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Thursday, November 3, 2016

Not Cut Out For Vet School?

Last month I received this email from Athena....
I am currently a junior pre vet student at a state university. I will be applying to vet schools over the summer. I love animals, work in a clinic, and feel a huge sense of satisfaction helping animals and their owners. However, I hate school. I hate sitting and studying, lack of sleep, stressing, and feeling like I can't enjoy normal human pleasures. Undergrad has generally been hell for me and I barely pass with Cs in my core science classes such as organic, physics, biochem, etc, but I love classes such as repro, nutrition, parisitology etc. I am a very active person and hate being stuck inside, hence the hate for studying. I love to learn but in a more hands on approach.

My concern is this: I know vet school is hard. Typically 24+ credit hours, long days and nights, no sleep, no outside life. 3 cumulative exams a week, barely any time to study.  Are those 4 years of what sounds like hell worth it? Would someone like me cut it? My thoughts were if I get accepted at least try to make it through the first year and decide from there. I absolutely must work with animals for my profession, but the closer I get to applying, the more stressful and horrifying it sounds. I would greatly appreciate any insight.  Thank you!
Over the years I've actually written quite a bit on this topic, especially my own memories and struggles.  Before entering veterinary school I had acquired a BS in Biology and a MS in Ethology.  Yet none of that, even a Master's degree, properly prepared me for the rigors and challenges of a vet college curriculum.  My four years in this training was without a doubt the hardest thing I've ever done, and that still stands with almost 20 years of hindsight.  I struggled to maintain a B average, something that had always come easy to me.  The sheer amount of studying I had to do and knowledge I had to absorb was overwhelming, and I found little time to do anything other than focus on my studies.  I certainly couldn't work a full-time job, instead working weekends and evenings when I could.  I had little to no social life, and spent most of my time at the school, even after classes were over.
If someone can't handle that intense of a study schedule they probably aren't going to do well during vet school.  And if someone finds themselves overwhelmed by this as an undergraduate, especially not being able to enjoy "normal human pleasures", then being a vet is probably not for them because vet school is far worse than any undergraduate program.
It is also very competitive to get into most schools, with a cumulative GPA (grade point average) of 3.2 typically being the lowest realistic score for entry.  Considering that most vet school applicants have GPAs of 3.5 or higher, a C average is simply not going to get a person seriously considered.  All of those core science classes are important to the admissions department, and if you average Cs in them they will probably move on to the next candidate.
To be perfectly blunt and honest, Athena, I don't think that vet school would be a good fit for you.  I think that you would hate it and would struggle to make passing grades.  If you're having a problem with a typical undergraduate course load you will drown under a vet school curriculum. 
This doesn't mean that you're stupid, or that you can't work with animals.  My daughter is one of the most intelligent, quick-witted, creative people I've ever known and constantly surprises me.  However, she has dyslexia and doesn't do well in typical scholarly activities.  She considered being a vet when she was younger, but the math and reading will be too much for her, so she passed on that as a future profession.  Instead she is going into performing arts, and I think she'll be very successful.  She is brilliant in her own way, just not in typical book-learning.
There are many other ways to work in the veterinary profession without being a vet.  A veterinary technician program is not as rigorous, is not as long, and costs less.  You still get a lot of training and it will set you up for success in the field, but it will be easier than vet school.  Still not "easy", though!  There is a lot of math and studying, just not quite as intensive as the training to be a vet.
I hope that helps with your decision!


  1. Dr Bern,
    I have posted a link to your wonderful blog on 'Not cut out for vet school' on our veterinary website at to reach more veterinarians.
    Dr Jim Euclid BVSc BVBiol PhD

  2. When I saw those grades, I have to say that the first thing I thought was: "The only place that's gonna take her is Ross." And with fresh vets already struggling to make money, for-profit Ross is probably a bad idea. (Though I did ride past their campus once during a cruise shore excursion... it may be expensive, it may be the last choice of most of their students, but there's worse places to live than the beautiful island of St Kitts!)

    1. I just stumbled across this post and felt the need to weigh in. I am a practicing veterinarian and own two clinics. I am a Ross graduate and in no way was it my last choice. In fact, I had an undergraduate GPA of 3.5 (just looked it up to be sure!). Ross may be expensive, but the training was second to none. So much so, in fact, that it is now AVMA accredited. My classmates and I were often complemented during our clinical year (at Ok State) for our clinical savvy and surgical confidence. I apologize if I seem strident, but I have had enough of the casual disdain for Ross vets over the years. We are the equal of any US school and should not be dismissed as otherwise.

  3. Hi Athena! I am a 4th year vet student and I agree with everything Dr. Bern said about the rigors of the curriculum and competitiveness, but I would also say not to completely give up the dream yet! I have classmates who have talked about how they got bad grades in undergrad but worked their butts off after graduation gaining experience and building up their application in other areas, and I trust their clinical judgement and rely on them as much as the rest of my classmates. My undergrad experience was different and I love school in general but I hadn't made the decision to apply to vet school until a few years after college. I suggest definitely getting any kind of job after college that interests you, whether working with animals or not, and figure out when you're in the real world, what your passions really are. I never thought I'd enjoy bench lab work but it ended up being one of my favorite jobs and I continued to work in a lab in vet school. Everyone who applies to vet school loves animals and loves working with animals, you need to show why you are uniquely qualified to join the profession and that you understand that there is much more to being a vet than working with animals, and I think if you really open yourself to all different options, the career path that best suits you will eventually reveal itself; if it's vet school you'll find the will to put yourself through 4 extremely challenging years and deep into debt that you'll be paying off for 30 years. And if not, then you'll know you made the right decision for yourself and won't have any regrets!


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