Applying to vet school is exciting and intimidating. For many, it’s the culmination of years of focus and enthusiasm. It’s a high-stakes application, with an applicant:seat ratio of between 1.6 and 2, indicating that there are at least 1.6 applicants per available position in veterinary schools. Your strategy to apply to vet school may be a years-long affair, with retaking classes, studying for and taking the GRE, and fulfilling prerequisites all long before the application. Once it comes time to apply, though, you have direct and immediately control over your application letter. It is just one piece of the puzzle, but it’s one you can improve right now.
Your letter should achieve the following goals:
Tell them why you want to be a veterinarian. Demonstrate good communication skills. Demonstrate an understanding of what veterinary school entails. Illustrate why the program should choose you over another applicant. Create some memorable or interesting personal detail for the evaluator to remember. Avoid all of the mistakes previously described here at The Vetducator.
Tell them why you want to be a veterinarian Of course you love animals. Of course you want to help them. This is self-evident because you are applying to veterinary school. But what is it about being a veterinarian that appeals to you? You can use the “I was a child and my horse got sick and the vet helped it and I knew at that moment that’s what I wanted to do” story, but it’s hard to make it unique or interesting enough to (possibly jaded) evaluators. Try to elevate your origin story from the first Deadpool movie (I got cancer and I love her doc) to something more like Infinity War (my world was dying from overconsumption so I solved it the only way I knew how- killing half the people).
Demonstrate good communication skills In addition to avoiding grammar and spelling mistakes, you want to be articulate. I will eventually devote an entire blog post to this topic, because it is expansive. In general, be sincere, use simple (but not simplistic) language, use punchy sentences, use appropriate openers and closers, present your thoughts in an organized way, use paragraphs, create narratives, and use good punctuation. You may also demonstrate good communication skills by relating a story of a challenging communication you had with a client, other student, clinician, etc. Everyone knows communication is essential to any job- show them you can do it well.
Demonstrate an understanding of what vet school entails You have no idea. No. Idea. Nothing you have done- unless you went to another professional program in your life- can possibly prepare you for vet school. Undergrad and grad school are a cake walk. A full-time job where you only work 40 hours a week- laughable. The social dynamics are like high school- 4 years together, stuck in one room with the same people day after day. The workload is indescribable- you never imagined there was so much information in the world. The psychological and mental toll WILL break your mind in order to rebuild you stronger, better, faster.
You can acknowledge that vet school is a new, unknown challenge but you have the mental fortitude to handle it. Can you tell a story of when you had grit? Can you elaborate on a time when you helped solve some interpersonal conflict in a group? Can you handle it? The evaluators want to know if you can.
Illustrate why the program should choose you over another applicant. This is the real kicker, and simultaneously almost impossible to pin down. You need to draw from your experiences and who you are and showcase your best characteristics. Don’t just tell them what you did in school. They have your CV, they know WHAT you did. WHY did you do it, WHAT did you learn, HOW does it make you a better person and candidate?
Create some memorable or interesting personal detail for the evaluator to remember. First, make sure your detail is not too quirky- this turns off some evaluators. What you want is when they are reviewing the short listed candidates and your file comes up, one or two of them will say, “Oh yeah, that’s the one who talked about learning about One Health when visiting a small village where the animals and people all mixed together.” This is not essential, but if you are able to pull it off, it is a slight one up in your favor.
Avoid all of the mistakes previously described here at The Vetducator. Please? For me?
Veterinary school letters are a small part of the overall package. Compared with grades, GRE scores, recommendations, experience, and interviews, they are probably near the bottom of the pack. Nonetheless, they can still help or hurt you.
At the end of the day, you have to express yourself, and no rules or formulae can tell you how to do that. Have others review your letter- friends, classmates, mentors. When you get suggestions for changes, though, you don’t have to accept all of them. We can probably take 100 people and generate a ‘typical’ good letter, but it won’t be YOUR letter, it will be a regression to the mean. Show them you can be a great vet.