Is a veterinary degree worth it?

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Veterinary school isn’t cheap, but the career can be very 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.

Factors to consider when assessing a vet degree

So, is a vet degree worth it? In reality, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. As such, it’s important to consider all of the potential benefits and drawbacks of attending veterinary school and what you want to do with your career.

How much does a vet degree cost?

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.

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.

Takeaway: A vet degree is expensive, but you can reduce costs by choosing a less expensive school.

Why this matters: Student loan debt can be crippling, even with a relatively high salary. You may end up paying back your debt for 10 years or longer.

How much do vets make?

The average starting salary for a veterinarian is $84,982, according to the AVMA report. However, what you can expect to earn will depend on the type of practice you choose. For example, veterinarians in equine practice will earn closer to $50,000 to start.

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 $103,660.

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.

Takeaway: Veterinarians can earn six figures with experience and the right location, but your salary will depend on your area of expertise.

Why this matters: Your salary is an important factor in determining whether the cost of vet school is worth it.

What’s the demand for veterinarians?

Over the next 10 years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment for veterinarians will increase by 16 percent, which is much higher than the average of 4 percent across all occupations.

So if you’re wondering if you’ll have a job when it’s time to graduate, the chances are relatively good. Remember, though, that demand can vary based on where you plan to live. So do your research on more than one city to get an idea of where the job prospects are the best.

Takeaway: If you’re worried about finding a job in veterinary medicine after you graduate, you can expect a lot more options than the typical career path.

Why this matters: The idea of graduating from college only to find that your job prospects are low can be stressful. Knowing that the outlook is better than average can give you the confidence you need to proceed.

Is being a vet a good fit for you?

While the finances and job prospects of veterinary medicine are important, it’s crucial that you take the time to consider whether the job is a good fit for you.

For example, while vet school may be appealing because of your love of animals, you’ll spend a lot of time interacting with their owners. Also, the majority of veterinarians operate a private practice, according to the AVMA, so you may need to develop some business skills to make that happen effectively.

Finally, take a step back and consider whether veterinary medicine is your passion. If it’s appealing mostly because of the pay and job outlook, you could end up burning out early in your career.

To help you determine if a career as a vet is right for you, speak with vets in your area to get an idea of what it’s like and the challenges you may face. The more information you can gather about what you can expect to experience, the easier it will be to determine if it’s the right path for you.

Takeaway: As with any other career path, it’s important to determine if your passion is sustainable.

Why this matters: The last thing you want is to rack up six-figure student loan debt to realize that you don’t actually want to spend the rest of your life as a veterinarian.

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 $35,320.
  • 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 $63,270.
  • 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 pegs 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 you might be interested in, to get an idea of what it’s like and whether it’s something you want to do.

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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