Is a veterinary degree worth it?

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Veterinary school isn’t cheap, but the career can be rewarding for people who love animals. Whether a vet degree is worth it depends on your passions and goals, as well as the cost of schooling and other factors.

If you’re considering veterinary school, here are some things to think about before you apply.

Is a vet degree worth it?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to whether a vet degree is worth it. Becoming a doctor of veterinary medicine can be a challenging and expensive undertaking. But for those who are passionate about caring for animals, the expenses and requirements they face may seem like a reasonable price to pay for a chance to work in a field they love.

To determine if a vet degree is worth it, you need to weigh the pros and cons.

Benefits:

  • Veterinarians enjoy their jobs more than the average worker. According to Career Explorer, vet career happiness ranks in the top 20 percent of all professions.
  • Most vets can expect good job security. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment for veterinarians will increase by 17 percent over the next 10 years.
  • Vets can expect decent pay. Per the BLS, vets had median salaries of almost $100,000 in 2020.

Drawbacks:

  • Earning a doctor of veterinary medicine (DMV) degree requires around four years of hard work after earning your undergraduate degree. For most people, that’s a grand total of eight years of college.
  • There are only 32 colleges of veterinary medicine in the United States. The limited number of training institutions can make the vet school admissions process quite competitive.
  • Vet school can be expensive. Per-year tuition rates can range from around $80,000 to $160,000, according to the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges.

How much do veterinarians make?

The median salary for a veterinarian is $99,250, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, what you can expect to earn depends on the type of practice you choose. For example, the American Veterinary Medical Association found that veterinarians who care for companion animals may earn starting salaries more than 50 percent higher than those in equine practice.

Of course, you can expect your salary to grow over time as you gain experience in your field. Indeed lists the average salary for veterinarians across the board at $108,201.

Some areas of the country pay more than others, as well. Keep in mind, though, that just because you can earn more as a vet in some areas, you won’t necessarily be better off. It’s also important to consider the cost of living in the area, plus the quality of life you can expect based on your preferences.

Can you be a veterinarian without a degree?

To become a veterinarian, you must pass a licensing exam in your state. Exact requirements can vary from state to state, but in most locations you will need to earn a degree from an American Veterinary Medical Association-approved college.

How much do vets take out in student loans?

Veterinary school graduates carry an average of roughly $150,000 in student loans, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Depending on where you attend and whether you’re paying in-state or out-of-state tuition, however, your expenses can vary. Some vets manage to graduate with zero student debt. At the same time, around 1 percent of graduates borrow more than $400,000 to finance veterinary school expenses.

If you’re serious about veterinary medicine, it’s important to research several colleges and universities to understand the costs compared with the value of the education you can expect to receive.

If you’re struggling with your student loan debt after graduation, there are options available to get relief and save money. For example, student loan refinance rates can be lower than what your original loans charge, and the process of refinancing could give you some more flexibility with your payment schedule. However, if you have federal student loans, you should weigh the cost of losing federal loan benefits before you refinance with a private lender.

Alternatives to vet school

If you’re not certain that a vet degree is right for you, here are some other options you can pursue:

  • Veterinary technician: If you don’t want the price tag of a vet degree but still want to dedicate your life to helping animals, working as a vet technician may be a good choice. Training typically takes two years and is much cheaper than vet school. That said, you can also expect a much lower salary — according to BLS, the median annual pay is $36,260.
  • Zoologist or wildlife biologist: These career paths allow you to study animal characteristics, behaviors and more. You may also have the chance to publish your findings from studies and experiments in scientific journals. You can typically work as a zoologist or wildlife biologist with a bachelor’s degree, according to BLS — though you may need a higher degree for certain career paths — and the median salary is $66,350.
  • Physician or surgeon: If you want to work in medicine but are hoping for higher salary potential, consider becoming a physician or surgeon. Of course, you’ll be working with people instead of animals, but BLS puts the median salary at $208,000 or higher.
  • Other careers working with animals: There are plenty of other opportunities to work with animals that don’t require a doctorate degree. Other jobs include animal trainers, groomers, sitters and more. Some of these you may even be able to do as a side business instead of as your primary source of income.

Next steps

Figuring out what to do with the rest of your life can be a daunting task. But if you take the time to consider all of your options before you settle on a path for your education and career, you’ll be in a much better position to make the right choice.

To help, speak with people who work in the veterinary field, along with other fields that interest you. A little research can help you get an idea of what being a vet is like and whether it seems like a career path you would enjoy.

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Written by
Ben Luthi
Contributing writer
Ben Luthi is a personal finance and travel writer who loves helping people learn how to live life more fully. His work has appeared in several publications, including U.S. News & World Report, USA Today, Yahoo! Finance and more.
Edited by
Student loans editor