What are veterinary schools looking for?
There are many more people interested in veterinary school than there are places available. The most recent data available shows an acceptance rate of less than half. (In the past sixteen years, 16 out of 16 of Swarthmore's applicants were accepted.)
Veterinary schools are looking for candidates who have a strong academic background and intellectual potential, as evidenced by excellent grades and GRE scores; qualities of leadership, character, and compassion; knowledge of and motivation for the field of veterinary medicine; and a broad range of interests and talents. You can meet these requirements by being a dedicated and effective student, by becoming substantively involved in leadership and extracurricular activities on campus, and by volunteering or working in animal care related settings.
What are the course requirements?
Veterinary schools are less uniform in their requirements than medical schools. Therefore, you should take all of the required premedical courses listed in the Guide to Premedical Studies at Swarthmore College, i.e., 4 semesters of chemistry, and 2 semesters of biology, physics, math, and English. While that may be sufficient for some veterinary schools, it will not be for others. Early in your college career, be sure to come to the Health Sciences Office and read the most recent edition of:
Veterinary Medical School Admission Requirements, Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges
Pay particular attention to The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges specific requirements and prerequisites of your state institution (where you have the best chance of being accepted), and other schools in which you may be interested.
Veterinary schools typically require genetics and/or microbiology in addition to Biology 1 and 2.
Some require biochemistry in addition to four other chemistry courses. Because Swarthmore has a one-semester general chemistry course, you may fulfill this requirement by taking an intermediate or advanced course in Swarthmore's chemistry department; or General Chemistry II at Haverford or Bryn Mawr, with special permission from Swarthmore's chemistry department. (This option is ONLY available to pre-vet students, with a letter of support from Gigi and a meeting with the chemistry chair.) Alternatively, you may take the full year course in general chemistry for two credits at either Haverford or Bryn Mawr in lieu of Swarthmore's one-semester general chemistry course (Chem 10). You may also take General Chemistry II at another institution without receiving Swarthmore credit.
Some schools require statistics.
There are some veterinary schools that require specific animal science courses, such as "Feeds and Feeding" as prerequisites. Some of these may be available in summer school, via correspondence courses, or at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.
Do not take any of the required courses pass/fail (after the first semester of your freshman year) and do not take any of them abroad.
How do I apply to veterinary school?
The Veterinary Medical College Application Service (VMCAS) is the application service that you must use to apply to most (but not all) of the U.S. veterinary schools.
How is my GPA calculated when I apply to veterinary school?
The GPA that is calculated on your VMCAS application includes all college-level courses that you've taken, including summer school courses, exchange and cross-registration programs, most study abroad programs, and college courses that you took in high school that appear on your college transcript. (Individual veterinary schools may elect to exclude certain courses or programs from their GPA calculation, according to the policies set by their institutions.) Your first semester freshman year "shadow grades" are normally not revealed to veterinary schools, but some schools will require us to certify that your shadow grade was at least a C in any science prerequisites you may have taken that semester.
Which standardized tests are required?
Nearly all veterinary schools require the GRE general exams, and all accept it as fulfilling their standardized test requirements. You should plan on taking the test so that your scores are reported no later than September of the year in which you are applying.
What kinds of extracurricular experiences and jobs should I pursue?
Veterinary schools are looking for individuals with a strong sense of personal responsibility, honesty, emotional maturity, compassion and sensitivity towards animals. You must intern, volunteer, or work with a veterinarian either during the school year or the summer to show that you are motivated and committed to working with animals. Some schools require a significant number of hours working with animals other than your own pets in a variety of settings. (For example, Penn recommends 500-600 hours of "experience working with animals, direct veterinary work, or research experience" which is "sufficient to convince the admisssions committee of motivation, interest and understanding.") This work demonstrates to veterinary school admissions committees that you have seen firsthand what a veterinary setting is like, and are making an informed decision to choose veterinary medicine as a career.
You are encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities at Swarthmore, because of the opportunity to learn to work and communicate with others and to make a contribution to your college community. It is more valuable to be deeply involved in two or three activities than to dabble in a large number of activities.
Research experiences are also valuable in many ways. They introduce you to new information, important laboratory techniques, experimental design, the analysis of data, critical thinking, working with a research team and, perhaps, preparation for publication. The Health Sciences Office provides information on its website about many summer research opportunities, especially for those who have completed their sophomore or junior years.