December 12 2020
I Didn't Get in to Vet School: What Next?
Every year, there are more prospective veterinary students than seats in veterinary programs. In fact, some schools have an applicant to seat ratio of over 15! It's an unfortunate reality and the underlying reason that many bright, qualified people will receive disappointing emails, letters, or calls in the coming months. If you're among them, don't fret! The results of your application cycle are not a reflection of you, your abilities, or your worthiness. Sometimes it truly is just bad luck in a system that cannot accommodate everyone every year. Consider these next steps:
1. Allow yourself to grieve as needed, but don't be too discouraged.
It's hard to face rejection, and it's okay to feel sad, disappointed, or discouraged. Allow yourself to experience those emotions, but don't dwell in them! Many successful veterinarians took more than one try to get accepted to their program, and a gap year can be a wonderful thing. Keep an eye out later this month for an upcoming series of interviews with current veterinary students discussing how a gap year benefited them. I personally had a gap year after not being accepted to a program, and I would not change it in hindsight, even if I somehow could.
2. Contact the programs you applied to and ask for a packet review.
Most, if not all programs will allow you to call and have your application packet reviewed for deficiencies or weaknesses. Sometimes, strong applicants are denied for the sole reason that there just aren't enough seats. Usually, though, schools will be able to offer at least one concrete area for improvement. Take this criticism constructively, and try to identify any areas of overlap if you were rejected from multiple schools. If you're unsure who to contact, the AAVMC has a list of admissions emails for each veterinary school.
3. Equipped with information from your packet review, create an action plan for improvement.
GPA is possibly the most difficult to address, and the best approach depends on how deficient your GPA is relative to what the school is asking for, as well as what point in your education that you're in. If a school lets you know that GPA was the weakest part of your application, but that it wasn't disqualifying, it may be worth just trying again next year. If your GPA is disqualifying (ie 2.95 and a school requires a 3.0 or higher) then you may need to consider taking additional non-degree seeking courses or enrolling in a Masters program. There are one and two year Masters programs out there, and may can be completed primarily online. Another option is seeking out schools with lower GPA criteria for admissions. These schools place more weight on other aspects of your application, and may be a better fit if you don't want to continue taking additional classes.
If the biggest complaint your prospective program has is your essays, the good news is that essays are very easy to improve! You may get generic feedback such as 'the essays in your application were not very strong.' If the school does not offer anything more specific than that, your first step should be to have your essays reviewed by people you trust-- an academic mentor, a veterinary colleague, or a family member or friend. If you don't have anyone to ask, you can always reach out on forums such as the APVMA Facebook Group or Student Doctor Network. I'm also happy to review essays (you can send to firstname.lastname@example.org). It may be helpful to write entirely new essays, rather than trying to build around your initial ones. You may also find that you've changed since your application was submitted and you have new ways to address the prompts. As we approach the opening of the next application cycle, I'll post an article on essay tips.
An admissions committee may tell you that your eLORs weren't up to snuff-- and this is hard to hear! If you are told you need better recommendations, reach out to the people who wrote them for you. Have a conversation about what went wrong; do they need to see something more from you to write a stronger recommendation, are they new to writing recommendation letters, etc. If you aren't comfortable having this conversation, which can be tough, you may need to reconsider who you get letters from this next cycle. Regardless which program you apply to, at least one LOR should be from a veterinarian. If you only have a close relationship with one veterinarian, your options are discussing the initial letter with them or shadowing under a new veterinarian before next cycle applications are due. Other strong options for letters include: employers/managers, instructors for extracurricular activities (band, dance, etc), academic advisors, and professors. Building relationships and networking can be difficult, but it is essential for gaining strong recommendations, and it is a good skill to begin developing now, as it will continue to be essential in your career.
A gap year is the perfect opportunity to build on this aspect of your application. During my gap year, I took a job working ass a technician at an emergency veterinary clinic. You can look for a job, seek out shadowing opportunities (just ask!), pursue research (talk to the faculty at your undergraduate institution, if you can), or otherwise buff up your resume. You can also revisit what you included in your experiences. Did you include everything? I am a strong proponent of including anything that shaped you as a person, built your character, or otherwise contributed to your identity and life perspectives. Marching band. Dance. ROTC. High school debate club. Working as a server. Working in retail. Working as a babysitter. These things teach leadership, teamwork, responsibility, they demonstrate reliability, dedication, and work ethic. Every person applying will have some level of animal hours, veterinary hours, and sometimes research hours. Extracurricular hours are what will set you apart as a unique and diverse individual that brings a mix of experiences to the table that no one else has. Show off who you are through the experiences section of your application. Truly, do not leave anything off that you spent a substantial portion of your life ( >100-200 hours) doing.
4. Consider applying to some different schools.
There are a number of factors to consider when you're applying to veterinary program. If you find that there is something difficult to address barring you from a specific school (such as GPA), consider scrapping that school from your list next year. It's a good idea to re-apply to your top preference programs, because a repeat application alone can work in your favor. However, if a school reports that your GPA would need to be substantially higher for consideration, or you would need more additional hours than you can gain in one cycle, put the time, effort, and money of applying into a different program.
5. Make the most of your year off!
Veterinary school is going to be an intense, very devoted period of your life. Use your unintended gap year as an opportunity to travel, to work, or to generally pursue personal wellness. Of course you'll need to work on aspects of your application packet, but that doesn't need to exclude chasing happiness, too. Ultimately, one year or two years is a drop in the bucket of your professional journey. It'll be okay that you start later than you anticipated.
Current veterinarians and veterinary students: What other advice would you offer to those who received rejections this year?
Thanks for reading!
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