Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

U of I logoCollege of Veterinary Medicine

Back to search page.

Veterinary Medicine as a Second Career

Pet Column for the week of January 27, 2003

Related information:

Services - Veterinary Profession

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Jennifer Stone
Information Specialist

I was very proud to complete my bachelor's degree, but after working for a while in my field realized that I wanted more out of my career. My interests led me to veterinary medicine, so I enrolled in veterinary school and embarked on what has now officially become my "second career." I have since discovered that many people are turning to veterinary medicine from other fields these days, but the change is not to be undertaken without soul searching first.

Are more second-career students applying to veterinary school? Mary Kelm, the assistant dean of academic and student affairs at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana, says, "This year the ages of applicants for enrollment in fall 2003 ranged from 19 to 60 years. The average age increased from 24 to 25 years of age."

Typically, students apply while they are still working on their undergraduate degree. However, among current applicants, 26 percent of those from Illinois and 33 percent of those from out-of-state were over 25 years of age. In addition, 200 of the 700 applicants were between the ages of 30 and 40 years. There is no doubt that many of these applicants are pursuing veterinary medicine as a second career.

"Many of these older applicants have business backgrounds, have worked as veterinary technicians, or have come from a career in research," says Kelm. "Others come from nursing, computer science, advertising, and other fields."

There are some obstacles encountered by second-career students. For those coming from a background other than biology or animal science, completing the basic course requirements can be a challenge. When you have to go to school and work to make a living at the same time, life can get pretty difficult, especially without financial aid.

Experience in the veterinary field is another requirement for admission that can be difficult to attain for these applicants. "Many applicants misunderstand or underestimate how much veterinary and animal experience is expected and how it is evaluated," says Kelm. "Others presume that the application is a perfunctory part of the acceptance process, when in reality it is very closely evaluated. To maximize their chance of being admitted, veterinary school applicants should meet with an adviser at the college who can explain the application process."

The requirements for entry to the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine include 8 semester hours of biological sciences with laboratories, 16 semester hours of chemical sciences, and 8 semester hours of physics with laboratories. In addition, applicants must have taken specific numbers of hours in English composition, other humanities and social sciences, and additional advanced science courses. The graduate record examination (GRE) standardized test and three letters of recommendation, including one from a veterinarian, are also required parts of the application.

The application process from beginning to end takes about 6 months. Applications are due October 1 for enrollment the following fall. Top applicants are invited to interview at the college in early February, and letters of acceptance are sent by March.

People embarking on a second career may find the application process challenging, but their background may actually be a benefit.
"Learning of any kind is always richer with a diverse cohort of students," says Kelm. "Adult students bring life experience to the mix and tend to realize the enormous value of the opportunity they have in being able to study veterinary medicine. Adult education research shows that, as a group, adult learners are known to do 'whatever it takes' to be successful in academic programs, which often makes them good candidates for the veterinary program."

Now completing the third year of my veterinary education, in May I will start applying the knowledge I have gathered as I begin clinical rotations in the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
How do I feel about my career switch now? Getting through the curriculum has been really difficult, but it has taught me so much that I would never otherwise have known about myself. I have succeeded at things that would have seemed impossible to me at one time. I am a tougher, stronger, more independent person for the experience, and I look forward with enthusiasm to my future in veterinary medicine.

If you are interested in the curriculum or the application process at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, please call 217/333-1192 for more information or view the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine Admissions Guide at
Attending the annual Open House, to be held 9 am to 4 pm on Saturday, April 5, in 2003, is another good way to explore this career option.