Tyler.Dog walking photo reduced 2Most students who love animals have decided by the time they enter high school that they want to become a veterinarian. Yet they may not realize that the time to start preparing for a veterinary career should begin long before they enter college.

Getting into veterinary school is highly competitive and even more difficult than getting into medical school. That is because there are only 30 accredited vet schools in the United States — compared to more than 140 medical schools— and the acceptance rate ranges between 10 and 15 percent.

Yet students can increase their odds of being accepted into vet school if they follow a few key steps during high school. Here are five strategies that will help students achieve their dream of becoming a veterinarian.

1. Accumulate Animal Experience

Vet schools require that applicants have a significant number of hours of veterinary experience, and most successful applicants have over 800 hours. The best time to start this is in high school, when students are under less pressure and have more time.

Not all veterinary clinics will hire high school students, but there are many ways students can gain experience working with animals. These include volunteering at a doggie day care or a shelter, working in a stable, joining a 4H club or pet sitting. These are all experiences that will count on a vet school application.

2. Participate in Fundraising to Help Animals

Another way to gain animal experience is to raise money for organizations that rescue abandoned or abused animals, such as the local SPCA or the Humane Society. Many nonprofits also help animals overseas during times of war or natural disasters.

Students can also host a fundraising event for the Lilac Fund, which provides assistance to people who can’t afford veterinary treatment for their pets. A dog washing event is a perfect way to raise money for animal-related nonprofits.

3. Take a Rigorous High School Curriculum

High school students need to prepare for doing well in college-level science classes. The best way to do this is to by gaining a solid background in math and science in high school.

Students should take all the math, chemistry, biology and physics courses that are available in high school. They should also take the highest level of these courses that is offered, including AP classes.

4. Consider a Study-Abroad Trip

High school students can also participate in an international program to gain experience working with a veterinarian.

Loop Abroad, for example, offers a two-week program for high school students to learn alongside veterinarians at an elephant sanctuary and a dog rescue in Thailand. Financial aid is available for the program.

5. Choose a College Where You Will Excel

When selecting a college, students should choose a school that has a strong science program. It is also important to attend a school that is not highly competitive so that they can earn high grades. A student’s GPA in college-level science classes counts more than the school he or she attends.

Students don’t necessarily have to major in animal science but should consider a field they will do well in while completing the required courses for vet school. They should also realize that they will not have an advantage by attending the university where their top-choice vet school is located because only a small number of undergraduates will be admitted to that vet program.

Prepare as Early as You Can

As the number of students applying to vet school has steadily increased during the past few years, applicants are facing growing competition to get into a veterinary program. A record 10,834 students applied to veterinary colleges this year, an increase of 5.5 percent over last year, according to the American Association of Veterinary Medical Schools.

Students can succeed in getting into vet school if they begin preparing for their veterinary career in high school. The top priorities should be getting meaningful experience working with animals and taking a rigorous curriculum in math and science.

Lucia Tyler is a college admissions counselor who works with students applying to college and vet school. She previously was a college admissions counselor at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. You can contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit her website.