How To Become a Veterinarian

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: November 4, 2021  •  8 min read  •  Animals
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Do you love animals? Have you dreamed of becoming a veterinarian all your life? Whether you’re in high school or you’re ready to make a career change, learning how to become a veterinarian might be just what you need.

Treating many different animals can be a very rewarding career path. You will be in charge of helping people with the health of their pets. Of course, you can also become a veterinarian for farm animals and other types of animals.

As a veterinarian, you will be in charge of diagnosing illnesses in animals. Thus, you will be an animal doctor. If this sounds like a dream come true, follow the steps below and learn how to become a veterinarian.

How To Become a Veterinarian

How to Become a Veterinarian in Seven Steps

Step #1 – Complete High School

While finishing high school or equivalent is the first step you need to take to become a veterinarian, it takes more than just passing. You want to make sure you take as many advanced classes as possible. Keep your grades up, as well.

Scoring high on the ACT and/or the SAT can go a long way to helping you become a veterinarian. First, you will need to gain admittance into a good four-year college or university. With the right prep course, you can score high enough on the SAT or ACT to choose just about any college or university you want.

During high school, it can also be helpful to work at or volunteer at an animal shelter. This will give you some experience working with animals. In addition, it can help you decide if you really want to become a veterinarian.

Step #2 – Complete your Bachelor’s Degree

The next step to becoming a veterinarian is completing your bachelor’s degree. Then, you will need to take the required courses to gain entry into veterinary medical school. You want to have a 3.5 GPA or higher to open up as many options as possible.

You also want to find a good degree program, which will include courses in biological and physical science. It’s common to major in zoology, microbiology, anatomy, biology, or chemistry. Some universities will offer a pre-vet major, but this isn’t as common. The University of California in Davis, Ohio State University, and Texas A&M University are three of the top choices offering a pre-vet bachelor’s degree program.

Veterinary school is very competitive. During your college years, make sure you keep your GPA up, and you do everything you can to stand out above the rest. Extracurriculars, working for a veterinary office, volunteering with animals, and getting a degree from a prestigious university can go a long way to getting accepted into veterinary medical school.

Step #3 – Get Hands-on Experience

As soon as you know you want to become a veterinarian, it’s time to get hands-on experience. Even if you haven’t chosen this career path but know you want to work with animals, the experience will help. So take the time to get as much hands-on experience as you can while in high school and college.

Any hands-on experience you can get will help, too. Get involved in any organization working with animals. You can work at a zoo, humane society, or even on a farm to help.

Internships, job shadowing, and working under the supervision of a veterinarian offer great options. It’s helpful to have a variety of experiences when you want to become a veterinarian. This will not only help you build your resume but can also ensure you’re choosing the right career path for you.

Step #4 – Apply to Veterinary Medical School

After earning your bachelor’s degree, you will need to apply for veterinary medical school. Performing well in all the prerequisites will go a long way to acceptance. However, it’s highly competitive, so you will likely need to apply to multiple schools.

Make sure you get plenty of glowing recommendations. It’s also important to take your time when writing your application essays. You will also need to take the GRE (Graduate Record Exam). Scoring high on this exam can go a long way, as well. With the right GRE prep course, you can score high and gain acceptance into a great veterinary medical school.

It’s common for students to use the Veterinary Medical College Application Service to apply for vet school. This program makes it easier to apply to multiple schools at the same time.

With a high GPA and GRE score, you might get accepted into multiple programs. This will allow you to choose the program that best fits your needs and goals.

Step #5 – Finish Veterinary Medical School

Completing veterinary medical school will allow you to earn your DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine). This will take you four years. The first two years will include classroom work and labs. After that, you will likely start with basic science courses and focus on biological systems, such as neurology. However, the curriculum will likely vary from one program to another.

The final year of your veterinary medical school experience will include clinical rotations. You will gain hands-on experience working with patients.

Step #6 – Prepare for and pass the NAVLE

The NAVLE (North American Veterinary Licensing Examination) will likely be the biggest test of your life. You will need to prepare for the NAVLE before taking it properly. Without a passing score, you cannot practice as a veterinarian. Choosing the right NAVLE prep program can help ensure you pass this important exam on the first try.

You will be able to take the exam during the fall or the spring of your final year in veterinary medical school. As long as you will graduate within 10 months of taking the exam or 8 months in some states, you can take it.

Taking the test during the fall allows you to retake it in the spring, if necessary. However, waiting until the spring can provide more time to prepare.

Step #7 – Complete All Additional Requirements

It’s common to complete other requirements after passing the NAVLE. Some states have different requirements, and you may need to take additional exams, fill out more forms, and pay additional fees. This is rather common if you’re attending an international school.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Veterinarian

What is the salary range for a veterinarian?

Becoming a veterinarian means you can earn a salary of around $100K per year. The pay is based on your experience, with the highest earners having 10+ years of experience as a veterinarian. Specializing in cardiology or another area can help to increase your annual salary.

How long will it take to become a veterinarian?

It’s common for students to spend 8 to 10 years after graduating high school, gaining the necessary education to become a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. Then, if you prefer to specialize in neurology or cardiology, it will take another two or more years of specialized training.

What is the NAVLE like?

The NAVLE is required to practice veterinary medicine in the United States and Canada. This is a very long test that consists of 360 multiple-choice questions.

The questions will be split into six sections, with 60 questions per section. 60 of the questions throughout the exam are considered a pre-test and won’t count towards your score. They are mixed in with the rest of the questions, and you won’t know which ones they are during the test.

Most of the questions will cover Canine (dog), Feline (cat), Bovine (cow), and Equine (horse); however, there will be questions for Ovine (sheep), Caprine (goats), Public Health, Poultry (chickens/turkeys/ducks/geese), Pet Birds, Porcine (pig), and other specific areas.

How many times can I take the NAVLE test?

About 70% of students will pass the NAVLE the first time. After that, it will be scored on a range from 200 to 800 with a 425-minimum passing score.

If you don’t pass the test the first time, you can try up to five times. However, you must complete all five attempts within five years of the first attempt.

When is the NAVLE offered?

The NAVLE is only offered in November/December and again in April. You cannot take it any other time of the year.

How many veterinary medical schools should I apply to?

Most students will apply to five to seven schools after finishing their bachelor’s degree. This helps to ensure you get accepted to at least one veterinary school.

If you have always wanted to be a veterinarian, now is the time. You can use the steps above for how to become a veterinarian to start your new career journey. Those looking for a high-paying career working with animals will likely enjoy working as a doctor of veterinary medicine.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path.