The pre-veterinary major is a degree program that prepares students for advanced, graduate level training to become doctors of veterinary medicine (DVMs). While students who have set themselves the professional goal of becoming veterinarians could choose to major in any other science-related discipline, such as biology, chemistry, or zoology, the pre-veterinary major is an attractive alternative to these other major fields because it is simultaneously more generalist and more specialist in nature (Princeton Review paras. 1-3). By the end of the student’s Bachelor-level training as a pre-veterinary major, he or she should have all of the necessary pre-requisite information, knowledge, and skills to pursue more advanced and specialized studies related to the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses in animals and should also have a firm base of scientific and biological principles, theories, and practices. The pursuit and completion of the pre-veterinary major provides the student with a solid academic background for a future career in veterinary medicine that integrates several aspects from treatment to ethics and beyond.

The pre-veterinary major differs from a more focused major, such as animal science, biology, chemistry, or zoology to the extent that it incorporates all of these subjects, along with others, into a single course of study. Students who elect the pre-veterinary major will tend to be more well-rounded than a student who majors in another subject area, as their undergraduate curriculum will consist of a varied and rigorous coursework in math, the various sciences, and other disciplines that will eventually inform a veterinarian’s practice. An examination of the curriculum at Cornell University, whose veterinary program is ranked number one in the United States by U.S. News and World Report (Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine para 1), confirms that the academic preparation of the pre-veterinary major is both broad and deep. Students who declare a major in pre-veterinary studies at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, as well as at similar programs throughout the nation, are likely to take courses in anatomy, genetics, physiology, biochemistry, biology, biochemistry, calculus, physics, and several other related subjects by the end of their program. This full compliment of several subjects as the base curriculum means that students who major in a pre-veterinary program will be prepared, if it is the choice of the student, to more easily integrate their academic experiences into other related fields, including internal medicine, which leads to more open possibilities as the student may easily pursue that career path.

Although most graduate-level veterinary medicine programs do not require that prospective students hold an undergraduate degree in pre-veterinary medicine, the student who holds such a degree may very well be likely to be a more competitive candidate than an applicant to the program who does not hold a pre-veterinary medicine degree (Princeton Review para. 3). The reason why a pre-veterinary undergraduate degree makes a prospective candidate for studies a more attractive applicant is because he or she has already demonstrated a clear interest in and commitment to veterinary medicine; furthermore, that commitment has been translated into action by the dedication to a course of pre-veterinary medicine study and the challenging and rigorous nature of the coursework required. The admissions committee of a DVM program can be more confident about a student’s awareness of and preparation for the rigors and challenges, as well as the opportunities, of the veterinary medicine program when an applicant presents transcripts indicating that he or she has a solid foundation in pre-veterinary coursework (Princeton Review para. 3).

There are other benefits of pursuing a pre-veterinary major as opposed to a major in any of the math or science programs (Martin, Ruby, & Farnham 67). In addition to the benefits of well-rounded coursework provided by an undergraduate program in pre-veterinary medicine, in many cases the pre-veterinary medicine programs that are offered at the undergraduate level also provide students with hands-on fieldwork or internship experience. Students are able, first of all, to learn and confirm through such direct experience whether veterinary medicine is their vocation and a career whose demands and responsibilities they could fulfill (Martin, Ruby, & Farnham 68). In this sense, the pre-veterinary major serves an incredibly valuable function for the individual student as well as for the entire profession of veterinary medicine. By getting early exposure to the specific requirements, both academic and experiential, that are part of the future veterinarian’s preparation, a student can determine early in his or her path whether the career is a good fit. If it is not, then he or she can change majors and begin to develop an alternative plan for his or her educational and career goals without having spent valuable money and precious time pursuing an advanced degree that ultimately leaves the person unfulfilled. More importantly, the value of having this major from the onset of one’s education means that there are a host of possibilities still open to the student as the experiences with advanced coursework in science and math will make the student a perfect candidate for fields such as a pre-medical program and an excellent scientific or medical researcher.

The pursuit of the pre-veterinary major and this screening function that it serves does not benefit the student alone, however (Martin, Ruby, & Farnham 68). When students are able to learn about a career through their undergraduate major and, in so doing, develop a more informed idea about whether it is a path that they are interested in taking, the increased awareness that is at their disposal helps prevent future attrition and retention problems in graduate level veterinary medicine programs (Martin, Ruby, & Farnham 68). The implications of this function are significant, for they not only prevent disruption in the studies of students who are certain that they want to become veterinarians, but it also prevents the graduate level DVM program for diverting precious resources, both fiscal and temporal, to the management of its student body (Martin, Ruby, & Farnham 68). Pre-veterinary students should, by the end of their four-year undergraduate career, have a much better idea of whether they actually want and are prepared to pursue the graduate level studies that will qualify them to become veterinarians and by the time undergraduate studies are completed, the process of “weeding out” the qualified and most interested candidates for a professional program will be far less complex for faculty making an ultimate decision. The positive ripple effect is that a more determined body of students in the graduate level program is likely to provide increased support for students who are passionate in their pursuit of a shared goal. While there are great efforts to be made on the part of the student, particularly in terms of time and difficult coursework, this process will be rewarding as it will allow the student to gain a better grasp on what his or her true academic goals are without the sense of loss that the effort was not worth it since there are so many other possibilities open after completing such a challenging undergraduate program.

Students with the pre-veterinary undergraduate degree are typically deemed exceptionally prepared for the study of veterinary medicine at the graduate level. These students should already possess an awareness of the values of the profession, as well as have acquired the basic practice competencies and skills that will be needed for a career in veterinary medicine. By the end of their undergraduate studies, pre-veterinary majors should also have a better and more accurate understanding of the demands and opportunities of a career as a veterinarian. Finally, pre-veterinary majors are typically deemed more prepared than applicants without the pre-veterinary major because they have often had hands-on clinical practice experience in the undergraduate program. Freeman contends that the early fieldwork experiences of a pre-veterinary student are critical to ensuring retention not only in the graduate academic program, but also in the profession (328). Pre-veterinary students, he argues, not only develop what Martin, Ruby, and Farnham refer to as the “animal-human bond” (68) that is the crucial core competency of veterinary medical practice, but that they also have forged similarly critical bonds with professors and practicing veterinarians (Freeman 328). These human-human bonds, especially in the context of mentoring and collegial relationships, help students identify with a community of like-minded and similarly-directed individuals, and this community often sustains a student throughout his or her graduate program and even into his or her early years in the profession (Freeman 328). The human-animal bond, on the other hand, comes with having a complex and intimate understanding of animals on a biological level and also fosters a feeling for them as well, one that was likely already present due to the student’s choice of a career path.

Although the argument for pursuing the pre-veterinary major as opposed to any of the other math or science majors is a compelling one, it is nevertheless important to point out that an undergraduate degree in pre-veterinary medicine does not necessarily guarantee admission into a DVM program at the graduate level, a fact which can be very difficult for many students who put forth all of the effort required by such a challenging program. In order to secure admission to a professional school, all students, of course, must demonstrate a history of consistent academic performance and meet all other admission criteria imposed by the programs to which he or she is applying. In addition to the math and science pre-requisites that have been established by each graduate DVM program, most programs also require satisfactory demonstration of competency in English composition and other generalist coursework (Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine para 4). Most programs also require proof that the student has performed reasonably well on standardized admission tests, such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the MCAT. Finally, almost all programs also require some qualitative components to the application that are used to evaluate a prospective candidate’s fitness for the DVM program of study. At Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, for instance, applicants must include three letters of evaluation, which serve as recommendations and references, with their application. Some graduate programs may even require or offer as an option an in-person interview to evaluate the goodness of fit between the applicant and the college or university. Together, all of these components are considered by a veterinary program’s admission committee. While an applicant may have performed impressively in his or her undergraduate pre-veterinary medicine program, the completion of specialized preparatory studies is not the only criterion used for admission, nor is it the only predictor or determinant of long-term success in the profession.

Opportunities for a student who graduated with a pre-veterinary undergraduate degree and who proceeds onwards for the completion of the graduate level degree are vast and in many ways, not necessarily limited to working with animals alone. Adequately prepared trainees have a wide range of professional options open to them that include careers in the medical and research fields, for instance. As Freeman has noted, the field of veterinary medicine is understaffed, both in terms of clinical practitioners and, in particular, with respect to the research branch of the profession (328), and for this reason, students who have graduated as DVMs are able to choose from equally rewarding career paths. The path that a student chooses is likely to be determined largely by his or her own personal preferences. If a student has really enjoyed and felt fulfilled by doing hands-on clinical work with animals, then he or she is likely to derive the greatest professional satisfaction from traditional practice in a clinical setting. On the other hand, if the student enjoyed the theoretical and investigative aspects of the veterinary medicine programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels, then he or she might be better off considering a career in veterinary medicine as a scientific researcher. As is the case with human medicine, there is still a great deal of research that can and needs to be conducted in order to better understand the health of animal species (Radostits 73). Furthermore, there are numerous research opportunities, both qualitative and quantitative, for determining best practices in veterinary medicine, as well as in the areas of preventive medicine, holistic and alternative interventions and treatments for animals, and for different epidemiological conditions.

The career settings for either path that the DVM graduate chooses are also exciting in terms of their rich variety. Those graduates who determine that they are better suited for direct clinical practice can work in traditional clinics and animal hospitals, whether in individual or group private practice or in training clinics and hospitals. Approximately 75% of direct practice veterinarians maintain private practices (American Veterinary Medical Association para. 1), but veterinarians can also have exciting opportunities by working at clinics such as New York City’s Bobst Animal Medical Center, which offers the practicing veterinarian the opportunity to work with a wide range of diseases and conditions, including cancer, diabetes, bone and joint diseases, opthamological disorders, physical therapy, and veterinary dentistry. Direct practice veterinarians may also choose to work as visiting practitioners, going directly to clients and their animals in order to provide on-site service. Finally, direct practice veterinarians can also choose from an ever-increasing variety of non-traditional settings and career options that still involve direct practice. From working as an investigator for the ASPCA or similar animal advocacy organizations to working as a consultant for the variety of animal-related television shows and films that are currently so popular, veterinarians have options that are more interesting, exciting, and varied than ever before.

Researchers also have a similar variety of options from which to choose. Many research veterinarians may choose to align themselves with traditional research settings, such as colleges of veterinary medicine, but as is the case for direct practice veterinarians, there are also increasing opportunities for veterinary researchers in a range of fields. The American Veterinary Medical Association mentions, for instance, that research veterinarians are hired by pharmaceutical, agricultural, biochemical, food testing, and private laboratory companies to perform testing of new products and services (para. 1). While this kind of research may present some ethical concerns, an issue which is deserving of close attention, it does result in important advances in veterinary medicine that are critical for the knowledge of the profession (American Veterinary Medical Association (para 8).

The future veterinarian should consider the option of pursuing a pre-veterinary major during his or her undergraduate career. While any of the math or science options that are available as undergraduate majors will serve a future veterinary student well, it is the pre-veterinary major that is the most well-rounded, provides the most experience, and ensures graduate programs that a student has learned what a graduate program in veterinary medicine requires and confirms his or her ability to confront its rigors and responsibilities. The pre-veterinary major performs valuable functions, both for the student himself or herself, as well as for the graduate admissions committee. Students who major in pre-veterinary medicine are more assured that the path of study and the profession they have elected is compatible with their abilities and interests, and they gain valuable knowledge and experience that is not offered by other majors.

Works Cited

American Veterinary Medical Association. “Care for Animals.” (2007). Retrieved on November 24, 2007 from

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. “Pre-Veterinary Newsletter.” (2007). Retrieved on November 24, 2007 from

Freeman, L.C. “R(X) for Recruitment and Retention of Veterinarian Scientists: Money, Marketing, Mentoring.” Journal of Veterinary Medical Education 32.3 (2005): 328-336.

Martin, F., K. Ruby, and J. Farnum. “Importance of the Human-Animal Bond for Pre-veterinary, First Year, and Fourth Year Veterinary Students in Relation to Their Career Choice.” Journal of Veterinary Medical Education 30.1 (2003): 67-72.

The Princeton Review. “Pre-Veterinary Medicine.” Retrieved on November 24, 2007 from

Radostits, Otto M. Veterinary Medicine. Princeton, NJ: Elsevier, 2000.