Undergraduates who want to become veterinarians have a range of choices when it comes to majors. In fact, you can major in anything you want; students who have majored in English, visual arts, and other non-science fields are accepted to veterinary schools on occasion.

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Having said that, you’ll strongly boost your chances of getting into and succeeding in vet school if you obtain a strong background in college-level math and science. Plus, by taking the right science courses as an undergraduate you’ll have fewer required courses to take in vet school. Thus, you’ll graduate from vet school in a shorter period of time.

In particular, solid veterinary school preparation involves plenty of classes in physics, biochemistry, organic chemistry, zoology, anatomy, and physiology. Given that many of those courses involve biology and chemistry, it makes sense to choose either bio or chem as your major or to double major in those subjects. If, on the other hand, you feel that you haven’t received quite enough training in biology, chemistry, or the animal sciences as an undergrad, you might choose to earn your master’s degree in one of those fields before applying to vet school.

Once you’re in veterinary school, your undergraduate math/science training will prove to be a major asset. Veterinary courses are often fast-paced and intense; your professors might launch right into advanced topics, assuming that you’re well-versed in the basics. Expect to take during your four years of vet school courses in microbiology, pathology, physiology, and immunology. You’ll study many different species of animals in depth and learn how to treat them — and that includes various surgical techniques.

Vet school students attend lectures in classrooms and conduct experiments in labs. They even treat animals during clinical rotations. For that reason, you’ll want to make sure that your major prepares you well in terms of taking notes in class and in terms of hands-on fieldwork. In other words, your major should cover a wide range of research methods and include a number of educational settings. You don’t just want to learn a lot of facts as an undergrad; you also want to learn how to think and how to study.

Furthermore, applying to vet schools is a challenging process. There are relatively few veterinary colleges in the U.S. — only about 29 schools in total. And these colleges have fewer than 3,000 open slots every year. Note, however, that you’ll significantly increase your chances of acceptance if you have some experience working or volunteering with animals or alongside a licensed veterinarian.

For more information on preparing for a career in veterinary medicine, take a look at the American Veterinary Medical Association’s website. Other helpful resources are the official sites of veterinary colleges. For example, the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine has an especially helpful FAQ page.