Becoming a veterinarian is a rewarding career path for those who love animals and want to use their medical knowledge to make a difference in their lives. However, before you can start practicing veterinary medicine, you must meet the educational requirements, which include obtaining a degree from an accredited veterinary program. One of the most important decisions you’ll make on your journey to become a veterinarian is choosing the right undergraduate major. This article will guide you through the process of selecting the major that is best suited for you and your career goals.
Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Veterinarian
Before diving into the world of undergraduate majors, let’s take a look at the steps necessary to become a veterinarian:
- Obtain a Bachelor’s degree with a focus on pre-veterinary studies or a closely related field.
- Earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree from an accredited veterinary program.
- Pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE) to become a licensed veterinarian.
- Specialize or pursue further education in a particular area of veterinary medicine.
While there are different paths to becoming a veterinarian, starting with a strong undergraduate education is the norm. Next, we will examine how choosing an undergraduate major fits into this process.
The Most Common Majors for Pre-Veterinary Students
Many pre-veterinary students choose majors related to science, as these fields provide a strong foundation for understanding the biological, chemical, and physical processes involved in veterinary medicine. Some of the most popular majors for pre-veterinary students include:
- Animal Science
These majors are popular for a few reasons:
- They provide students with a solid foundation in the natural sciences.
- They meet the admission requirements for most veterinary schools.
- They often overlap with the required pre-veterinary coursework.
While these majors offer benefits, there are pros and cons to each one when considering veterinary school admission. For example, biology provides a broad foundation, but may offer fewer opportunities to build specialized skills. Animal science, on the other hand, supports a more focused interest in veterinary medicine, but may require more coursework to meet vet school requirements. It is essential to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of your chosen major before making a final decision.
Which Undergraduate Majors Best Prepare You for Vet School?
While the most common pre-veterinary majors have their benefits, some degrees better prepare students for vet school. The following majors offer valuable knowledge and skills relevant to veterinary medicine:
- Animal Science
- Molecular Biology
- Biomedical Sciences
Majors like animal science and zoology offer theoretical and practical knowledge of animal physiology, behavior, and nutrition, which is essential to understand as a veterinarian. Bacteriology and microbiology provide an understanding of infectious diseases and how they can be diagnosed, treated, and prevented. Biochemistry, molecular biology, and biomedical sciences provide knowledge of cellular structure and function, which is essential for understanding the biological processes of living organisms. These majors also offer opportunities for hands-on research and internships, which can be invaluable for gaining experience and building a strong application for vet school.
Don Smith, director of admissions at Michigan State University, one of the top-ranked veterinary schools in the U.S., states that the most successful vet school applicants he sees major in animal science, biology, and biomedical sciences, but adds: “That being said, we accept students from all different types of majors, including non-science majors. What we take into account more than anything is a student’s depth of experience and commitment to the veterinary profession.”
Can You Become a Vet with a Non-Science Major?
Yes, it is possible to become a veterinarian with a non-science major. However, it may require additional coursework to meet the prerequisites for vet school, and it may be necessary to demonstrate a strong interest and commitment to the field through relevant experiences and extracurricular activities. Some non-science majors that have paths to veterinary medicine include:
While it may seem counterintuitive, majors like psychology and English can offer valuable skills to a veterinarian, such as the ability to communicate effectively with clients and colleagues and to understand the emotional and mental health of animals. Business degrees can also be valuable for veterinarians, particularly for those who own or manage veterinary practices.
One example of a successful non-traditional major pursuing veterinary medicine is Dr. Stephanie Borns-Weil, who majored in anthropology as an undergraduate student before pursuing a veterinary degree. Now, she is a behaviorist and the head of the Animal Behavior Service at Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.
Top Majors for Aspiring Veterinarians
Based on the previous information, below are the top 5 majors for aspiring veterinarians:
- Animal Science
- Biomedical Sciences
Animal science and zoology offer specialized education and opportunities to work with animals, while bacteriology provides valuable knowledge of infectious diseases. Biology is a broad major that provides a fundamental understanding of natural science, and biomedical sciences offer an interdisciplinary foundation for veterinary medicine.
How to Choose Your Undergraduate Major if You Want to Be a Veterinarian
When choosing a major for veterinary school, there are several factors to consider:
- Your academic strengths and interests.
- The requirements for the veterinary schools you want to apply to.
- The job market and demand for veterinary practitioners in your chosen specialty.
- The availability of research or internship opportunities in your major.
Ultimately, the right major for you depends on your goals and values, as well as your individual strengths and weaknesses. Don’t be afraid to speak with academic advisors, veterinary school admissions officers, and other professionals in the field to gain insights and advice.
The Importance of a Strong Academic Record and Veterinary Experience, Beyond Your Major
While your undergraduate major is an important factor in your vet school admission, it is not the only factor. Admissions officers also consider your academic record, relevant experience, and letters of recommendation. Grades are essential, so be sure to maintain a strong GPA, particularly in science courses. In addition, gaining relevant experience through internships, volunteer work, or animal-related jobs can demonstrate your commitment and provide opportunities for learning outside the classroom. Don’t hesitate to shadow veterinarians and speak with veterinary professionals to gain a better understanding of what the field is like.
Choosing the right undergraduate major for a career in veterinary medicine is essential for success, but it is not the only factor that admissions officers consider. Ultimately, the right major for you depends on your academic goals, interests, and values, as well as the veterinary programs you apply to. By keeping these factors in mind and gaining relevant experience, you can build a strong foundation for a fulfilling and rewarding career as a veterinarian.