Training as a vet? Here’s what you need to know

Stephen Spriggs
June 12th 2020

Nobody just falls into training to be a vet or settles on it as an easy career choice. Becoming a vet takes years of dedication, study and hard work and usually appeals only to those with a strong science background and a passion for animals. What’s more, a veterinary science degree is only offered by a few universities in the UK. 

However, veterinary science degrees are increasing in popularity. In fact, according to a report published by Universities UK, in the 10 years between 2007 and 2017 the number of students studying veterinary science had risen by 47%.

So, if your heart is set on a career as a vet, here’s what you need to know...

Make sure you plan ahead

To maximise your chances of winning a place on a course, it’s important to start planning early, ideally before you finish your GCSEs. That way you can choose the A Level qualifications that degree courses prefer. It helps to achieve good A Level grades in Chemistry and Biology, whilst some universities will also require Maths and Physics. A typical offer would be three As at A Level, or equivalent. However, this isn’t the only route into veterinary science - and if you’ve failed to make the grades, you do have other options.

Didn’t make the grade? Don’t panic

As well as the standard degree route, there’s also the option of a degree with a preliminary year for students who haven’t achieved the required A Levels in science subjects. Alternatively, there’s also the standard degree with a gateway year for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. In addition, for those who already have a Biology degree, there’s the option of a  graduate accelerated degree and finally, the intercalated veterinary medicine programme is another option for students who wish to take a year out of a standard degree and study a subject in depth.

The importance of work experience

Whichever route you take, your application will need to include a written statement explaining why you’re right for the course - which is why it helps if you’ve had a couple of years to complete shadowing opportunities or work placements. All vet schools (they are called this despite being situated in, or aligned with, a university) will want you to have some animal husbandry or clinical work experience so you can determine whether you like it. It’s not enough to say you love animals or have always had pets; vet work is challenging and requires commitment, so you will need to demonstrate that you know what the career ahead entails.

What to expect

Course structures for a veterinary science degree vary, but you can typically expect a combination of theory and practical experience with some places even offering hands-on experience almost immediately. You will study anatomy, animal welfare, genetics, biometrics and diseases, and more, and during your final year you will probably be on rotation working with all different types of animals, from dogs to horses. Not only will you hone your medical and surgical skills during rotation, but there will be plenty of work-based practice, too.

Career opportunities

Although studying for a veterinary science degree is hard work, your hard work and dedication will undoubtedly pay off as graduates have an incredibly high chance of finding work after university. In fact, 94% of veterinary science students are employed within six months of graduating and of those, 97% work as veterinary surgeons. 

Like doctors, vets tend to specialise in a certain area, with options including general practice, small animals, farm animals or horses. Many qualified veterinarians decided to move into teaching or research and continue to achieve qualifications throughout their career to ensure their skills and knowledge are up to date. Alternatively, other complimentary careers include conservationism and animal welfare.

Still unsure veterinary science is for you?

If you’re still not sure that a degree in veterinary science is right for you, Edinburgh University has an online course called ‘Do you have what it takes to be a veterinarian?’ which could help you decide. Veterinary degrees typically last five years (or six at Cambridge University) and are extremely intensive with a lot less free time than if you were to study another subject, so it’s important to be sure the veterinary route is right for you. If you don’t think you can invest the time and be prepared to work incredibly hard for at least half a decade, it might be time to think again.

How we can help

If you are unsure about whether a veterinary science degree is right for you, we can help. As the leading education advisory and consultancy service in the UK, we can advise you on the different options available and help ensure you apply for the right university course that will help you get to where you want to be. Contact our team today to find out more.