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So you want to be a vet!

If you’re reading this article then chances are, like myself, you’ve thought being a vet is what you want to do from a young age. I’m going to try and help guide you through the process, using my experience as a newly graduated vet, however it’s really important you maybe use this as a starting point to your own research, as things have changed quite a lot since I applied for vet school, and continue to change each year.  

The first mile-stone you meet is probably when you have to make your GCSE choices. For me this was in Year 9, and I remember feeling really worried about it. However what you need to remember (and what I wished someone explained to me clearly) was that all the vet schools care about is that you have a good solid grounding in all your subjects, with good grades across the board. Because all the vital subjects are core subject anyway, you therefore can choose subjects that really interest you. I studied Double languages, Art, Drama and ICT alongside my core subjects. That’s why it doesn’t matter if you decide that you’d like to be a vet later on in your studies.

You need to show that you are particularly strong with your science subjects, maths and English, all of which need to be at least A grade.  Being a vet requires a scientific brain that is capable of problem solving and analysing information given to you. Additionally you need to show you’re a well rounded individual, so getting involved in clubs, teams, theatre shows etc, all really help your future application, and also stop you getting too bogged down in just chasing good grades.

Once you’ve reached 6th form it is time to start focusing for your UCAS application. To be a vet you need to have studied Biology and Chemistry (and not Human Biology) along side at least one other subject at A-level. A few of the universities (Edinburgh and Cambridge in particular) insist that the other subject is either Maths or Physics, whilst other universities are happy with a subject, which shows good English and reasoning skills, such as History or Psychology. I studied Biology, Chemistry, and Psychology to A-level and Physics and “Science in Society” to AS.

One of the most important parts of your application to vet school is showing that you love animals, are not afraid of working hard and getting dirty, and that you know what the job is all about; That’s why gaining lots of varied work experience is vital. You should expect that most of your school holidays and half-terms will involve at least of couple of days experience, if you are planning to go straight from A-Levels to university. This work experience can range from seeing practice at your local vets, to working at kennels. It’s important that you experience a range of different species; so finding a farmer who will let you see what happens over lambing or milking time in dairy parlour are just as important as spending time with a vet. It also gives you a chance to confirm as to whether being a vet is really suited to you- as it’s no good getting into vet school then realising you can’t stand the site of blood!

Applying to vet school can be pretty daunting, so make sure you go to as many open days as you can, to get the feel of the different schools, and use your work experience to question vets on their experiences of applying and of uni. All vet schools have an interview process, and some like RVC and Cambridge have additional entrance exams. The interview process has changed quite a lot over the passed couple of years, and is very different to the formal sit-down interview I attended. Now most interviews are like speed-dating, with a range of different topics on each station, some will test your problem-solving, some your team-work and some your knowledge and understanding. It is important to prepare, by making sure you’re up-to-date with veterinary and animal welfare news- a common topic at the moment is the ethics and efficacy of the badger cull and the horse-meat scandal. You should also expect to be asked about experiences you mention in your personal statement- my whole interview at RVC was based on a disease I’d seen whilst working on a dairy.

If your interview is a successful and you’re a-levels go well, then you’re in! And vet school is an amazing and different experience to other university degrees. You will work very hard, but also have loads of fun, meet wonderful people and some very cute patients. And then 5 (or 6) years later, you graduate, and become part of the profession you dreamed of as a child, and I have to say, every minute is living up to expectations. But don’t worry if you did not manage to get in straight away, there are many other paths into vet school, such as the “Gateway Program” or doing the course as a 2nd degree, so don’t give up! Being a vet means you get to help animals, meet owners and be part of one of the most close-knit and friendly professions! Good luck!