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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Getting A Start

Caitlin emailed me the following....

I am 17 and a junior in high school. I have always had a love for animals and I've dreamed of becoming a veterinarian since I was in elementary school. I have shadowed at my local veterinary hospital and volunteered with animal rescue groups. What advice do you have for a high school student wanting to pursue a career in this field? I know that I still have another year before starting my undergrad in pre vet, but what can I be doing now to ensure I have the best chance possible to get accepted into veterinary school? Also, any idea what jobs are typically offered at animal hospitals for my age group?

Good questions, Caitlin.  Do a search on my blog, as over the years I've talked about various aspects of getting into vet school.  You can find the information here, as well as what life is like as a vet which may influence your decision.

The number one bit of advice that I would give is exactly what you're looking to do.  Get a job in a veterinary clinic.  There is simply no better way to get an idea of what it's like to be in the field than to work alongside a vet.  You get to see the often long hours, hard decisions, cases that go bad, and the rewards that can go along with the hardships.  You can also talk to the vets one-on-one about their specific paths and what they like and dislike about the job.  And you get to see if you can really handle the blood, pus, diarrhea, and other gross things.

Depending on where you live state laws limit what you can do as a minor.  You are limited to how many hours you can work and what kinds of things you can do.  For example, in my state you are not allowed to assist in taking x-rays if you are under 18 years old.  A veterinary clinic is also unlikely to hire an inexperienced teenager into an important or skilled position, which means you may start out as a receptionist or helping clean kennels.   And there's nothing wrong with these jobs!  My first job was working for my local vet as a kennel worker, cleaning cages and walking dogs.

Truthfully, any work you do prior to being in college isn't going to be looked at during the veterinary school admission process.  At this point you need to focus on whether or not this is really the career path you want.  You still have several years before you will even think about applying to vet school, so use this opportunity to explore the field and talk to vets about what career options you have within the various aspects of veterinary practice.

Again, do research, get ANY job in a veterinary clinic, and ask lots of questions to the vets around you.  Best of luck!


  1. >>What advice do you have for a high school student wanting to pursue a career in this field?>>

    1. It doesn't matter what college you choose to attend, or which major you select.

    2. Minimize undergraduate debt (see #1).

    3. Your grades do matter. Do well, especially in required courses.

    4. Before agreeing to attend veterinary school, take a hard look at the amount of debt you'll have accumulated by graduation day. Unless your family can pay your way, or your spouse is affluent (not very PC, but true for both women and men), do not cripple yourself financially. Your debt will follow you and impact your career and personal decisions for up to 30 years. The recent changes in federal student loans are frightening.

    5. There are other excellent careers for bright people with an interest in working with animals and/or in scientific/medical fields. Investigate now, while you're young. Keep an open mind.

    Average debt for new veterinary school graduates is now around $140K, and that does not include undergraduate debt. At 5% interest, that's about $750/month out of your paycheck for 30 years following graduation. That's a small mortgage payment.

  2. Check out my blog, I'm in vet school if you have any questions. I also have a lot of posts that answer your questions.

  3. Respectfully, Chris, I disagree about schools looking at your pre-college vet experience. At the very least, those are precious hours in the 'vet' category of hours of experience. It also gives you material for your personal statement as well as conversation pieces for the interview (where younger candidates may not have as much life experience to draw upon).

    Best of luck to the questioner. I think it's admirable that you're so focused and looking for advice.


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