What College Classes Are Needed to Become a Veterinarian?

by Trudy Brunot; Updated September 26, 2017

According to the American Medical Veterinary Association, 21,000 aspiring veterinarians compete annually for 2,500 to 2,600 openings at the 29 veterinary schools in North America. Each school has its own admission requirements for their four-year programs leading to a doctor of veterinary medicine degree; all require undergraduate coursework rich in science, math, labs and English as well as hands-on experience working with animals gained through internships or volunteer projects. The AMVA believes a career in veterinary medicine begins in high school.

High School Classes

High school students can begin to gain animal experience by volunteering or working part-time at animal shelters, farms, zoos, animal clinics or wildlife parks, according to State University.com. The AMVA suggests volunteering for a veterinarian and participation in 4-H and Future Farmers of America as ways to gain experience that enhance college applications. The University of Illinois School of Veterinary Medicine recommends a high school curriculum that includes a full plate of sciences – biology, anatomy, chemistry, physics and physiology – as well as English, history, computers and languages.

Undergraduate Preparation

As North Carolina State University notes, there is no prevet major, only preprofessional tracks within a major. Veterinary colleges accept any major as long as the student meet their pre-requisites for humanities and social sciences, English, math (statistics, algebra, trigonometry, calculus), biology, chemistry, physics and lab courses. NCSU says admission course requirements can be earned through degrees in animal science, microbiology, biology, biochemistry, poultry science and zoology. NCSU added a semester of animal nutrition to its list of prerequisite courses, joining University of Florida, Auburn, Oklahoma State University, Oregon State University and Purdue. Total undergraduate semester hours in required courses for admission range from 57 (Michigan State) to 90 (University of Pennsylvania), according to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. Association member schools use its Veterinary Medical College Application Service application to evaluate prospective students. Although the application lists animal and veterinary experience as optional, schools such as NCSC have strict, minimum requirements for both categories.

Veterinary School

Veterinary programs usually follow two phases of study. During phase one, students spend two to three years concentrating on science. Classes include anatomy, microbiology, physiology, pathology and pharmacology, according to the career website State University.com. Phase two entails clinical work combined with continued courses in surgery, examination skills, animal health and other medical-related subjects. Students at NCSU study specialty areas such as theriogenology (reproduction), dentistry, husbandry, internal medicine and cardiology in their fourth year while completing clinical rotations.

Specialty Education

Graduates must obtain a state license in order to practice veterinary medicine. According to the American Medical Veterinary Association, 10 percent of veterinary school graduates continue their education to gain board certification in one of 20 recognized specialties including anesthesiology, laboratory animal medicine, ophthalmology, internal medicine or dermatology. Others seek additional experience through residencies and internships or pursue doctorate degrees that open doors to teaching and research careers.

About the Author

Trudy Brunot began writing in 1992. Her work has appeared in "Quarterly," "Pennsylvania Health & You," "Constructor" and the "Tribune-Review" newspaper. Her domestic and international experience includes human resources, advertising, marketing, product and retail management positions. She holds a master's degree in international business administration from the University of South Carolina.