Earning admission to a medical-related field is more challenging than ever, so it’s important that you do not neglect your veterinary admission essay. It’s just as hard to become a veterinarian as it is a doctor, and given the limited number of slots in veterinary schools, it’s vital to stand out from the crowd. You’ll need more than just solid grades, scores, and experience to impress your target program. They want to learn what interested you in this field, how you’ve pursued your career and education to date, and what your goals and plans for the future are. The only way to effectively convey this information is in a dynamic, unique veterinary school personal statement.
A passion for animals… an interest in science… a desire to combine those elements into a rewarding career – these are elements that are practically universal to all veterinary school applicants. However, many students try to build a veterinary admission essay based on those ideas, somehow believing that they make them unique. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Writing a veterinary personal statement like that will result in an essay that’s boring and unoriginal. You want to avoid admission writing like that at all costs.
If you're applying to study veterinary science, a personal statement will be just one part of your application. Chances are you will also have to fill out a work experience questionnaire, do a test and possibly go to an interview as well.
"The work experience questionnaire is there to check that the student meets our minimum work experience requirements," says Vikki Cannon, head of admissions and recruitment at the Royal Veterinary College.
Some courses don't even look at the personal statement. Dr Kieron Salmon, director of admissions at the University of Liverpool, says: "In our experience, very few personal statements are 'personal'. They read very similarly and have hints of having being written under the guidance of a teacher or parent. So we focus more on face-to-face interviews."
But for the courses that do ask for one, the personal statement can play a really important role.
"If you get it wrong, then it can be the difference between you getting an interview and not getting an interview," says Cannon.
So here are some tips to help you when it comes to writing yours.
What to include
Why do you want to be a vet?
"What we're looking for from a personal statement is to get a feel for why they want to be a vet and an understanding of what they've done about it," says Cannon.
It's also worth thinking about your long-term career aims and what kind of vet you want to be.
Sam Hillage, assistant faculty registrar at the University of Surrey, says: "Showing your motivation and talking about some of your career aspirations would be good. Also acknowledging the diversity of roles in the field."
"Sometimes people forget to actually mention the four weeks of work experience they've done," says Hillage. "As that's a mandatory requirement, it's important they get that in."
It might be that a particular moment from your work experience has stuck with you, and if you link that to why you want to be a vet and what you've learned, it can impress tutors.
Claire Phillips, director of admissions at Edinburgh University's Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies says: "Sometimes it can be something quite minor that they have seen on work experience that has made an impression and shown them what it is all about."
Use your statement to show your wider interests as well as your interest in veterinary medicine. Phillips says: "We're looking for a holistic, rounded student. It's not just about academic ability, we want to see people who have other things outside work and academics."
Try to link your hobbies back to your interest in veterinary medicine, but don't worry if not everything is relevant.
"It could be sport, music, voluntary work – it doesn't have to be animal-related," says Phillips.
"Being academically very good is not everything. They need an outlet to cope with the veterinary profession when they qualify. It's a tough job, especially if they go into a practice, so the fact they have something outside of academia is important."
Don't forget to mention people
A vet should understand that a big part of their job is dealing with people, say tutors.
"Some people just explain conditions or talk about animals, but it is important to talk about the sensitivity of the profession," says Phillips.
"You need to be aware that it's not just theory but about the overall sensitivity to people."
You could get this across by talking about some of the human interactions you encountered on your work experience, perhaps how you observed a vet dealing with a client.
Things to avoid
You might not be applying to study English, but good spelling is still important.
Phillips says: "It's a professional degree and communication skills are very important."
And if you're going to refer to particular medical terms, it's really important that you spell them correctly.
"The number of people who write that they've witnessed caesareans in their personal statement but can't spell caesarean is amazing," says Cannon.
"One bad spelling isn't going to lose you a place, but you are marked on the quality of your writing, so if it was littered with spelling mistakes then it might be a problem."
"I've wanted to be a vet since I was..."
"We're not interested in the fact that you've wanted to be a vet for the last 16 years," says Cannon.
"You could have been interested in being a vet for the last 16 months, it's what you do about it that is the interesting thing."
That's not to say you should avoid the phrase altogether. Just make sure you link it back to why you would be good on the course.
Cannon says: "Lots of them will start their personal statement with: 'I've known I wanted to be a vet since I was 3, 4, 5, 6'. But then a lot of them do go on and say why. That's what we're looking for."
Too much technical detail
You might want to include some reference to a strand of veterinary medicine or a type of technology that interests you, but don't go overboard.
Sam Hillage, assistant faculty registrar at the University of Surrey, says: "I'd avoid getting bogged down in a lot of technical detail.
"While it's good to show you have some technical knowledge, it's not necessarily what we look for in a personal statement."
Mentioning the most up-to-date technology won't always win brownie points. "It's the more grounded things that make an impression," says Phillips.
Don't forget to mention animals
It might sound really obvious that a personal statement for veterinary science should include animals. But not everyone remembers. "Sometimes we get people who focus very much on the science side of things, without ever really mentioning animals," Cannon says.
Equally, make sure not to go too far in the other direction.
Cannon says: "Saying 'I want to be a vet because I like cats' doesn't really tell us anything."
• If you're looking for more help in getting to vet school, why not apply for a place on a summer school? This year, the Royal Veterinary College is offering 50 places on a summer course with the Sutton Trust that will teach you what it's like to be a vet and give you tips on applying to study veterinary medicine at uni.
The scheme, sponsored by Barclays, is free to students from low and middle income backgrounds. If you're interested in applying for a place, take a look at the Sutton Trust's website.