A guide to studying Veterinary Medicine at university - including what to expect, reasons to consider the subject area, application tips and a careers overview.
Why consider studying Veterinary Medicine at university?
Veterinary Medicine is a vocation, making a difference to the lives of animals and their owners. It is a challenging, but extremely rewarding degree and profession. The high academic content of a Veterinary Medicine degree is integrated with practical experience, making it both an academic and practical course. There is currently a shortage of qualified vets, therefore career prospects are very good.
Veterinary Medicine courses may also be known as Veterinary Sciences - students applying through UCAS should be aware that a D100 pre-fix on the course code shows a degree that qualifies them to become veterinary surgeons on graduation.
Courses are typically 5 years in duration, except for the University of Cambridge, which is 6 years, as the Veterinary Medicine course at Cambridge incorporates an additional year where students undertake a year of a science degree (intercalation). NB: Intercalation is typically available at all other veterinary schools.Watch this section on the video from 01:59 to 05:40
What to expect if you study Veterinary Medicine at university?
Veterinary Medicine students in the United Kingdom (UK) predominately focus on the commonly encountered species of the UK - the large and small companion animals and production animals.
Foundation skills and knowledge are taught in the first years, initially looking at healthy animals with an increasing focus on clinical aspects as students progress through the course. The final year of two of the programme are typically taught at veterinary practices and animal hospitals, enabling students to gain knowledge, practical experience and the competence to go into the veterinary profession.
Veterinary Medicine courses are very intense; 5-6 years worth of study at university, plus the requirement for students to undertake placements during university ‘vacations’, typically 12 weeks of animal handling during the first two years and at least 26 weeks of hospital or clinical placements during the last three years.
Although the electives vary between institutions, all degree courses which give eligibility for MRCVS (Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons) status, ensure the qualification focuses on all of the commonly encountered species and disciplines. Watch this section on the video from 05:40 to 11:45
Application tips for Veterinary Medicine courses at university
Veterinary Medicine is an extremely competitive field, typically Veterinary Medical schools might receive between seven and ten applications for one place. Prospective students should research the university that will give the ‘best fit’ for them, looking at the prospectuses for the Veterinary Medical Schools, visiting their websites and social media channels and attending open days (when it is safe to do so).
The UCAS form allows students five choices of universities, however, only a maximum of four of these can be to veterinary courses, giving a ‘safety net’ of another degree in case students are not successful in any of their veterinary applications.
The deadline for Veterinary Medicine applications every year is 15th October. There are some gateway programmes incorporating a foundation year making them a 6-year course, some of these also have the 15th October deadline, but some of these have a January deadline. NB: Typically, gateway programmes require students to meet non-academic requirements in order to be eligible to apply to such a programme (in addition to academic requirements).
Typical academic requirements for Veterinary Medicine courses are for strong achievements in GCSEs e.g. top grades (Grade 7) in at least five subjects including Combined Science or Biology and Chemistry along with Grade B/6 or above in English Language and Maths.
With regard to Level 3 qualifications, top grades are needed especially in the science disciplines e.g. A-Level: A Grades; International Baccalaureate: 7 or 6 in Higher Level; Level 3 Extended Diplomas: D*. The majority of schools require at least two science subjects (Biology and Chemistry is the most common requirement) and high achievement in one other subject. Some universities prefer the third subject to be a third science. Prospective Veterinary Medicine students should always check directly with veterinary schools to ensure they are eligible to apply.
All Veterinary Medicine schools typically require work experience (paid or voluntary), this helps to ensure that prospective students are making informed decisions before committing to the 5 or 6 year intensive programme. By the time of application, prospective RCVS students will need to have completed 70 hours of non-clinical (animal handling) experience, for example in kennels, catteries, or farm work, as well as 70 hours clinical work experience in one or more veterinary practices. Students will need references to validate this work experience.
Most Veterinary Medicine schools need submission of a work experience or an applicant supplementary form. This is an extremely important part of the application process and great care is needed in its preparation and completion. Prospective students need to check and diarise launch dates (which differ between universities) to give themselves plenty of time to prepare, ensure instructions are followed and questions are answered correctly; this form is just as important as the UCAS form.
Attributes that Veterinary Medicine schools look for include, but are not limited to:
- Having a comprehensive insight and understanding of the veterinary profession
- Demonstration of motivation, dedication, and a passion towards the profession
- Skills and characteristics that show suitability for the profession e.g. teamwork, the ability to work independently, organisational skills, problem solving ability, etc.
Most Veterinary Medicine schools hold interviews for further shortlisting, these could be multi-mini station interviews, consisting of a number of short independent assessments, usually of 5-7 minutes in duration to obtain an aggregate score of a candidate’s suitability and skill set, or panel-based interviews where a group of interviewers ask various questions of a candidate. Sometimes there are also group and/or practical tasks as well.
Therefore, successful future Veterinary Medicine students will need to complete the following stages:
- Research - to ensure that they meet the entry requirements given in the prospectuses
- Undertake relevant work experience that Veterinary Medicine schools ask for
- Ensure the application forms and ‘work experience’ forms are completed carefully and submitted at the correct time
- A successful interview.Watch this section on the video from 11:45 to 27:34
A careers overview for Veterinary Medicine graduates
There is currently  a need for more veterinary surgeons than the number graduating from Veterinary Medicine schools, therefore career prospects are extremely good. Currently the rate of employment for RCVS Veterinary Graduates is 96%, who are in work or further study within 15 months of graduating.
Depending on where graduates have studied, a global qualification can be achieved. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) is the UK governing body, and graduates from Veterinary Medicine schools with RCVS accreditation are eligible to work anywhere in the United Kingdom, Ireland and South Africa. Additionally, schools that hold accreditation from European Association of Establishments for Veterinary Education (EAEVE), Australasian Veterinary Boards Council (AVBC) or American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) can practice in Europe, Australia and New Zealand and North America respectively. Watch this section on the video from 27:34 to 30:21
With thanks to the event speaker:
Chris Hobson, Head of Student Recruitment at The Royal Veterinary College, University of London.
Jon Cheek, Founder and Director, UniTasterDays.com