The 8 Steps to Take to Achieve Your Dream of Becoming a Vet
Becoming a veterinarian is a challenging but rewarding career path.
The day-to-day work of a vet goes beyond giving cats pills and telling people that they’re overfeeding their dogs. Vets train to be able to look after the health and welfare needs of all animals: pets, but also farm animals, zoo animals, and in some circumstances wild animals too. Your work may cover all aspects of medical treatment: diagnosis, prescription, surgery, preventative medicine, anaesthesia, nutrition and more depending on the role you eventually choose. Vets also sometimes operate as owners of their own businesses, so you may learn business and marketing skills as well.
It’s a job that is often demanding and high pressure – vets can be required to work all hours, and all days of the year – but you’ll have the reward of knowing that you’re helping animals, and the humans who love them. But before you get to that, you have to get the qualifications that you need – and Veterinary Science is a famously challenging course. In this article, we take a look at the steps you’ll need to take if you want to become a vet.
1. Be certain Veterinary Science is right for you
The stereotype that Veterinary Science is a degree for people who simply love animals has led some students astray. Liking animals is no more a prerequisite for becoming a vet than liking people is a prerequisite for becoming a doctor. It certainly helps if you’re going to interact well with your patients – but there are people who manage to have an excellent bedside manner (with unwell people, pets, or their distressed owners) while having otherwise misanthropic inclinations.
You’ll also need to be comfortable working with animals who are hurt, and you’re likely to be called upon to put unwell animals down – possibly in circumstances where they are not beyond recovery, but where their owners are unable or unwilling to pay for their treatment. You’ll also be working for people who may not see animals in the same way as you do, such as seeing them in terms of their role in serving human needs, for instance as livestock. None of this should discourage animal lovers from Veterinary Science, but it’s important to be realistic about what the career entails.
The other aspect to consider, of course, is whether the challenges of Veterinary Science, with its extremely demanding grade requirements, are achievable for you. The requirements for related roles, such as becoming a veterinary nurse, can be much lower, which might make that career path a more achievable alternative that you could still find fulfilling.
2. Make sure you’re working towards the right qualifications
Universities are demanding in the subject requirements for Veterinary Medicine, and you’ll need to start thinking about this at GCSE level. You’ll need good GCSE grades in Maths, English and across the sciences. At A-level, you should have mostly or exclusively science subjects (which can include Mathematics), which should include both Biology and Chemistry. While it’s the case that you might be accepted with just Biology or just Chemistry, you’ll be making things harder for yourself by doing it.
Choosing your A-level subjects can also be a useful reality check when considering a competitive course like Veterinary Science. If the thought of another two years of Maths, Chemistry, Physics or Biology makes you miserable, it can be a useful indicator that this may not be the right path for you. Remember that universities don’t choose their entry requirements at random; they choose them because they believe your performance in these subjects is most likely to reflect your performance on their course. Your enjoyment of your science A-levels is a good indicator of much you might be likely to enjoy the next five or six years on a demanding Veterinary Science course. On the other hand, if the idea of all those science subjects fills you with joy, that’s a pretty good sign that becoming a vet is the right career for you.
3. Get the grades you need
It’s not just a matter of choosing the right subjects; you’ll also need to get outstanding grades. Grade requirements vary between the eight different institutions that offer a degree in Veterinary Science or Veterinary Medicine, but three As at A-level or more is typical. There will also be a GCSE grade requirement, usually a minimum number of As (seven As minimum is typical) with particular requirements for English, Maths and Science. If there are extenuating circumstances that mean getting these grades is unusually tough for you – perhaps you come from a background where going to university is not the norm – then you might be able to get a slightly lower offer that takes these circumstances into account, especially if you stand out at interview.
If you aren’t naturally a high achiever, then getting grades like these is going to take a lot of hard work. Begin by speaking to your teachers, who can advise you on what to do to bring your grades up to the level required – and whether they think it’s possible for you to make the changes needed. You might wish to consider a private tutor if there’s a subject you particularly struggle with. Beyond that, make sure to keep up with your homework and spend lots of time practising with past papers ahead of the exams, so you don’t lose marks for the sake of poor exam technique.
4. Find work experience
Work experience is a vital part of your application to study Veterinary Science. While the requirements vary from university to university, in all cases they represent a significant time commitment. For example, the Royal Veterinary College requires a total of 140 hours of work experience, split into 70 hours in a veterinary practice and 70 hours in a non-clinical working environment with animals, such as a pet shop, animal shelter, farm or even an abattoir. The University of Liverpool is more demanding, requiring 120 hours of animal husbandry experience, covering at least two of pets, equine experience, and farm animal experience, plus a further 80 hours of experience of clinical practice covering at least two different practices.
Finding appropriate work experience can be challenging. You may need to contact several veterinary practices before you find one that’s willing to take you on. Even if a particular veterinary surgery turns you down, they may be able to recommend other practices to contact as an alternative. Stables and animal shelters are typically more willing to take on volunteers, and experience of an abattoir will demonstrate your commitment to finding out all about the different roles a vet can take on.
5. Give yourself lots of time to write a great personal statement
Writing a great personal statement is often the most difficult part of the university application process – sometimes harder even than getting the necessary grades! The statement is there to demonstrate your enthusiasm for and commitment to the subject; that your motivation for wanting to study Veterinary Science is more than just a vague belief that it would be nice to work with animals, or a fondness for a particular type of pet.
The key to getting a personal statement right is to give yourself lots of time to write it. Some students like to work through a paragraph at a time, while others write a first draft quickly and in one go, and then take the time to edit their statement until they’re completely happy with it. Remember that Veterinary Science uses the early UCAS deadline of 15 October, rather than the January deadline used by most courses and universities – don’t end up recalling this in early October and struggling to get something put together in time. When you’re writing your statement, don’t just think about what encouraged you to apply for Veterinary Science originally; draw on more recent events such as your work experience to present a rounded picture of yourself as an applicant.
6. Prepare thoroughly for your university interview
After submitting your application by the 15th October, you should hear relatively quickly whether or not you’ve been successful in securing interviews. The interview dates differ between universities, but will typically be before Christmas. That means that you shouldn’t wait to hear whether you’ve got an interview or not before you start preparing. To do well in your interview, practise with family and friends if you can, and try to think about the interview from the interviewer’s perspective: what would you want to know about prospective students?
The interview will cover a variety of different topics to assess your suitability for a place on the course. That will certainly include a discussion of what you’ve studied in your lessons at school, but it might also cover other questions such as your approach to coping under pressure (as studying to be a vet can be stressful) and your study techniques. These questions will be common across different courses, and are relatively easy to practise for.
One important area that’s likely to be addressed is the question of medical ethics. This might cover questions such as the rights and wrongs of breeding pedigree dogs to a breed standard that results in health problems, or your opinions on animal testing. There are no right or wrong answers – the aim is to assess your analytical abilities when thinking through difficult ethical questions, and to show that you take such issues seriously. The only wrong answer would be to dismiss the idea of a debate existing, or refusing to see the issue from both sides.
7. Practise for any additional exams you need to take
Until relatively recently, both the University of Cambridge and the Royal Veterinary College required students to take the BMAT (BioMedical Admissions Test, more usually associated with Medicine) as part of the application process. This has now been discontinued at both universities, but Cambridge requires its own Natural Sciences pre-interview written assessment to be taken instead. And there’s no guarantee that this won’t change year-on-year, as other universities might choose to introduce their own tests, or start using the BMAT again, depending on its effects on their pool of applicants.
Don’t assume that the normal course of your studies will be sufficient to prepare you for any additional exams you might need to sit. You should prepare with past papers in the same way as you do for your main school exams, remembering to check the mark scheme carefully; every exam has quirks that you will want to learn about and take into account in order to maximise your marks.
8. Join us on Introduction to Veterinary Science or Veterinary Science Programme
If all of this seems overwhelming, don’t worry – join us at Oxford Royale Academy, and we can help. We have two programmes available for budding veterinarians: Introduction to Veterinary Science, for students aged 13 to 15, and our Veterinary Science Programme, for students aged 16 to 18.
These programmes will take you through many of the steps described in this article at an age-appropriate level, from figuring out whether becoming a veterinarian is the right path for you, to thinking about the route to getting there, and for older students, considering your personal statement and which universities you might wish to apply to as well. Expert teachers will help you learn more the core subjects required for Veterinary Science, and exciting skills workshops will teach you the techniques used by vets on a daily basis. You’ll also engage in discussion and debate around the ethics questions that are so important for interviews, honing your analytical abilities and your confidence in expressing your views in front of others at the same time.
Both programmes are taught in the beautiful and historic surroundings of the University of Cambridge: Introduction to Veterinary Science is based in Clare College and our Veterinary Science Programme is based in St Edmund’s College. And both include a packed schedule of activities, excursions and parties alongside your studies. So if you’re determined to become a vet but you’re not quite sure how to get there, take a look at Introduction to Veterinary Science and Veterinary Science Programme to see how Oxford Royale Academy can help you achieve your ambitions.