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Preparing for Veterinary College, Some Advice

Laboratory Animal Services (LAS) frequently receives calls from New Jersey residents who want to become a veterinarian. LAS has no official role in pre-veterinary education in New Jersey or at Rutgers, but that doesn’t stop us from giving advice. What follows is some general advice and some general recommendations. More information is available from the links on this page.

  • Yes, you have to go to college to become a veterinarian. Veterinary school is generally a four-year program.
  • No, there is no veterinary school in New Jersey. See New Jersey Veterinary Contracts for information on contract programs with veterinary schools in other states.
  • If you are in high school, take all the science and math you can get. Honors courses and advanced placement courses are a good idea. Eventually, you want to get into a good (competitive) four-year college.
  • Like medical schools, veterinary schools require that you attend college prior to veterinary school. Most medical schools require a four-year bachelor’s degree. Most veterinary schools do not. Veterinary schools typically require the equivalent of 3 years of full-time college.
  • The specific required courses that you need are similar for medical school and veterinary school. You need a basic background in biology, the physical sciences and math, and you need to be able to communicate with other human beings. (Don’t go into veterinary medicine because "I don’t like people". Very few dogs and cats show up by themselves with a blank check taped to their collar.)
  • The required courses are typical of those needed for a "biology major", but you need not be a biology major or even a science major. You can major in History, Music or any other subject. The science courses you take, though, should be rigorous courses designed for science majors. Your veterinary college admissions committee will not be pleased with "Physics for poets".
  • Some colleges or universities will award a bachelor’s degree to students accepted to veterinary school, even if they do not complete the full four-year program. The bachelor’s degree is less important, I think, IF you get a veterinary degree. You should plan your course work, however, so that you will meet the distribution requirements for a degree. You may not get accepted to veterinary school, or you may change your mind and not apply. You want to be able to get a degree with the courses you have taken.
  • What college should you attend for pre-veterinary study? From the standpoint of getting admitted to a veterinary school, I recommend you get the best grades in the most rigorous courses at the most competitive college you can gain acceptance to (and afford). This may not be your only criteria for selecting a school. Some universities that have a veterinary school, or like Rutgers have a lot of pre-vet students, will have a "pre-vet" program of some kind. There is nothing official about this at any undergraduate school that I am aware of, and I know of no veterinary college that requires you be in a "pre-vet" program. Such colleges have experience in preparing students for veterinary school. They will have knowledgeable advisors, pre-vet clubs, other students who share your interests, and they may offer opportunities to work in a research lab or get hands-on experience with animals. But, you can probably do your pre-veterinary study at any liberal arts college offering a biology major or preparing students for medical college.
  • "I’ve already completed college, but I wasn’t a biology major and I didn’t take all the required courses!" Tough. You will need to go back to school. Veterinary schools will differ in their approach to "older" students. They may not accept courses taken too many years ago. They may not accept some or all courses taken at a two-year school. As with everything I say here, the veterinary schools are the final authority and you should always check with the schools you are interested in.
  • There is a core of courses required by almost all veterinary colleges. They include biology, inorganic chemistry, physics, organic chemistry, biochemistry and English. You will need to make sure you pass all the required courses you need for each school you intend to apply to. When in doubt, contact the school and ask. Note that you will take far more math and physical sciences than biology in your first two years. You will want to get good grades in these core courses.
  • Don’t forget other requirements. One school may require genetics, another microbiology, another public speaking or a foreign language. You must check each school that you might apply to.
  • Also, most schools require the GRE or some derivative thereof.
  • What if I apply after three years and don’t get accepted? Try again - with the same school(s) and others. Take more courses. Get better grades. Get more relevant experience. Mature. You are competing against others who are reapplying, who decided to get a degree before applying or who only decided to apply after they got a degree. You are competing with applicants who have Bachelor degrees, Masters degrees, even Ph.D.’s and M.D.’s., Olympic gold medals and Miss America crowns.


    Give up. Go a different route. Finish your degree. There are many things to do with an interest in animals and science.

  • Can I get into veterinary school if I attend Rutgers? Maybe. Rutgers sends off a number of students to veterinary schools every year. Most pre-vet students at Rutgers are Animal Science majors in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS, ugh! - formerly Cook College), New Jersey’s agricultural college. But you could major in almost anything at any of the colleges that make up Rutgers University. There is a pre-vet club at Rutgers and there is a pre-vet advisor. For "city kids" who have grown up with no farm animal experience, Rutgers offers a number of ways to gain hands-on experience with animals.
  • Aside from meeting the academic requirements, it helps to have some experience working with animals on a farm setting or research setting. It’s good to have some experience working with a veterinarian. You may find you have to volunteer your time working or observing for a veterinarian at first. This helps on your application, but it is also important to make sure you know what you are getting into. This practical experience stuff is important. The veterinary schools get many more qualified applicants than they can accept. You have to figure out a way to make your application stand out from the rest.
  • If you have questions, feel free to Ask Dr. Bob.

Pre-Veterinary Training At Rutgers

Pre-vet training at Rutgers is directed through the Department of Animal Sciences, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS - formerly Cook College). The Animal Sciences curriculum requires 128 credits and leads to a Bachelor of Science degree. It is designed for students who have an interest in animal biology, production and management, or related fields including veterinary medicine, research, horse care and management, animal care and agribusiness. The biological sciences form a basis for the study and management of domesticated animals, with practical hands-on experience emphasized.

The Department of Animal Sciences has a web-page which contains a wealth of information, ranging from curriculum, course offerings to a list of the faculty to a curriculum newsletter and various links.

There are also a few student clubs which offer support for Animal Science Majors:

  • The Society of Animal Science
  • The Pre-Vet Club
  • Equestrian Team

NJ Veterinary Contracts (Angry Moms)

CURRENT STATUS OF NJ CONTRACT PROGRAM: At this time (March 2011) there is no funding for out-of-state contract seats subsidized by New Jersey. The following has been left for historical interest in hope that the program may be re-established.  Rutgers students continue to gain acceptance to out-of-state veterinary schools.
There are only 28 veterinary schools in the US. Only 2 states have two schools, and thus many, including New Jersey, have none. Most are state supported, and although the situation is not as bad as it was in the past, the schools tend to be rather provincial in their acceptance policies. That is, they look out after their own first. In the 1970's, if you were from a state WITH a veterinary school, it was not worth the effort to apply out-of-state. You would not even be considered. In response to this, a number of states built new veterinary schools. In my opinion, not because they needed more veterinarians, but because angry moms couldn't get their kids into a veterinary school. (And after buying all those James Herriott books!) New Jersey wisely decided that they did not need a veterinary school and took a different approach to solving the problem.

The New Jersey Solution

For many years now, New Jersey has essentially bought seats in out-of-state veterinary schools. The Veterinary Medicine Act of 1971 provides for contractual agreements between the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority and out-of-state schools of veterinary medicine. The schools receive money from New Jersey toward the cost of education in return for a number of reserved spaces for New Jersey residents.

The role of the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority is to certify eligibility as a resident. Applicants apply to the veterinary schools in the usual manner and the schools make all admission decisions. Participation in the New Jersey contract program is not a guarantee of acceptance.

Recent budget cuts have decreased the number of participating veterinary schools and the number of contract seats available for NJ residents.

Facts about the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Education Contract Program (NJVMEC)

For more information contact:

New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority

Ms. Amanda Billups
Higher Education Student Assistance Authority
P.O. Box 540
4 Quakerbridge Plaza
Trenton, N.J.  08625-0540
(609) 588-4694

or call the Student Financial Aid Hotline at (800) 792-8670

Participating Veterinary Colleges

The list of participating veterinary schools can change as contracts are reviewed. As of this date (August 2007), the following schools participate:

NJ Veterinary Contract Colleges as of August 2007 (8 contract seats)
Former participants in the Contract Program not participating as of August 2007

US Veterinary Schools

Application Process

The application process for veterinary school begins in July. I will pass on advice as soon as I experience parts of the process myself.

Veterinary Resources

  • Cornell Pre-Veterinary Newsletters Subscribe to this on-line newsletter, access articles from previous issues.
  • The American Association of Veterinary Medicine Colleges maintains an excellent site with detailed information on veterinary schools.
  • The 1998 edition of the "Veterinary Medical School Admission Requirements in the United States and Canada" (VMSAR) handbook  is sponsored by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) and is edited by Denise Ottinger of Purdue University's School of Veterinary Medicine. The annual VMSAR publication provides useful information on the 27 U.S. and 4 Canadian veterinary institutions. It includes information on prerequisite courses and exams, admissions office contacts, application deadlines, and residency implications. It also provides information on advanced standing policies, combined/dual-degree programs, summer programs, and statistical data on the national applicant pool.

    Purdue University Press
    1532 South Campus Courts-E
    West Lafayette, IN 47907-1532
    Phone: (800) 933-9637

    Unit Price: $14.95

  • Veterinary Medicine College Application Service
  • American Veterinary Medical Association

Don’t go into veterinary medicine because "I don’t like people". Very few dogs and cats show up by themselves with a blank check taped to their collar.