If nothing makes you feel better after a long day at school than a cuddle with your favorite pet, and if you also happen to excel in your bio, chem, and physics classes, a major in veterinary science may be the perfect merging of these two inclinations. This degree focuses on the health care and maintenance of all kinds of animals, including pets, livestock, and zoo creatures. There’s a constant need for compassionate, knowledgeable college graduates who not only love animals, but who are invested in learning everything they can about them so they can apply this knowledge to helping ensure animal health and well-being.
What do veterinary science majors study?
Before you head to a post-secondary veterinary program (if you’re interested in becoming a veterinarian), most undergrad veterinary programs will prepare you much as they would in a pre-med capacity. That means lots of natural science–heavy courses, with a focus on such animal-centric classes in anatomy, genetics, microbiology, mammalian physiology, and zoology. These courses are helpful even if you choose not to go for the graduate degree, as you can still pursue post-undergrad jobs such as a researcher for veterinary pharmaceutics, a veterinary hospital manager, or even a meat and poultry inspector.
If you decide you’d like to become a veterinarian, you’ll need a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, or DVM, degree from a college of veterinary medicine accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association, of which there are currently fewer than three dozen. The first two years of this schooling usually involves coursework in basic sciences, followed by clinical and lab work, and usually a two-year internship and/or a three-to-four-year residency program. Passing a state licensing exam is typically the last step to becoming a vet.
So what are the benefits of going for a veterinary science major?
You can start on-the-job training right out of college (and even before that).
While you’re in school for your veterinary science major, you can simultaneously take on real-world roles with increasing responsibility to gain experience dealing with animals and the environments in which they’re treated. For instance, helping out as a veterinarian assistant or animal caretaker at a lab is something you can typically do with just a high school diploma. As you’re working your way up to the more esteemed veterinarian role, you can also become a veterinary technician or technologist—someone who performs medical tests on animals—after earning your degree and completing a postsecondary veterinary technology program.
This is a viable path—as are similar jobs in the animal care and service industries, such as pet grooming and obedience training—to pursue if you’re not sure you want to commit to the full veterinary doctorate. But if you do choose to do so down the road, you’ll already be well on your way to understanding the unique requirements of working in this field and have the experience of working daily with animals.
Your pay and prospects can run as high your passion.
Even though your love for animals is likely the driving force behind your veterinary science calling, you still need to get paid—and the icing on the cake here is that entering this field, especially if you become a veterinarian, can offer a lucrative paycheck, especially if you work your way up to veterinarian. The median annual salary for this occupation in 2016 was nearly $89,000, and the job comes with a faster-than-average growth rate, expected to rise 19% faster than average between 2016 and 2026.
You’ll be helping animals, and the humans who love them.
Of course, the underlying reason why you may be drawn to a veterinary major in the first place is because you have a soft spot for your furry, finned, and feathered friends. Spending your days caring for and tending to animals is likely, then, to not only seem like business, but also pleasure. You’re the one who will help set them back on the path to good health and, in some cases, even save their lives.
And that has trickle-down effects to the people who love them. Pet owners especially often consider the animals in their case as part of the family, and they worry about them just as much. In some situations, animals are even therapeutic, whether they’re therapy animals or constant companions after a traumatic event or loss of a loved one. In those cases, restoring an animal back to its previous vigor also impacts the mental health of its owner.