I participated in the interview and selection process for a vet school this year, and we had another amazing pool of applicants. Nonetheless, the three faculty conducting the interviews generally agreed to place some applicants on the “do not offer” list. This is not out of any malice- we just needed a way to reduce the pool to a manageable number, because there were so many amazing applicants.
On a fundamental level, the admissions committee wants to make sure that students succeed and graduate. The worst outcome for us is to have a student who fails or drops out of school. The student has spent a ton of money by that point, the institution has invested tremendous resources, and another applicant who could have been successful was passed over. So that is the admissions committee’s primary goal: find applicants who will get through vet school. We have several secondary goals, like making sure the student body (and hence profession) is diverse in skills and backgrounds, but those goals can’t be met if the first goal isn’t met.
I went through and reviewed the themes of the applicants we chose not to extend an offer to, and am sharing those insights so you might know why you didn’t get an offer or so you can strengthen your own application. I lumped them into five categories: experience, interview, academics, extra-curriculars, and references.
Everyone knows you need a certain number of experience hours to be competitive for vet school. Most schools have a minimum number to be considered for an interview, and then an average number for those actually admitted. Evaluators differ, but I like to see that an applicant knows what they’re getting into. What if they get in and then hate it? Working as a tech at a single practice for three years may or may not hit that goal. I personally like to see a diversity of experience- spending time at several different practices, even just shadowing, would provide the applicant different perspectives from different veterinarians. Also, I prefer to see current experience. Having worked in a vet clinic eight years ago isn’t as meaningful- the profession has changed since then, and will change over the four years they are in school. Recent, diverse experience (preferably including a variety of species) is what I look for.
Depending on the institution, the interview may be non-existent, a minor piece, or a major piece of your application. The things we noticed during interviews which detracted from the application included speaking too much, not having thoughtful answers, not being enthusiastic, acting immature, lacking perspective, and being disheveled. You’ll notice all of these are highly subjective. I often found myself thinking, “This person ‘presents’ to me as immature, but their letters all indicate they are very mature. What do I do with this information?” All I can say on this point is to get some practice interviewing, research how to do a good interview, and do your best. Don’t worry about it TOO much, though. Different evaluators look for different things, and you can’t be all things to all people.
Vet school is academically challenging, so we are looking for _evidence_ that the applicant can handle it. If the applicant never took a regular-to-heavy course load (e.g. over 14 credit hours), if they had consistently poor grades, if they had a series of W over several semesters, and if they otherwise don’t have evidence that they have academic resilience and grit, we worried about their application. In vet school, students routinely take 18-22 credits. If the applicant has only ever taken 12 credits AND didn’t have something very time-consuming outside of school (full-time job, being in the orchestra, being on a college sports team), what evidence do we have that they can handle that 18-22 credit load? If they have consistently poor grades, will they earn a D or an F, causing them to leave the program? If they had one W, or a semester with several Ws and a reasonable explanation as to why, no worries. But if they had several W over several years without a rationale, that makes us worry. There’s no withdrawing in vet school- if you don’t do ALL the required classes, you don’t go on through the program.
This might just be me, but if you’re a straight A student with tons of hours of veterinary/animal experience but NOTHING ELSE- no hobbies, no leadership, no research, no pursuits of any kind other than school- I’m not sure I want to work with you or that you’ll be a good vet. You’ll probably be a good student, so I don’t worry too much about this applicant making it through the program. The problem is, there are dozens of other applicants who are straight A students, have tons of hours, and were ALSO captain of the dance team. As a veterinarian, I believe you are a leader. You can learn to be a leader during vet school, but if you have SOME kind of experience beforehand, I think that makes you a better applicant. You have probably heard a lot about the importance of work-life balance in general, and especially in the veterinary profession. If your whole life so far has been focused on the singular goal of getting into vet school, I worry about your ability to establish a good work-life balance in vet school and as a vet. Extra-curricular activities demonstrate that you can find things outside of work or school that you enjoy and can help you maintain that balance.
Nearly all of the references were glowing, “This is the best person I have ever worked with in 20 years”. It’s hard to make much distinction when all of the letters say that. So, even one bad letter is really obvious. Also, if the letters are primarily not from veterinarians, or not from supervisors or professors, I wonder a little bit. Does the applicant really know what they’re getting into? As I’ve mentioned before, don’t send letters from family friends, even if that family friend is ALSO the veterinarian who has employed you since you were a 15-year-old kennel worker.
Looking back through the list of applicants we definitely DID offer a position for, I see a lot of these taken as notes. That is, we ADMITTED many applicants whom I made a note, “not much veterinary experience”, “tends to go on a bit”, “only worked at one clinic”, “not a lot of extracurriculars”, “no large animal experience”, “academics questionable”, “references not great”, “not a heavy course load during school”, “doesn’t present as very mature”, “not insightful answers to questions”. All of that is to say that you don’t have to hit ALL of these to be a good candidate. But if you lack something from the above in your application, you should make sure that all of the rest of your application is amazing.