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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Which Veterinary College is Best for You?

By Dr. Donald F. Smith, Cornell University; posted February 5, 2011.

This is the time of year when members of the veterinary class of 2015 who have more than one offer of admission are making their final decision on which college to attend.

Should you choose the in-state school where tuition is lower, or the out-of-state college that has a program that better meets your academic goals? How highly do you value an established college with the enhanced career opportunities that come from a large and geographically dispersed alumni base? How important is weather, proximity to family, size of city, employment opportunities for your spouse or partner?

Here are the things that I suggest you consider.

The Academic Program and Curriculum: Evaluate the quality, number, and subject expertise of the faculty. Are they respected leaders in their field? Are the faculty and academic staff dedicated to teaching and treating students as future colleagues, or are they so consumed with their research and clinical work that they are not accessible to students. Are they good role models? Current students and alumni/ae can help you make this assessment.

Is the academic program flexible and does it have strengths in your area of clinical or research interest? While most mainland U.S. colleges have a sufficient small animal caseload to accommodate the needs of many students, there is a great difference among colleges in the number and variety of equine, farm animal, wildlife and exotic cases, in research programs, and in areas of special emphasis like public health and corporate practice. Are summer experiences available for research, clinical enhancement, international veterinary medicine?

The Quality and Character of the Campus. Students attending veterinary colleges that are geographically part of a large university and where faculty have strong connections with programs in biology, agriculture, law or business, will have more opportunities to gain insights in fields that complement veterinary medicine.

How about the other students who will become your colleagues and among your closest friends for the next four years and throughout your career? Do they come from a variety of backgrounds? Do some have real-world experience in other fields before coming to veterinary college? Will they complement your knowledge base and expose you to new interests? Do you think you will work effectively with them?

The Projected Cost of Your Education: Don’t underestimate the importance of educational debt in your long term personal and professional goals. How much will your DVM cost and how will you pay for it? While some educational expenses are comparable from college to college, tuition varies greatly.  Living expenses (rent, commuting time, cost of living) are sometimes higher in an urban setting than a smaller community.

On the other side of the equation is the availability of job opportunities and financial support. Has fund-raising for scholarships been a long-term college priority? Are scholarships awarded on the basis of financial need only, or is academic merit also a factor? Don’t be afraid to ask the administration how much money is distributed annually—not just for first-year students, but for all four years—from both long term endowments and anticipated annual gifts? This is public information at most veterinary colleges.

After you have considered all of these factors, after you have discussed everything with your family and close friends, what feels right? As one of my colleagues said to me yesterday during one of our prospective student visits at my home institution, “If it feels right after a two-day visit, it will probably feel right at the end of four years”.

Dr. Smith welcomes comments and questions at