What is the VMCAS application like?

Much like the Common App, the VMCAS (Veterinary Medical College Application Service) is a centralized application system used by many vet schools. The VMCAS collects biographical data, academic information, animal/veterinary/research experiences, recommendations (eLors), official transcripts, personal essays, and college supplements. The VMCAS now opens in January and students can submit their application from May to mid-September of each application cycle. 

Most vet schools use the VMCAS, but some may ask applicants to submit applications in other ways. This link is not updated, but gives an idea of which schools accept the VMCAS. The AAVMC (Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges) also releases a sample application annually. Updated VMCAS application information can be found here.

What are the vet school essay prompts and what are some useful tips and resources for writing the essays?

The personal statement for the VMCAS used to consist of a single prompt: Discuss briefly the development of your interest in veterinary medicine. Discuss those activities and unique experiences that have contributed to your preparation for a professional program. Discuss your understanding of the veterinary medical profession, and discuss your career goals and objectives (5000 characters)

Now, VMCAS asks students to answer each of the following prompts in less than 2000 characters (including spaces), which is roughly 300-350 words:

  1. There are many career choices within the veterinary profession. What are your future career goals and why?
  2. In what ways do veterinarians contribute to society and what do you hope to contribute?
  3. Considering the breadth of society we serve as veterinarians today; what attributes do you believe are essential to be successful within the veterinary profession? Of these attributes, which do you possess and how have you demonstrated these in the past? 

Here are documents with tips and resources that you may find helpful. While some discuss the old prompt or a specific supplement,  the information may still be relevant:

Remember, many schools also have their own supplemental prompts which may or may not be released on their websites. If you are thinking about applying during a certain year, you can create your account as soon as January of the same year so that you can access all the supplements before the summer and begin brainstorming/drafting asap.

What are some tips and resources for interviews?

HPA lets students who have taken interviews with veterinary schools anonymously report their experiences on this directory. Log in with your netID to access the reports.

There are also lots of interviewing tips relevant to vet school, sample interview vet school interview questions her, and a do’s and don’ts here: https://hpa.princeton.edu/sites/hpa/files/2020hpa-interviewing.pdf, https://hpa.princeton.edu/sites/hpa/files/2009-interviewingerrors.pdf, https://hpa.princeton.edu/application-process/interviews

There are lots of other sites that offer resources and practice questions:






What standardized tests are required?

The majority of vet schools require the GRE (Graduate Record Exam), but more and more schools are eliminating standardized tests as a requirement. The GRE can be taken in a computer or paper format at select testing sites and consists of three sections: reading comprehension, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. 

The ETS usually provides a free GRE practice test for students. Test prep companies like Kaplan, Princeton Review, Barron’s, and Manhattan Prep offer various materials such as practice tests and problems for a cost. Magoosh also offers a free phone app called the Magoosh Vocabulary Builder for students interested in improving their vocab skills for the reading and writing sections. Visit https://www.ets.org/s/cv/gre/institutions/update/ for information on changes in GRE testing in light of COVID-19. Contact ramalik@ if you would like a collection of downloadable GRE resources.

Schools may also accept the MCAT (since some students apply to both med and vet school) while some schools like Purdue are now asking students to take online tests that assess personal characteristics.

Who should I ask for recommendation letters and how many do I need?

To submit the VMCAS, a minimum of 3 recommendations are required and a maximum of 6 will be accepted.  Unlike medical school, committee letters from the HPA are not required.  Most schools require that at least one of the 3 recommendations is from a vet. Recommendations can also be submitted by academic advisors and professors. Some schools are also open to accepting additional non-standard rec letters from individuals that are not from the university or veterinary profession. This could include a mentor, high school teacher, or supervisor for your non-veterinary experiences. Letters from family members or friends are usually not recommended.

Rec letters are used by schools to assess your abilities through the eyes of professionals. They can sometimes even make or break applications if admission officers see red flags such as lack of communication skills and immaturity. When deciding who to ask recs from, make sure you have had at least somewhat of a close personal and professional connection to the vet/professor/mentor. Moreover, make sure you have had mostly positive experiences with them otherwise you might just be asking for a vet school rejection. 

HPA offers the opportunity to store copies of letter of recommendations for up to 6 years past your graduation year so that you don’t have to awkwardly keep asking old contacts to write you letters. However, HPA may still not be able to submit the letters to VMCAS on your recommender’s behalf. Contact HPA for more details regarding rec letter storage and/or visit this link. This link also includes tips for when and how to professionally ask for recs (the info is tailored mostly for pre-meds, but it should still be useful)!

What prerequisites should I take?

Unlike medical school requirements, vet schools requirements vary greatly from school to school. Here are prerequisites for schools that Princeton students usually apply to, though it may be outdated. Always check the websites of the schools of your interest for updated prerequisite requirements. 

Source: https://hpa.princeton.edu/sites/hpa/files/2018hpa-vetschoolrequirements.pdf

The AAVMC also provides vet school prerequisite summaries on their website.

Some courses such as animal nutrition, animal science, communication, public speaking, microbiology with lab, etc. are not offered at Princeton. If you are interested in applying to schools that require them, you will have to take them elsewhere or contact the schools directly to ask what they recommend.

If you would like to apply to as many schools as possible, you should consider taking most if not all of the following courses at Princeton: 

  • General chemistry with lab (2 semesters)
  • Organic chemistry with lab (2 semesters)
  • Physics with lab (2 semesters)
  • Intro Biology with lab (2 semesters)
  • Biochemistry (1 semester)
  • Calculus (1 semester)
  • Statistics (1 semester)
  • Physiology (1 semester)
  • Genetics (1 semester)
  • Microbiology (1 semester)
  • English/Composition/Writing Intensive Courses (2 semesters)

Many schools also accept AP credit (4s or 5s) for chemistry, biology, physics, calculus, and english as long as it is on your official transcript, which Princeton transcripts do include. A few schools will accept one organic chemistry course instead of two and one advanced biology class instead of two or three. Schools also are usually open to a statistics course from any department. Some also provide options to replace courses. For example, they willl accept Junior/Senior independent work in lieu of the english requirement. Reach out to individual schools early to plan out your prerequisite coursework. You can apply to vet school missing up to ~12 credits (~3-4 prereqs), but this can also vary between schools.

What are the corresponding names of these prerequisite courses at Princeton?

Recommended coursework at Princeton:

  • General Chemistry with lab: CHM 201 (Fall) & CHM 202 (Spring)
  • Organic Chemistry with lab: CHM 301 (Fall) & CHM 302 (Spring)
  • Organic Chemistry with lab: CHM 337 (Fall) – one semester orgo
  • Biochemistry: MOL 345 (Fall/Spring)
  • Physics with lab: PHY 101 (Fall) & PHY 102/108 (Spring)
  • Calculus: MAT 103 (Fall/Spring)
  • Statistics: SML 201, ORF 245, PSY 251, POL 345, SOC 301, ECO 202, WWS 220,  or WWS 332
  • Comparative Physiology with lab: EEB 314 (Spring)
  • Genetics: MOL 342 (Spring)
  • Modern Microbiology: MOL 380 (Fall)
  • Writing and Freshman Seminars (Fall/Spring) can potentially replace English Composition as writing-intensive courses

Every course at Princeton is worth 4 credits/hours.

What are some webinars or admissions panels I can attend/watch to learn more about the vet school application process and the veterinary medicine field?

Here is a YouTube link to a useful UCDavis panel that invited admissions officers from various schools.  It is interesting to see the different ways in which schools assess applicants! There is also a list of upcoming and/or recorded webinars on the application process hosted by the AAVMC. Finally, here is a list of recorded webinars by the AVMA pertaining to careers in veterinary medicine.

I performed poorly in one or more of my prerequisite classes. Am I doomed?

As a general rule, B’s are NOT bad grades at Princeton. This isn’t Harvard. B’s suggest you are doing well and meet Princeton standards, but have a few areas that you can work to improve in. C’s are acceptable and D’s/F’s suggest you need to seriously reflect and drastically change the way you approach courses at Princeton. 

Before considering your options, make sure you first spend some time reflecting on why you performed poorly in the course. Did you neglect your mental health and sleep? Did you spend too much time on the Street? Were you experiencing unpredictable health problems? Were you experiencing family problems? Did you face housing issues during online semesters? Were you unable to seek help from Professors, TAs, fellow students, and McGraw out of the fear of looking “stupid”? Do you believe the grade you received does not reflect your effort? If the grade you received was indeed unfair (this can happen at Princeton), keep in mind it is still not a good idea to blame instructors for your grades on your application and it’s best to take the time to improve your application in other ways. 

Additionally, reflect on whether you feel confident in handling future prerequisite coursework. Being a pre-health student juggling academics, social life, self care, and extracurriculars at Princeton is exhausting – are you still willing to commit to completing and doing well in the coursework? If you are, make sure you have a semester-by-semester plan for how to tackle the rest of your prerequisites at Princeton. 

In general, there are four options if you perform poorly in a prerequisite: 

First, you could take the L and keep the grade if it meets the minimum requirements, which is usually either a C- or a C, for the schools you intend on applying to. Most if not all schools won’t accept a D or F. 

Second, if your GPA and prerequisites are generally not a strength, you could put more effort into other areas of your vet school application to compensate for the low grades. Some schools are transparent about their formula so you may want to research the most highly weighted components and invest more time in those areas. These may include veterinary/animal/research experiences, recommendation letters, essays, GRE scores, and getting honors in your department.

Third, schools may offer unique ways to compensate for the poor grade. Some offer the opportunity to take upper-level classes in the same department to “replace” that grade (e.g. Cornell). Some schools will accept any three biology courses, so you could potentially take another biology course to replace it on your own accord (e.g. UPenn).  Some schools even offer the option of “erasing” your entire freshman year or your first semester if you had had a tough time transitioning to college (e.g. UIllinois). The key here is you should be well-versed in the specific prerequisite policies of the schools you are interested in. They also change from time to time. So make you do your online homework often! 

Fourth, if your grade is legitimately a bad grade, you may want to retake the course to not only show improvement, but to also increase your prerequisite/science/cumulative GPA. It is important to reflect on your performance in the class by asking yourself the previously mentioned questions, and then address any of those problems before you try to retake a course. Retaking a course is risky because it will NOT replace your original grade. If you previously received a passing grade (D or higher), a repeated course will not count for course credit towards the 31/36 total needed for graduation and could make you course deficient. However, demonstrating significant improvement will look amazing on your transcript and application. If you are not sure if you should retake the course or consider one of the other options, you should never hesitate to reach out to admissions officers from the schools of your interest. Try to take their advice because at the end of the day, they will be making your admissions decision. Once you are sure retaking is the next best step, discuss your plans with the course professor, an HPA advisor, AND your residential college dean. If approved, you will have to manually submit a course enrollment form to the registrar’s office in West College/Morrison Hall. You could also potentially retake the course at a different school or as an online summer course. However, different vet schools have different policies on what they will accept so do your research.

As a final note, if you have legitimate reasons for doing poorly in course, you may also want to consider explaining your performance and how you grew from your experiences in your application. The VMCAS offers a section called the “Explanation Statement” to explain anything that you feel is important for the admissions committee to know. Meet with HPA to discuss how best to use this option if you would like to elaborate on your academic performance in your application.