The “Perfect” Application

This isn’t QUITE fair, because getting into med school is tough too!

Along my pre-vet journey, I’ve done a lot of research in to the 30 veterinary medical schools across the United States. There are a lot of helpful websites and blogs out there on getting admitted to vet school and how to be the “perfect” applicant, like Student Doctor Network and this blog that post tips about the application and even offer coaching and personal statement proofing (for$200 an hour-what?!). If you compile all of this information, like I did, you would basically find the components of the perfect applicant, according to previous applicants (not admissions committees):

  1.  >3.8 GPA
  2. >1000 hours of veterinary experience in ALL fields (small, large, farm, and zoo animals)
  3. >1000 hours of animal experience in several fields (small, large, and farm animals)
  4. 90th percentile GRE scores (verbal reasoning >162, quantitative reasoning >164, analytical writing >4.5)
  5. 1000’s of hours of community service & extracurricular activities, especially where you are in a leadership position

Sounds pretty demanding, doesn’t it? That’s what I thought. How can one person do all of this and not go insane? Fortunately, what I’ve learn through the process of applying to vet school, talking with Dr. Schadler (the Associate Dean of Student Services and Admissions at LMU-CVM), and meeting my future classmates is that almost no one fulfills all of the above requirements. Most people have 2 or 3 parts of their application that stand out as perfect, while other parts of the application are not so good. Does this mean that I slacked off in parts? No! I worked very hard to make my application as good as it could be. However, different people have different life experiences and paths that they have traveled to get to vet med, and so they will have different strong points. Today, I want to take the “perfect applicant” and break it down into realistic components.

GPA

Yes, grades are important to vet schools. Vet school is an incredibly tough, academically rigorous program that requires a lot of studying and work to get through. However, if I had a 4.0 GPA without any of the other components, the admissions committee would see that I don’t know how to balance school work with family and community time. Schools look at GPA in order to make sure that the applicants can succeed academically in the program (although there is so much more to being a vet than just being smart!). If people show that they can work hard and to get good grades, especially while balancing work and family, vet schools can help them as needed to get through the academics.

Veterinary Experience

The purpose of the veterinary experience part of the application is to make sure you know what you’re getting into when you graduate. I used my vet experience to “date” the profession by shadowing a small animal vet and a large/farm animal vet. I pretty quickly figured out that while I love dogs and cats, I enjoy working with horses and farm animals a whole lot more, probably because I grew up riding and showing horses. I also used this time to make sure I understood the working life of a vet and to ask the vets what they would have done differently after graduating. While I only had about 200 hours of shadowing vets (unlike fellow classmates who have worked in a clinic for several years), I did have about 400 hours of clinical research experience with a human physician. I had enough exposure to the vet med field before this research experience that I felt comfortable with the profession, but I’m also very interested in the research aspect. I think this was one area that helped my application stand out–there are a lot of procedures and rules that clinical researchers have to follow, but they also get the “in” on up-and-coming drugs that will be released in a few years.

Animal Experience

Vet school applicants should love animals, right? Of course! Sometimes, you’ll have to start by cleaning kennels and walking dogs at the vet clinic and eventually work your way up to being a veterinary assistant. This experience is valuable, though; you get to learn about reading dog behaviors and how to appreciate the people who help keep the clinic running. I got most of my animal experience from riding quarter horses in breed shows and 4-H. In 4-H, I had to take care of my project horse throughout the year and learn about all the different aspects of horse science (see More Than Puppy Love for more about my 4-H experiences). Some people have more small animal experience from working at the humane society or dog walking, and others have more farm animal experience because they grew up on a production farm that required everyone’s help to keep things running.

GRE

This is honestly what the GRE felt like.

The Graduate Record Exam is used by vet schools to evaluate your verbal and quantitative reasoning skills in addition to your analytical writing abilities. The GRE is a long, tough (not to mention expensive) exam, lasting over 4 hours on average. Some people are good test-takers and can go in with a minimal amount of studying and come out with fantastic scores. Other people can study for weeks or months and only get average scores. I was somewhere in the middle. I studied hard-core for about 2 weeks before my exam and pulled off ~75th percentile scores. I was happy with those scores and I chose not to take the test again because I felt that other parts of my application would balance out my scores. Looking back, I can see why vet schools would like to see applicants take the GRE more than once. The additional effort shows that the student is constantly trying to improve themselves and their application. It also shows that the applicant is not satisfied with a less than perfect score.

Community Service & Extracurriculars

Schools want good grades and test scores, lots of animal and veterinary experience, AND community service and extracurricular activities?! When does a pre-vet have time to chill out?! Great question. Schools want to see that you can balance your time well so that they don’t send a class of workaholics out into the field after graduation that will become burnt-out after a few years and change professions. Being well-rounded and well-balanced helps to decrease these tragic deaths by making sure that work is only part of a vet’s life. Personally, I love music and playing in concert, jazz and pep band at LMU has significantly decreased the emotional stress of college (see Strike Up The Band for more).

Truth be told, there really is no “perfect” applicant; even if two people have almost the exact same statistics, they bring a unique perspective to the class because of their personalities and upbringing. The best advice I can give is: be yourself; do activities that interest you, work with different vets to get different views on the field and try your best in school. Instead of saying, “I did this just to look good,” I was able to explain what I got from each experience and why it was meaningful to me. Others may not have enjoyed my time in band or in various clubs, but that doesn’t matter because I was able to talk about what each activity meant to me. The most important thing I’ve learned through this whole process is to be genuine. When you do that, everything else falls into place.

Do you have questions about the veterinary school application process? Leave me a comment or shoot me an email! I would love to talk to you about applying to vet school!

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Posted on April 22, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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