Any advice for a high school senior?

Hi guys, as the title says I’m a high school senior who’s always wanted to pursue a career in vet medicine. I was recently accepted to two state colleges for their vet tech program, two for animal science, and waiting for the rest of my decisions next month. Initially wanted to go for vet tech, but my parents are worried about the salaries so they told me to also apply to universities with good animal science/pre-vet programs and that I should aim for vet school. I’m in NY so the one I’d be targeting for is Cornell. Though I know student debt and money is also an issue for vet students…

But I’ve always loved animals, science, and helping people, so I thought that this field was definitely something I wanted to look into. Other than financial concerns, burnout and mental health are the next big things that worry me about vet med. I’ve read and heard so many things from vets and vet techs online about burning out, rude clients, being overworked, low wages, etc. I’ve read a lot of vents from them on Reddit and it made me wonder if I’ll be prepared for this type of environment or not. I know I’ll need a backup plan, and I’ve been looking into other job opportunities with an animal science major. So do you guys have any advice/thoughts?

Some more context, I’ve volunteered for animal rescues throughout high school and I help out at my parent’s restaurant so I deal with angry customers often, but I haven’t been able to do any work in a vet clinic so I don’t have any experience with that yet. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to before I leave for college because my parents don’t want me doing anything during the pandemic but I’m working on convincing them. I know I’m just a HS senior so nothing is really set in stone and I won’t know if this field is really for me until I try, but now I’m just nervous about it and I feel like I won’t know what to do in life if vet med isn’t actually for me.

Some vets let high schools intern. I highly recommend reaching out to some in your area to ask if you can shadow for a day or complete an internship to get a feel for the career. If you have any connections in your area use them; if not, get out of your comfort zone and reach out. Ask them about an internship and attach a professional resume. The worst they can do is say they are not taking interns.

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Great job on the research you have already done. Make sure that your college will have a strong pre-professional mentor/advisor. Look at the pre-req’s for Cornell U. and make sure that you take these. Vet schools will also specify that you are required to have worked under the direct supervision of a vet. The higher the GPA and GRE scores are, the better chance for admission. Vet schools want to see a well rounded person who has interests, leadership and activities outside of animal care. If you decide not to go on to vet school, know that any animal science major, bio major, etc. you will have get a masters degree at least for a career.
Lots of ways to use a degree in animal sciences: zoos, aquariums, conservation, research, fish and wildlife services, teaching, government- securing safety and health of food animals.

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I have a daughter who will be starting a DVM program in September, so we have some experience with this.

One issue is that becoming a veterinarian is quite a bit like becoming a doctor, including the 8 years of university and associated cost, but veterinarians are not paid as well as doctors. If you can get your DVM without debt then veterinarians are paid relatively well. However, you do not want to run up a “medical school level” of debt and then try to pay it off with a veterinarian’s income. Because of this I would very strongly encourage you to completely avoid debt for your bachelor’s degree.

Pre-vet classes will overlap quite a bit with premed classes. You will have classes full of very strong students who are trying very hard to get a “medical school worthy” GPA. Plan to study hard as an undergraduate student.

My daughter did quite well in her applications to DVM programs (multiple acceptances, one rejection, several applications withdrawn after she was accepted to her top 2 choices). I think that her experience and her references were each as important as her grades. She got quite a bit of experience (thousands of hours) working / volunteering in a variety of veterinary situations. Much of this involved working as a vet tech. Some of this involved doing research with animals. Some of this involved working with horses or cows. Some of this involved cleaning up in dairy barns. Some of this involves working with humans – every animal comes with a human. I have claimed that every animal except cats come with an owner. Cats come with their “service human” (the cat owns the human). Even being a waitress could be thought of as relevant in the sense that you get to deal with a range of people.

Any job that involves contact with the public will involve a few unpleasant people. However, it will also involve quite a few people who are very thankful for the help that you are providing to them and their pet.

Reaching inside a cow multiple different ways, cleaning up after an animal has “leaked”, helping with surgeries (blood and guts – yuck), and dealing with dead or dying animals are all part of being a veterinarian. If you have experience with all of these, it is likely to help your DVM applications.

Some (maybe all?) universities that have good animal science programs will also have good opportunities for working with animals. For example you might find internships during the summer. There is also the option of working for a couple of years after getting your bachelor’s degree and getting additional experience.

Most of the top DVM programs (Cornell being the most obvious exception) are state schools. Many of them are very good at animal science and veterinary medicine. It is possible to establish residency after getting your bachelor’s, work for a couple of years, and apply to vet schools as an in-state student. I do not know anything about whether Cornell provides any in-state benefits (we are not from NY). I do know that it is really good for veterinary medicine, but I would not run up debt to get a bachelor’s degree there.

Let me know if you have any questions. There do not appear to be all that many people on college confidential with DVM experience, but there are a few.

Also, it does sound like you have quite a good start in terms of thinking about what it takes to become a DVM.

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Thank you guys so much for your help! I have a pet rabbit and I’ve always looked up to his vet. Their vet hospital specializes in rabbits, cats, and other small animals, and when I was younger, I’d always say that I wanted to be just like her. But I know it’s not all sunshine and rainbows and I’ve got a lot of things to think about.

My parents don’t really understand this whole process (neither have gone to college) so I’m kind of on my own, but I’m going to try my best to explain this and see if I can get some clinic/hospital experience. I really appreciate all of the advice!


Bunny34422 You are on the right track. DadTwoGirls, congrats to your daughter. My daughter is finishing her 4th year at NC State and passed her NAVLE this winter. Whew, the end is in sight. Love your description of the cat/human relationship.
Bunny, DadTwoGirls gave excellent advice about vet school debt. Since you are a NY State resident, I would also suggest that you attend an undergrad state school and then, applying to Cornell will give you a leg up on acceptance and cost will be as an instate resident. See if it is possible to complete the vet tech course and still fulfill the vet school requirements. If so, this would give you a career and job if you chose to work for a year or two prior to vet school. It would also broaden your animal science knowledge. Maybe have your parents read through some of the comments in the vet school forum. I know that Momocarly gives good advice and her son attended a BS/DVM program, I think he is in his 2nd or 3rd year now.


Thanks @ECmotherx2. My son is in his first year of vet school. He is very happy with his choice. He ended up going OOS undergrad because he got accepted in a BS/DVM program. He did 3 years undergrad and now in his 4 years of vet school. We were lucky that because we had very low undergrad costs we can fund his vet school costs. Just find a good deal undergrad and then look at the lowest cost vet school. Cornell and the new Long Island program are both expensive. Look at both and look at other vet schools where you can possibly get IS tuition after your first year. You have awhile for that. First find a good program with low costs undergrad.

You do need to try to get some experience this summer. See if you can work as a kennel tech for a vet or at a shelter or anything you can do that works around animals and vets. May son had a certification as a vet assistant in high school, worked as a vet assistant/tech the year before college and had lots of hours playing polo, teaching horseback riding at a summer camp, helping with the horses at camp, etc. He got more hours in the summers during college. If you have specific questions feel free to ask. We negotiated this a lot. I am from New York so I’m familiar with that area even though I’m in TX now.

There are a lot of things you can do if you choose not to be a vet as others have mentioned. A lot of them will pay more than a vet tech and you can still work with or around animals. You need to work well with people too. Vets do most of their talking to the owners not to the animals. The vet techs actually spend more time with the animals than the vets do in many cases. Good luck! Sorry I didn’t see this earlier but we have had no power or cable here until just a few hours ago!


It is very true that as a vet, your hands on time with animals is much less than as a vet tech. It is also true that you’ll make much less in your career than your human counterparts. So whatever you do, be very cautious of taking on loans for a career as a vet because it will be many many years before you come out ahead (to be honest, if ever, depending on the size of your debt). Vet school itself is an amazing learning experience, but school is nothing like working in private practice. Even working at a veterinary clinic in an ancillary role is barely helpful in getting a feel for what a vet deals with. You must be a people person first and foremost, an animal person second. If you think you prefer working with animals because you have a soft spot for them and they’re “better” than people, that will set you up for less than optimal results.

You can wait until college to volunteer/work in a vet clinic for that kind of experience, you don’t have to do it right now. Any job where you have to juggle tasks and placate people (your restaurant experience is very helpful there) is also beneficial for your people skills. Just know that if you think people are angry over food, multiply that by 100x to reach the level of anger they harbor where their precious furbaby is concerned.

I may come across negative, but there’s a reason why you’ve seen financial concerns, mental health, and burnout in your online searches. Those are real. When a plumber or dental hygienist makes more hourly than a vet, then you start to question if your love for animals is enough to compensate for lack of income. Sure, there are successful vets who love their work and make good money - they would be the practice owners, not the associate vets who are getting started in their careers. Even as practice owners, they still don’t make big bucks compared to the amount of time and work that went into obtaining their degree and experience. It’s a harsh truth that there are many careers with lower education requirements that will pay more than being a vet.

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Thank you all, I really appreciate you spending the time to do this! To be honest, I’ve been rethinking this whole thing and wondering if the vet met field is the one for me. I’m definitely an animal person, and I know vet techs tend to spend more time with the animals than vets, so at first I thought I wanted to attend a state college with a vet tech program. But then like I mentioned before, my parents started talking about how I wouldn’t make enough money and told me to attend a different college on a pre-vet track. So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking this past week and I’ll have a conversation with my parents about this, but I know that I still have time to figure things out.

Sometimes I get really frustrated with customers at the restaurant when they start yelling and cursing about things that aren’t in my control, so I can’t imagine what vets go through on a daily basis. I’m in a few Facebook and online groups for rabbit owners, and I’ve been in many conversations where some owners just get super heated about care and advice. I mean I’m also protective over the rabbits I’ve adopted/fostered, but wow it can get pretty intense on Facebook! Anyways, thanks again for all of the advice, even if I don’t end up being a vet, I’ll still be satisfied with just adopting or fostering animals and volunteering with shelters in my free time. :smile:


If you are questioning whether or not to pursue vet medicine, I strongly recommend that you volunteer at a veterinary clinic. Animal rescues, unless you want to go into shelter medicine, will not give you the entire picture of what a veterinarian deals with on a daily basis. Dealing with owners is one of the most challenging aspect of the job, just like you have read and heard about. There are some owners that have misdirected anger because you are the one informing them that their pet has a terrible illness or cancer. You have some owners that would rather take the advice of an online forum rather than a vet. Finally, there are people that do not listen to reason and live in their own unrealistic bubble (in recent times, these are the Karens and Kens that we see on social media). On average, I probably deal with someone like this on a daily basis but I am also a specialist so all of my patients have a medical issue. One of the big things that vet school application does not determine is whether or not a person can psychologically deal with the stress of this profession or have access to help. Student debt, long hours, and constantly being second-guessed by clients can take a tremendous toll on a person. When you start out, you need to be certain that your passion for veterinary medicine is far greater than the cons of being a vet. On the opposite side of things, I cannot express the joy and satisfaction you get when you have just helped saved an animal’s life or vastly improved their quality of life. Working or volunteering at an vet clinic will give you the highs and lows of vet medicine and you will need to determine if the highs outweigh the lows.

Like you said, things are not set in stone. As a high school student, make sure to keep your options open. If you have a general idea that you want to be a vet, make sure that you take the appropriate courses that would satisfy vet school requirements. However, explore and learn as much as you can. A handful of my high school friends wanted to be vets but quickly changed their mind after the first year of undergrad. And even in vet school, I knew many people that changed their mind what types of animals they wanted to work with. Set a high lofty goal for yourself (like being a vet) but make sure to be open to other experiences.

Specifically about Cornell, it is less expensive for in-state students. At the end of the day, you will still have a sizeable debt, but know that almost everyone will be able to pay it off. The more frugal you are at the beginning of your career, the easier and quicker it’ll be to pay everything off. Once in a blue moon, you will come across a story of someone that has crippling debt but that is usually a result of horribly unfortunate circumstances and/or poor financial decisions. You won’t be paid as much as human doctors but most vets have a salary that is high 5 figures, low 6 figures. If you look at stats after how much vets make after graduating from vet school, you will see that it is very low but that is usually factoring in people that go through an internship.