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Are you well past college age but still wishing you’d followed your heart and pursued a career as a veterinarian?
If so, you’re by no means alone.
Plenty of people I meet both professionally and socially confess that they fantasize about dropping that oar mid-paddle and taking a midstream plunge into the cool depths of veterinary medicine.
The problem is that few actually do it, which is understandable. Here are a few stumbling blocks my personal sources have cited:
Most nontraditional-aged vet wannabes aren’t usually averse to copping to cowardice over making such a huge life change midstream. Can’t say I blame them.
The requirements for entry into a veterinary program can seem insurmountable — especially when collecting prerequisite coursework alone may take you a couple of years. Not only are there more course requirements relative to other professional programs (medical school, for example), but veterinary schools also require a certain number of hours spent in contact with animals, usually in a laboratory and/or clinical setting.
It’s not the rigors of the admissions process but the curriculum itself that can scare off prospective students. No matter what age you are, those four years are going to be a slog. But for those who might have forgotten what a lifestyle of 24/7 academic toil feels like, the prospect can be daunting.
People say, “When I graduate, I’ll have fewer years to pay down that debt than most of my classmates.” I’ll concede that point. But let's be honest. No one goes into veterinary medicine to get rich.
Although admissions departments in veterinary schools across the United States no longer give a bat’s backside whether you’re 20 or 50, nontraditional-aged applicants still stress a whole lot over it.
Nonetheless, older students seem to assume that admissions committees are overly fond of skin that bears the blush of youth.
Here’s a secret: The appearance of your integument does not figure as a predictor of success in the veterinary profession. Its thickness, however, can be a plus.
Sure, it sounds rough — especially the part about growing some tough skin. But the truth is that veterinary students now average about 24 years of age at time of admission, which is two to three years beyond what it was just three decades ago. And that age is decidedly on the ascent, which is why it’s now common for classes to have students in their 40s and 50s.
The truth is that veterinary schools, along with plenty of other professional programs, are way more willing to take the latecomer student seriously than they were in decades past. They know that certain assets can make them even more capable of succeeding than their standard-aged counterparts:
A demonstrable commitment Those who still long for a career in vet medicine years later are more likely to have thought it through than the average 21-year-old, especially if they’ve had to make a hairpin turn in their lives to meet stringent vet school requirements. That’s commitment!
A proven track record Most older applicants have already proven themselves in other careers, thereby demonstrating that they can be successful, productive members of the profession.
Another point of view Not only does it add an element of diversity to the classroom to include older students in the mix, but the classroom experience is also enriched by the presence of those who hold advanced degrees in other areas, like law and business.
A more stable life situation Sometimes people need to get to a certain place in their lives before they reach the maturity and stability necessary to make their dreams happen. Sometimes it’s about financial security; other times it’s about their family situation. Whatever the case, it’s clear that nontraditional-aged students have started down this path with eyes wide open.
An ability to lead Younger students often look to older students for more mature emotional guidance, as well as mentorship in certain areas of the curriculum where a broader knowledge base comes to bear.
Far from being leery of older candidates, admissions departments are well aware of their capacity to excel. In fact, of the five or so over-35 classmates of mine, two graduated in the top five in our class, two went on to attain board certification and another went on to acquire a Ph.D. and board certification.
The last one is now considered a luminary in his field. He didn’t get his vet degree until he was 42. And the oldest of my classmates didn’t graduate until she was well over 50!
So have I persuaded you to forget that gray in your hair and follow your heart instead?
To read more opinion pieces on Vetstreet, click here.
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