Q&A: Experience – How to Track Your Hours, What Experience to Get and Can Coursework Make Up for Lacking Experience?

Hi Sharon

Thanks for your great blog!

I’m a 28-year-old career-changer who went straight to work rather than going to college when I was younger.  I’ve just started on my bachelor’s degree, which I’m planning to obtain over 5 years by going to school part time and working full time.

Since I don’t plan to apply to vet school until the fall 2015 application period, I’m wondering how to best keep track of volunteering and animal/veterinary experiences.  What are vet schools looking for in that department?  Am I supposed to get some sort of official documentation to prove my hours?

Secondly, because I’m going to school *and* working, I know I’m not going to have free summers or lots of extra time for volunteering and getting animal experience, and may only have something like 500 hours when I apply.  (I’m planning to include a 2-week VIDA trip in those

hours.)  Do you think that taking challenging courses as an undergrad is a good way of offsetting lack of animal experience time?  I’m planning on taking genetics, virology, epidemiology, microbiology, and parasitology/mycology as electives for my biology degree.

Finally, I want to be a cat specialist.  Do you know which schools are known for good feline programs?  It seems like Cornell is the only one that stands out for feline health, which is intimidating, because that’s ranked as the best (and probably most difficult to get into) vet school.





Hi SF –

I’ve found that an easy way to keep track of your animal / veterinary experience is to make a spreadsheet. You can log dates, hours, species worked with, tasks/skills performed, and classify it as vet/animal experience simply by demarking a column V or A. Alternatively you can keep a different spreadsheet for each animal and veterinary experience (this may make your life easier in the long run. You can also keep a different spreadsheet tab for each experience – it’s all up to you! In the end these spreadsheets will make it so easy for you when you apply to vet school as you will have a very REAL number for number of hours worked, a very accurate date range, and other details that are pertinent not only for the application but also for preparing for the interview! VMCAS doesn’t require proof, but they do have you provide contact information for each experience – another reason to keep a spreadsheet – so they could call up a place to verify things if they wanted to, but I’ve not heard of that happening (that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen or won’t ever happen, though!).

As far as what vet schools are looking for with respect to experience, mainly diversity – the more species or different practices you’ve experienced working with, the better. The idea is to make sure you have a good idea of what the field of veterinary medicine entails.

Don’t stress too much over the number of hours you have when you apply – I know I barely made the 500 mark! Some people will apply with tens of thousands of hours while others apply with few if any (and I do know of people who are in vet school with ZERO vet experience hours!). Make sure you use the explanation section of VMCAS to explain your situation with work and school and how you had a limited amount of time but still managed to get in X hours and then emphasize that you will continue to gain more experience before beginning vet school (of course make sure you do that and don’t just say you will!).

I am not sure whether the rigorous coursework will truly balance out your hours but if you have 500 hours you have little to be worried about (unless all of that time is in ONE venue). The coursework will be helpful in convincing the admissions committee that you can handle the veterinary curriculum, which is very important!

As for feline medicine, I cannot say that any school stands out in my mind. Most of the time that people worry about caseload is when it comes to large animal and equine medicine as if there aren’t many cases seen at the teaching hospital, your education and preparedness to enter that field may be lacking (but that’s also why we have externships!). I wouldn’t be worried about finding a school that focuses on felines – I’m willing to bet you’ll get roughly the same experience at any of the schools. I know at Davis we have quite a few feline focused students and we definitely have coursework devoted to cats only which is great!

Furthermore, Cornell like many state schools have admissions focused on recruiting in-state students, so if you are a New York resident, Cornell would be your best shot at acceptance. Likewise, California residents have the best chance at Davis. However, at both of these schools getting in out of state is a dream for most. Make sense?

Good luck with everything and let me know if you have any other questions!

Life In Vet School & Tips On Getting In