I realize that as a pre-veterinary student, you want to be as informed as possible so as to know what you’re getting yourself into when you apply to veterinary school. Many people ask how many hours per day they should expect to spend studying per day while in veterinary school. This is an excellent question and one that I, too, had when I was applying to veterinary school. Students that I spoke to at both UC Davis and Western University of Health Sciences indicated that they study for hours every day — often they get home from a full day of school and spend the rest of the day studying until it is ready to go to bed. While that may be the situation for many veterinary students, I definitely don’t want that to be the perception that people get of what life is like in veterinary school.
I believe that an essential part of being successful in veterinary school is maintaining a work-life balance. It’s easy to become engrossed in your studies and simply forget to relax, have fun, or exercise (or just have no time for it), but the situation will be the same when you graduate and begin to work — you will spend hours upon hours working and researching cases and never manage to do things that are not related to veterinary medicine. I strongly urge students to find a way to balance school and life early on in their veterinary careers so that they have the tools in place to maintain a healthy, active, and, most importantly, balanced life.
When I began veterinary school I was expecting to spend 5+ hours per day studying. In the beginning it was difficult to get myself started because I wasn’t yet sure what or how to study. I definitely began the year with more of a drive to spend a great deal of my free time studying, yet quickly learned that that wasn’t working for me. Over the months of my first year I gradually began to decrease my daily time spend studying and increased my daily time spent exercising or with friends (often the two coincided). The spring quarter I spent very little time, if any, studying for classes without the pressure of a test in the near future — but I did manage to make new friends outside of vet school who I hang out with, drastically improve my rock climbing, begin swimming with various swimming partners, etc. I even went back to my home on the East Coast for a wedding that took place on a Sunday evening before a final exam on a Tuesday morning. I got virtually no studying done that weekend, yet did remarkably well on that exam, but more importantly, I got to be present for such a special occasion. I have no regrets.
So how much time should you realistically expect to spend studying in veterinary school? This is greatly dependent upon you! Some people are faster learners or learn in certain ways better than others. I would say that you are likely to spend a great deal of time studying, but it will be mostly when exams are looming. For instance, if there is a Monday morning exam (typical here at Davis), I will often take the Friday evening before the exam off and just relax and unwind and then begin intense studying on Saturday and continue that through Sunday. Oftentimes before an exam, I will stay up til about midnight (late for me) and wake up extra early (5am) for some last minute studying before the exam which usually begins at 9am.Of course, throughout the weekend I usually manage to sneak in some workouts to provide stress relief.
My advice to minimize your study time and maximize your sanity:
- Never skip class. Sure it may be tempting at times, but it is better to be present rather than playing catch-up because you were too busy with something else. Often that something else is studying for a looming exam, so you don’t want to get even further behind because you were too worried about the most imminent exam.
- Realize what study habits are most effective for you. Once you do this, you will be able to maximize your efficiency and reduce your time spent studying. Some people study well in groups, others do not. If you try one of these and are ineffective at it, you will waste a great deal of your precious time. Your friends will not be offended by your desire to study alone as long as you explain that it’s more effective for you to study on your own. Likewise, if you prefer to study in a group — ask around for people who may want to join you, or ask if you can join other study groups.
- Take breaks. Go for a walk, to the gym, cook dinner or cookies, walk the dog, play with the cats — whatever way you choose to take breaks, they are essential to proper cognitive functioning!
- Take time off. It may seem to overlap with the take breaks, but I classify time off as a chunk of time — like an entire evening. Decide ahead of time to take Friday night off and get some friends together to go out for dinner and/or a movie. Be sure to have fun, laugh, and relax! This will help you feel refreshed and ready to focus when you sit down to study the next morning.
- Break things down. Whenever possible, if you are able to break down a studying task into smaller parts, it will be more manageable. This will make it easier for you to tackle one of those smaller bits at the end of a long day of school instead of feeling so overwhelmed at the larger task that you fail to make any headway. Even if it is make 10 note cards, read one chapter, memorize 10 anatomical terms — that will make a huge difference over time.
- Prioritize. This is particularly true when you have multiple projects or exams that are demanding your attention (for instance, finals!) At this time, my personal way to prioritize is to determine which subjects I have the best understanding of (those usually get lower priority) while subjects that I have a more difficult time with get higher priority. This often coincides with grades. Although I am in no way someone who is concerned at getting straight A’s — sometimes calculating what grade you need to get on the final exam to pass, keep your grade, or get an A (whichever is most applicable to your situation) helps to understand how much you need to study. If you only need a 57% on a final to maintain your grade, then you might de-prioritize that class, while if you need a 96% to get an A and that is important to you, you might spend more time studying for that class. It’s all dependent upon your priorities and values.
- Ask for help! If you’re struggling with something or just can’t find the answer and don’t want to spend hours more searching — ask your fellow students. Facebook is often an excellent way to handle this — post your question as your status. People will respond, often quickly! It ends up being a great peer reviewed learning experience for all (even your non-vet school friends)!