Key takeaways

  • Tuition for veterinary school costs an average of $160,000 per year, with some students leaving school $150,000 or more in debt.
  • Veterinarians earn an average of $129,000 per year, although salaries vary depending on location, practice type and experience level.
  • People interested in the veterinary field can also consider becoming a veterinary technician, physician or zoologist.

Veterinary school isn’t cheap, but the career can be rewarding for people who love animals. Some studies show that veterinarians enjoy their jobs more than the average worker. It’s also a profession that comes with a great deal of job security and solid pay.

But earning a veterinarian degree takes substantial time, effort and money. Tuition isn’t cheap, sometimes costing as much as $160,000 per year.

Whether a vet degree is worth it depends on your passions and goals, the cost of schooling and other factors. If you’re considering veterinary school, here are some things to consider before applying.

Reasons a vet degree is 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. It takes four years of school, and acceptance to veterinary medicine programs is highly competitive because there are so few schools in the country.

But for those passionate about caring for animals, the expenses and requirements may seem like a reasonable price to pay for a chance to work in a field they love There’s also a shortage of veterinarians in some rural areas of the country, so you could be filling a great need.

While most veterinarians pursue careers that involve providing care for animals through private medical practice, there are many other career paths for those with a veterinary degree. Veterinarians can work in roles that involve controlling the spread of disease or conducting research that benefits both animals and humans. The largest employer of veterinarians is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Safety Inspection Service.

To determine if a vet degree is worth it, it’s a good idea to weigh the pros and cons.

  • Job satisfaction: 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.
  • Job security: Most vets can expect good job security. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment for veterinarians will increase by 19  percent between now and 2031.
  • Lucrative pay: Vets can expect decent pay. Per the BLS, vets had median salaries of almost $100,370  in 2021.
  • Extensive education: 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 total of eight years of college.
  • Competitive admissions: 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.
  • High expense of tuition: Vet school can be expensive. The median per-year tuition rates can range from around $53,000 for out-of-state students to $32,000 for in-state students, according to the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges.

How much do veterinarians make?

The median salary for a veterinarian is $103,260 and the average is $129,110, 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. However, the gap between practices is narrowing.

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 $126,241.

Some areas of the country pay more than others, as well. Remember that you won’t necessarily be better off just because you can earn more as a vet in some areas. It’s also important to consider the area’s cost of living and 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 you will need to earn a degree from an American Veterinary Medical Association-approved college in most locations.

How much do vets take out in student loans?

Veterinary school graduates carry an average of roughly $176,920 in student loans, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). That does not include the 20 percent of students who graduate without debt. However, your expenses can vary depending on where you attend and whether you’re paying in-state or out-of-state tuition. Some vets manage to graduate with zero student debt.

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.

If you’re struggling with your student loan debt after graduation, options are available to get relief and save money. For example, student loan refinance rates can be lower than what your original loans charge and refinancing could give you 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. You can also expect a much lower salary — according to BLS, the median annual pay is $38,250.
  • 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 $67,430.
  • 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 work with people instead of animals, but BLS puts the median salary at $229,000 or higher.
  • Other careers working with animals: There are plenty of other opportunities to work with animals that don’t require a doctorate. 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 your primary income source.

The bottom line

Figuring out what to do with the rest of your life can be a daunting task. If you take the time to consider all your options before settling 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 and other fields that interest you. A little research can help you understand what being a vet is like and whether it seems like a career path you would enjoy.