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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Choosing A Vet School

Kerrie sent me this....

I have been accepted to 2 vet schools, Minnesota and UPenn.  Both are out of state so the tuition is the same.  I've been trying to collect people's opinions on how to decide which school to go to.  I've heard some students/recent grads say that all schools provide roughly equal education because they can be so picky with the students they accept, I've heard some say the caseload of the hospital is the most important thing, and I've had others tell me how important the early hands-on experience is.  As someone who has been practicing for quite some time, what things about the school you attended were most beneficial to you once you became a vet?  Are there certain things you wished you learned or were exposed to while in school before you started practicing?

Here are a few examples of things I am comparing, I'm just wondering how much of a difference each makes in the grand scheme of things:

MN has professional development classes in the curriculum and begins clinical skills practicals the first year, whereas UPenn doesn't include professional development as part of the curriculum and hands-on things don't start until the 3rd yr, but there are opportunites to do both early on through clubs and workshops.

MN also claimed to have a higher annual caseload at the teaching hospital (45,000 vs Penn's 30,000).

MN class size for this upcoming year is 100, UPenn's is 125.

UPenn recently built a new hospital, MN is in the process of renovations so the facilities were comparatively dated.

Many students who hope to become vets are happy to get accepted in just one school.  But some are lucky enough to get multiple acceptance letters and then have their choice of schools.  How do you make that choice?

If you talk to the academics, each school will list all of the reasons why you should go there rather than somewhere else.  They'll bring up things like Kerrie mentioned:  case load, new facilities, etc.  There will be points and counter-points about the particulars of a given school's instructors and what they can offer.  Then you have to weed through all of that and make a decision.

As someone about to enter my 16th year in practice, I look at it very differently.  I've also seen many new graduates from virtually every vet school, including some outside of the US.  I take a very practical approach  to the situation, and look at it in the light of whether or not it will make a difference after you've been out a few years.  And in my opinion, it doesn't.

Seriously.  When I'm interviewing a potential hire, which vet school they attended is really only a point of conversation, not something that I really weigh in my decision.  If you're going into general practice, the choice of vet school doesn't matter much.  Sure, you might get some different experiences at one school versus another, but after you've been out a couple of years your practical experience outweighs and evens out what you learned at the university.  

What would I have liked to have more of?  Dentistry and finance.  When I was going through school the former was barely discussed and the latter not at all.  Knowing how to do basic extractions and dental care is something you deal with on a daily basis.  Personal and business fiance is essential to daily life.  Both of these are far more important than learning how to do a total hip replacement or using the most advanced method of radiation therapy.

Due to AVMA accreditation, all schools must meet certain standards, and I honestly don't think graduates from any one school have a particular edge over another.  I graduated from North Carolina State University, which consistently ranks in the top five veterinary colleges in the US.  I don't think I got a better education than anyone else, and don't think I was better prepared than a lower ranked college.

So which do you chose?  In my opinion, chose the cheapest.  Always go in-state if you have that option, as it will be cheaper.  When looking at out-of-state schools pick the least expensive.  The debt load on newly graduated vets is crushing and only getting worse.  The best thing you can do in your career is help yourself out financially.  

When you combine a basic education with practical experience, the knowledge and skills of being a vet will take care of themselves.  And you'll continue to learn as you go along.  I've learned as much in continuing education seminars as I did in school, and in some cases far more.  Pick a school you like, and most importantly, pick a school that will put you in the best financial position.


  1. Please note before reading: I work at UPenn's vet school, but I'm not part of the admissions or recruiting committee; I'm a vet tech in the ICU.

    Dr. Bern is absolutely correct that finances are a huge part of vet school, and that should be your first rule-out.

    So, Kerrie, if all else is equal in costs and teaching methodology, I would also consider the location of the school itself. I don't know much about St. Paul--do you need a car to get around? Is it easy to find housing near the school and get yourself to class and clinic locations?

    Penn is located in West Philly, which is one of the most walkable parts of Philadelphia. Most students (and a lot of us employees) don't own cars and live within walking or bus/shuttle distance from the school, rent is very reasonable and nearly all landlords accept pets for a low or nonexistent pet fee, which is great for vet students.

    I would do some digging on St. Paul and see what the accomodations are like. You're going to be there for 4 (or more! Internships, residencies, who knows!) years, you should have a home you enjoy that will make studying easier.

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  3. Penn has a split campus. The large animal facility, New Bolton Center, is about an hour away. That means it's difficult to drop in for rounds, to see interesting cases, etc., which was something I always enjoyed when I was a student (not at Penn).

    Listen to Chris: figure out which is cheapest!!!


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