Advice For High School Students Who Want To Be Veterinarians

Some people are called to their profession at a young age.  I decided that I wanted to be a veterinarian when I was four!  I called it an animal doctor because I couldn’t say veterinarian.  For all of you ‘early deciders’, I put together a list of tips that will help you achieve the dream of becoming a veterinarian.  You have chosen a wonderful profession.  GOOD LUCK!

1) Grades-Grades are very important.  When you apply to veterinary school, you must list your overall grade point average as well as your grades in required courses from college.  Although your high school grades are not counted, it is important to establish good study habits now.  Work hard and aim for an A in every class you take.  ***Please note:  Your grades need to be good, not perfect.  When I got my first B in college I thought my dream was over.  This is not true.  You do not have to have a 4.0 to get into veterinary school but the higher the better.

2) Classes-Take all the college prep classes you can.  If you take challenging classes in high school, it will help you in college.  Select as many classes as possible in math and science.  Veterinarians use algebra all the time to calculate drug dosages.  We also need training in statistics and calculus to evaluate research results.     In science, make sure you take chemistry, biology and physics.  Learn the basics of these subjects now to gain an advantage in college.

3) Experience-Experience is broken into two categories for veterinary college, animal-related and veterinary-related.  Veterinary-related means experience working under the direct supervision of a veterinarian.  The animal-related category includes work with animals in any setting.  Obviously, working with a veterinarian is best but difficult to do in high school.  So, focus on getting experience with animals of all kinds.  Here’s some ideas:
    – Join 4-H and do projects with animals and veterinary medicine.
    – Walk dogs or cuddle cats during summer break at your local animal shelter.  
    – Participate in the annual wild bird counts.
    – Volunteer at a rehabilitation center for the species that interests you.  Examples are raptors, reptiles, parrots, wild animals.
    – Foster an animal for a rescue group.
    – Train a puppy for an animal assistance program.
    – Take riding lessons at a stable to learn how to handle horses.
    – Work on a farm with cattle, hogs, poultry or sheep.  
    – Volunteer to take care of a classroom pet.
    – Go to veterinary camp to learn about animals.

4) Extracurricular activities-It is true that veterinary schools like well rounded individuals with a variety of interests.  But make sure you give yourself plenty of time to study.  If your college G.P.A. isn’t high enough, the veterinary colleges won’t even look at you to see all the other wonderful things you did.  So use this time to explore and develop your interests but be careful not to over commit.  Leave yourself plenty of time to study and also have some fun with your friends.  Learning how to balance the different areas of your life now will help you in the future.  

You can get more tips at  To learn what a year of clinical practice is like for a small animal veterinarian, I’m a little partial but believe you will enjoy Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life. 

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.

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