Things You Should Know About Vet School

Vet student examining puppy
Vet student examining puppy. LWA/Larry Williams/Getty Images

Veterinary medicine is an extremely popular career choice in the animal industry, though it requires a difficult and demanding course of study to achieve the necessary degree. It can be difficult to get accepted to vet school but it can be well worth the effort in the long term. Here are some facts you should know about attending veterinary school:

It Is Possible to Go to Vet School for Free (Or Nearly Free)

There are options that can allow a student to either attend vet school for free or pay off significant chunks of their student loans, but of course, there are going to be some strings attached.

If you are willing to serve in the Army as a veterinarian, you will receive full tuition while you are in school. The Army also will pay you a $2,000 monthly stipend for incidentals and living expenses (a huge perk for poor vet students!). If you have already graduated before signing up with the Army there is a loan repayment program. The loan repayment program pays up to $120,000 over three years towards your student debt. There are both active duty and reserve options available with the Army.

For those who have graduated and have student debt, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers a Veterinary Medical Loan Repayment Program. The program pays up to $25,000 per year for vet students willing to work in an area with a shortage of practitioners for three years. The $75,000 maximum payout can go a long way towards eliminating student loans for a young practitioner.

Students From States With No Vet School Can Qualify for In-State Tuition Rates

The Regional Contract Program (RCP) allows students in states without a veterinary program to pursue a veterinary degree at designated out-of-state institutions while paying in-state rates.

Spaces are limited, but the veterinary school does reserve a specific number of seats for vet students from the partner state in return for financial compensation. For instance, Kentucky lacks a veterinary college but contracts with Alabama’s Auburn University to reserve 34 spots each year for Kentucky vet students.

You Are Never “Too Old” to Consider Going to Vet School

It is true that most applicants are in their early 20s (about 73 percent). A significant portion, however, are in the 25-30-year-old age group (about 16 percent) and another four percent are 31 or older. Many major vet schools post the age ranges of their students online. The 2019 class at U.C. Davis, for example, has students as old as 42. The University of Minnesota’s class of 2019 has students as old as 44. It isn’t common for vet students to be in their 30s or 40s, but it is certainly well within the realm of possibility. So you're never too old to consider going to vet school.

You Have to Learn About Many Different Species in Vet School

A veterinary degree requires a broad course of study where you learn about all the species you will encounter as a practitioner. You can’t decide “I want to be a horse vet” and then only learn about equine medicine. You will, however, have the chance to focus on your area of interest when choosing your internships and residencies. You can also go on to pursue board certification as a specialist in a particular field.

Current Vet School Classes Are Mostly Female

Women are dominating in vet school enrollment statistics.

According to data collected by the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), the current gender split in veterinary colleges is 76.6 percent female, 20.4 percent male.

This growing gender gap is also being reflected in the pool of practicing veterinarians. In 2015 the AVMA found that there were 105,358 vets in practice, with 60,988 female practitioners and 44,204 male practitioners. Veterinary medicine is no longer a male-dominated profession, though men do still hold a majority in specific fields (such as food animal medicine, where men hold 80 percent of positions).

There Are Two New Avma Accredited Vet Schools in the U.S.

There are currently 30 U.S. veterinary programs that have been accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association. This list includes two new additions.

Midwestern University (in Arizona) and Lincoln Memorial University (in Tennessee) both opened their doors in 2014. Another veterinary program, to be established at the University of Arizona, is actively seeking AVMA approval and began the accreditation process in mid-2016.

Vet School Tuition Can Vary Widely

According to the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges, the average annual tuition is $46,352 for out of state students and $22,448 for in-state students.

According to a 2014 Stanford survey, the most inexpensive vet school tuition rates for in-state students were found at North Carolina State University ($16,546), Auburn University ($17,858), and University of Georgia ($18,000). The most expensive vet school tuition rates for in-state students were found at Midwestern ($52,400), Western University ($49,595), and Tufts ($41,940).

The most inexpensive tuition rates for out of state students were found at the University of Wisconsin ($25,899), Texas A& M ($31,148), and Tuskegee ($36,270). The most expensive tuition rates for out of state students were found at Ohio State ($63,291), the University of Minnesota ($58,346), and Colorado State ($54,269).

Students Commonly Incur High Debt

Vet school tuition is very expensive (as mentioned above), which causes many students to take out substantial student loans. This problem is compounded by the fact that vet students are often unable to bring in any income due to the long hours that their program of study requires.

According to reports from VIN News, a typical veterinary student’s debt has risen steadily from $81,052 in 2004 to $162,113 in 2013. AVMA surveys have indicated that debt is rising sharply for vet students (increasing at a rate of 6.9 percent from 2012 to 2013). Almost half of vet students reported having total debt of more than $150,000 at graduation.

There Is a High Depression Rate Among Vet School Students

A Kansas State University study found that a third of vet students showed symptoms of depression in their first year of study, and the rate of depression only grew in the second and third year of vet school. In comparison, depression is only seen in a quarter of human medical students.

There is also a 4x higher suicide rate with veterinarians when they are compared to the general population, and 2x higher suicide rate when they are compared with medical doctors, according to a study of British veterinarians published in the Veterinary Record. Vet students should be prepared for a very intense experience.

You Can Attend Vet School in Many Countries and Still Practice in the U.S.

There are international schools accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association, and graduates of those schools do not face any additional hassles to practice in the United States. Graduates of non-accredited schools must deal with additional expenses and testing before they can become eligible to seek a license to practice in the United States.

It can take several months (or more) to fulfill the equivalency requirements. There are two equivalency exams that can make a graduate of a non-accredited program eligible for U.S. licensing procedures: the Program for the Assessment of Veterinary Education Equivalence (PAVE) and the Educational Commission for Foreign Veterinary Graduates (ECFVG) certification program.