

Stay tuned for more thorough posts about the online program, teaching lessons and how I like my first few days of volunteering!


Should I get my master’s degree before veterinary school?

If you had asked me during my junior or most of my senior year if I wanted to get my master’s degree before starting veterinary school, you probably would have received a severely judgmental eyebrow raise. All I could think about was finishing my last semester of chemistry and making sure the registrar signed the transcript for my double major in blood. But now I have such whimsical perspective!

paige studying
The joy of learning! (Photo credit: Anh-Viet Dinh, Trinity University)

The answer to this question is not a straightforward one. For many people – read: those with solid GPA’s, finished prerequisites, little to no doubt about their professional goals and adequate time to complete an application during their junior year – going straight into vet school makes a good deal of sense. There is certainly something to be said for heading straight into professional school rather than worrying about how to fill the limbo years between college and, well, more college.

But this post isn’t geared toward such respectable and organized undergrads; it’s geared toward people like me who had a slightly less linear route. See, I was not 100 percent sure about vet school by the time I got to senior year. My ego had been knocked around in some challenging science classes and by an overcommitted schedule.

I was afraid of the advice that undergrads are too scared of the real world so they blindly apply to graduate or doctoral programs because that’s all they know. I also, frankly, feared rejection and figured I should play to my strengths so I started applying to jobs.

Employment out of undergrad was not a pretty prospect and one day, in April (yes you read that right), I saw an advertisement outside my research lab for a professional science master’s program. The program was flexible but challenging, at a credible institution with lots of professional networking opportunities, and it would allow me to take Ph.D.-level science classes in addition to some business classes to boost my GPA, confidence and business sense. I applied the next day.

I am unusual in that I only applied to one program, I applied late and I got in. But I can tell you, it’s been well worth it. I should add that I do have a full time job on the side, where I have gained important professional perspective, but this grad program has done wonders for my confidence and renewed my enthusiasm for science.

I have talked to several career advisors who echo the sentiment that completion of a master’s program can significantly improve your chances of admission, especially for borderline undergraduate candidates. Essentially, vet schools see that you can handle the rigor of graduate coursework, are (hopefully) performing at a higher level in your classes and that you are truly driven to get to vet school.

Even if you aren’t sure you want to apply to veterinary school after graduate school, it’s a great way to network and gain marketable skills while you sort out your professional interests.

Research Experience for Vet School: Why Bother?

Somewhere down on the laundry list of admissions wishes for the perfect veterinary applicant you will often see “research experience.” Not necessarily veterinary-specific research, just plain “research.” You may be thinking, “Of course. Let me just tack on a research intensive honors thesis that requires 20 plus hours a week in some laboratory to my 20 plus weekly clinical hours and my sixteen credit course load and additional extra curriculars (that make me look like a socially functional person). I’m on it.”

I totally get it. I never thought research would be for me and never thought I could find the time, but it ended up being one of the most rewarding experiences of my undergraduate career. In fact, I wrote a whole other blog about it.

If you are someone, like me, who struggled to find work at a vet clinic for an 8-10 week summer stint, but still wants to find a productive, vet-school-relevant way to spend a summer and make some money, research is your answer.

My research had nothing to do with vet school (or even mammals). I studied cucumbers. But, not only did I make a respectable summer income, I also developed a fabulous relationship with my research advisor who provided incredible support throughout my undergraduate career.

Paige first research conference
Yours truly at her first research conference!

As someone who was admittedly anxious about my science capabilities, research was a great way for me to learn a lot without the pressure of tests or competitive classmates. The key with research is, theoretically, no one knows more about your topic than you do, so when you go to a conference, you are automatically the expert. That’s a great feeling.

Research also requires that you stick to a project, navigate challenges and ultimately present your findings in a compelling way to experts in the field. If that doesn’t teach you perseverance and confidence, I don’t know what does.

John and Paige at research conference
Research conferences make great date nights (just ask John). If you aren’t into plant biology, you can at least count on free food.

Even if it’s a tight squeeze in your schedule, I recommend making time for at least one semester or summer of research. I truly believe it provides new scientists with the confidence and drive to pursue ambitious futures in science and medicine.

If you are interested in learning more about my trying and often humorous transition into the life of a science student and researcher, read my essay “Counting Cucumber Hairs” here.

Should I take a gap year before vet school?

Yes. Actually, I’m kidding but I did so I can shed some light on the pros and cons. Gap years get a bad rap because they have become synonymous with backpacking across Europe on daddy’s dime. Here, I’m defining gap year as time between undergrad and vet school that can be filled in a variety of ways. My gap years (plural) involve working, getting my masters degree and obtaining clinical experience.

My gap year was less intentional than it sounds. I have friends who have known since sophomore year that they wanted to take a gap year to make money and take a breather before medical school. I was not so sure. I had many competing interests throughout undergrad and generally thought professional experience would be the best game plan to try the adult world on for size and figure out what I wanted to go back to school for.

Instead, I saw an advertisement outside my lab (learn about my undergraduate research life here) for a master’s program that combined business and Ph.D. level biology courses and I applied. In April. One month before graduation. Once I was accepted I almost immediately found a full time job as an editor at a think tank on campus, the stars aligned and I found myself with both a job and a graduate plan. Not my original plan, but so far so good. Here are the pros.

As someone who was nervous about my science background (even though I’m a biology major) and who could definitely beef up here science GPA, taking more graduate level science courses was a really good call. I am much more confident in my classes and know it means I will have a stronger application and will feel more comfortable in the heavy hitting veterinary courses.

By now I have had several internships and a full time job. Most of my professional experience has been in writing, social media, marketing and biology research. See something missing? Nonetheless, it has really helped me determine what I don’t want to do and given me a lot of conviction heading in a very challenging direction. I also have those adult skills like networking, navigating office politics, and getting up and showing up every morning, which will certainly be helpful in the professional vet world.

Ok, let’s talk about money for a second. I had no sense of how much the real world cost as a senior in college. I worked three jobs in college and saved money for things like food and plane tickets, but I was clueless. Let’s be honest. I know you can rely heavily on student loans to cover living expenses in veterinary school, but as a graduate student with similar loans, I can tell you – it would be tight. I didn’t expect I would be so grateful to have a nest egg going into five more years of school. It may just save me a few nights of eating Ramen.

I’m gently dipping my toes into adulthood rather than plunging head on into the real world and the most difficult educational years of my life.

I have learned things like how to pay rent, taxes, maintain a decent standard of living, manage stress, and begin to build a social life beyond the confines of a dorm room. And I think that practice will make the transition easier when I’m pulling my first series of all-nighters.

I have time to devote to clinical hours. Like I’ve said before, I don’t know how people find the time to get clinical experience in undergrad. I wasn’t lucky enough to find a vet to work with my schedule (believe me, I tried) and I now have a full year carved out where I have more time to dedicate to clinical experience than I did in undergrad. Not to mention, I can catch my breath before starting in on my application.

Though I would be lying if I said I didn’t wish I had greased the tracks to head straight into vet school, I am living proof of the benefit of taking time to get to know yourself, learn to adult, and make a little money before starting my DVM program.