How to Get Into Vet School
Updated: Oct 6, 2022
So, you want to be a vet? Great choice!
Knowing what you want to do in life, or at least a general direction, puts you one step ahead of everyone else applying to university in your cycle. You know your course, you're excited, you're determined - all the elements are there, and university seems like a fairly reasonable goal. Only, now you've got to get there...
If you have no idea where to even start becoming a vet, good news! I exist, and five years ago I was exactly where you are. Well, probably not exactly where you are now (unless you happen to find yourself sat on a rooftop in Toronto talking about your work experience placement in the local vet practice) but spiritually at least, I've been there. It's really scary, not least because nobody seems to have bothered to put together easy to find information all in one post.
Most places tend to focus on one element. What qualifications do you need? What work experience do you need? How do you apply? But putting all that information together is the hard part, and your job still isn't over because then you have to figure out how to put all that together into a competitive application. I know, it sucks, and it's probably more effort than your friends are doing. I'm willing to bet most of them don't even know what they'll be doing next week, let alone in five years time at university.
But you're special, so let me do the hard part for you. Here's everything I know about the admissions process, in one handy guide for you to peruse at your leisure. I hope it's useful!
What Makes You a Vet?
In order to practice as a veterinary surgeon in the UK you need to obtain a qualification that makes you eligible to register with the RCVS, the veterinary profession's regulator. You achieve this by graduating at a qualifying university and being awarded a degree accepted by the RCVS to conform to their standards, allowing you to become an MRCVS (Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons). At the time of writing (August 2022), all vet schools in the UK apart from Central Lancashire, Aberystwyth and Harper Keele allow you to immediately register with the RCVS upon graduation. Graduating at the other 3 schools will only provide you with a registrable degree if, once their first cohort graduates, the RCVS deems them to be of an acceptable standard.
Realistically, there shouldn't be an issue with this, as the RCVS keeps a close eye on all the new vet schools, but it's worth bearing in mind.
Graduates of overseas veterinary schools may be eligible to immediately register with the RCVS, or may have to sit a further exam. Details are available on the RCVS website.
Okay, So How Do I Get That Degree?
Well, you need to go to university! Note that this guide only covers UK veterinary schools. If you're interested in applying abroad, it's advisable to speak to the individual admissions office of the school you're looking at. They'll be experts in handling international applications and have a huge amount of information available to give you.
Unlike veteirnary nursing, there's no apprenticeship available to study veterinary medicine at the moment. The new medical apprenticeship gives me hope that one soon may be developed, but for now the only route available is to go to a recognised university.
You have four options:
Standard 5 year degree - ideal for people who have or expect to have the right qualifications (usually AAA) prior to starting university.
Foundation degree - a six year course ideal for people who don't have or don't expect to have the right qualifications, and meet certain widening participation criteria
Gateway degree - a six year course ideal for people who don't have qualifications in the right subject (e.g. missing a Chemistry A-Level)
Graduate accelerated degree - a four or five year course aimed at people who already have a degree in a relevant area
Not every university offers all four courses, and you should check the websites of the schools you're interested in carefully before applying.
Step 1: What qualifications do I need?
First, let's dispel a few myths.
You don't need 10A*s at GCSE and 5 at A Level. Most vet students don't (some do, but let's ignore those). You'll need the following for all universities:
English Language, Maths, and Science GCSEs at a pass (5 or above)
A-Level Chemistry at grade A or above
And you'll need the following for most universities:
5 GCSEs at grade 5 or above
A Level Biology and a third A-Level in another subject
Some universities like Cambridge require you to have a science or Maths subject as the third A-Level, but most don't mind. It's important to check the entry requirements of each university in detail before you apply, and you can find them in the list below.
Some universities allow you to apply using BTEC Animal Science. Check the requirements carefully before applying.
Most universities also offer reduced entry requirements to those who meet certain widening participation criteria. This will be outlined in their entry requirements section on the relevant webpage in the list above.
Step Two: What Work Experience Do I Need?
I've done a work experience requirements blog post with in depth information and advice about to get it, make the most of it, and what to do afterwards.
Step Three: Compiling Your Application
All UK vet school applications are handled by UCAS. You;ll need to create an account and use their online portal to select your choices and upload information.
Handily, UCAS walk you through the application step by step, but as a summary of what you'll need to give them:
a personal statement
details about your qualifications
a reference (if you're still at school, this will be from a teacher. If you're no longer at school, this can come from anybody who knows you in a professional aspect. UCAS gives great advice on their website about what a reference should look like).
If you want advice on writing a personal statement, Lara Savage writes brilliantly about the top tips for writing convincingly here. You can also find my personal statement (as an example, do NOT copy it, you will get caught for plagiarism) on my website under the Work Experience Resources section.
Step Three: What Entrance Exams Do I Need to Sit?
The short answer? If you're not applying to Cambridge, none!
Cambridge hopefuls, listen up!
You'll need to sit the Natural Sciences Admissions Assessment at a registered test centre. This centre is usually your school, and they are the ones that need to register you.
But, it's your responsibility to check when you need to register by, and ensure your school has all the relevant details. Check out their website for a handy checklist of everything you need to do.
You'll also need to prepare to take the exam. The best way is to do practice questions. Do so many that you start dreaming about them. Strategise, pick your best subjects and get used to the styles of questions. Remember, you shouldn't need anything more advanced than GCSE level knowledge, but the questions won't be worded simply.
(for the rest of you, triple check you're not required to sit anything. Vet schools are whimsical and liable to change their minds rapidly, so it's always best to check their websites for the most up to date information).
Check out my top tips for preparing for the NSAA here.
Step 4: Complete Questionnaires and Submit References
Depending on where you applied, your vet school may ask you to complete a further questionnaire to gather more information on what you've studied, your work experience so far, and other widening participation criteria they may want to know.
Cambridge used to send out the SAQ, but it's now renamed to something different (don't ask me what it is, the name is confusing). This will appear in your inbox after you've submitted your application.
The RVC is sneaky and hides their supplementary form on their website. You must find this and fill it out prior to the deadline, or you will be automatically rejected. Seems a silly test if you ask me, most vet students can't even find their way home after a night out, let alone a buried questionnaire...
Step 5: The Interview
Finally, the last hurdle is the interview. I've made another blog post (I'm brilliant aren't I?) discussing the format and structure of the interviews, with tips on how to prepare and what you'll need to bring.
For Cambridge hopefuls, here's more tips here on how to nail a Cambridge interview specifically.
I hope this was helpful and informative, and as always if you have further questions you can email me or book a Zoom call with me where I'll answer any questions you may have, for less than the price of a cup of coffee
If you have any information you think would be useful to include in this guide, or you notice anything missing, please drop me a message using the contact form at the bottom of this page.
And finally, want five FREE secrets to making an AWESOME vet school application? Click here to get the guide!