If you're applying to study veterinary science, a personal statement will be just one part of your application. Chances are you will also have to fill out a work experience questionnaire, do a test and possibly go to an interview as well.
"The work experience questionnaire is there to check that the student meets our minimum work experience requirements," says Vikki Cannon, head of admissions and recruitment at the Royal Veterinary College.
Some courses don't even look at the personal statement. Dr Kieron Salmon, director of admissions at the University of Liverpool, says: "In our experience, very few personal statements are 'personal'. They read very similarly and have hints of having being written under the guidance of a teacher or parent. So we focus more on face-to-face interviews."
But for the courses that do ask for one, the personal statement can play a really important role.
"If you get it wrong, then it can be the difference between you getting an interview and not getting an interview," says Cannon.
So here are some tips to help you when it comes to writing yours.
What to include
Why do you want to be a vet?
"What we're looking for from a personal statement is to get a feel for why they want to be a vet and an understanding of what they've done about it," says Cannon.
It's also worth thinking about your long-term career aims and what kind of vet you want to be.
Sam Hillage, assistant faculty registrar at the University of Surrey, says: "Showing your motivation and talking about some of your career aspirations would be good. Also acknowledging the diversity of roles in the field."
"Sometimes people forget to actually mention the four weeks of work experience they've done," says Hillage. "As that's a mandatory requirement, it's important they get that in."
It might be that a particular moment from your work experience has stuck with you, and if you link that to why you want to be a vet and what you've learned, it can impress tutors.
Claire Phillips, director of admissions at Edinburgh University's Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies says: "Sometimes it can be something quite minor that they have seen on work experience that has made an impression and shown them what it is all about."
Use your statement to show your wider interests as well as your interest in veterinary medicine. Phillips says: "We're looking for a holistic, rounded student. It's not just about academic ability, we want to see people who have other things outside work and academics."
Try to link your hobbies back to your interest in veterinary medicine, but don't worry if not everything is relevant.
"It could be sport, music, voluntary work – it doesn't have to be animal-related," says Phillips.
"Being academically very good is not everything. They need an outlet to cope with the veterinary profession when they qualify. It's a tough job, especially if they go into a practice, so the fact they have something outside of academia is important."
Don't forget to mention people
A vet should understand that a big part of their job is dealing with people, say tutors.
"Some people just explain conditions or talk about animals, but it is important to talk about the sensitivity of the profession," says Phillips.
"You need to be aware that it's not just theory but about the overall sensitivity to people."
You could get this across by talking about some of the human interactions you encountered on your work experience, perhaps how you observed a vet dealing with a client.
Things to avoid
You might not be applying to study English, but good spelling is still important.
Phillips says: "It's a professional degree and communication skills are very important."
And if you're going to refer to particular medical terms, it's really important that you spell them correctly.
"The number of people who write that they've witnessed caesareans in their personal statement but can't spell caesarean is amazing," says Cannon.
"One bad spelling isn't going to lose you a place, but you are marked on the quality of your writing, so if it was littered with spelling mistakes then it might be a problem."
"I've wanted to be a vet since I was..."
"We're not interested in the fact that you've wanted to be a vet for the last 16 years," says Cannon.
"You could have been interested in being a vet for the last 16 months, it's what you do about it that is the interesting thing."
That's not to say you should avoid the phrase altogether. Just make sure you link it back to why you would be good on the course.
Cannon says: "Lots of them will start their personal statement with: 'I've known I wanted to be a vet since I was 3, 4, 5, 6'. But then a lot of them do go on and say why. That's what we're looking for."
Too much technical detail
You might want to include some reference to a strand of veterinary medicine or a type of technology that interests you, but don't go overboard.
Sam Hillage, assistant faculty registrar at the University of Surrey, says: "I'd avoid getting bogged down in a lot of technical detail.
"While it's good to show you have some technical knowledge, it's not necessarily what we look for in a personal statement."
Mentioning the most up-to-date technology won't always win brownie points. "It's the more grounded things that make an impression," says Phillips.
Don't forget to mention animals
It might sound really obvious that a personal statement for veterinary science should include animals. But not everyone remembers. "Sometimes we get people who focus very much on the science side of things, without ever really mentioning animals," Cannon says.
Equally, make sure not to go too far in the other direction.
Cannon says: "Saying 'I want to be a vet because I like cats' doesn't really tell us anything."
• If you're looking for more help in getting to vet school, why not apply for a place on a summer school? This year, the Royal Veterinary College is offering 50 places on a summer course with the Sutton Trust that will teach you what it's like to be a vet and give you tips on applying to study veterinary medicine at uni.
The scheme, sponsored by Barclays, is free to students from low and middle income backgrounds. If you're interested in applying for a place, take a look at the Sutton Trust's website.
Tips for Applying to Vet School
The popularity of veterinary medicine has created a highly competitive admissions process for the available seats in each vet school class. Most of the 30 vet schools in the United States, as well as several international programs, utilize the Veterinary Medical College Application Service (VMCAS) to streamline the admissions process. This centralized service allows students to submit their information to multiple schools by creating a single application.
The VMCAS application is certainly an important part of the process, but there are several additional things to consider when applying to vet school. Here are some of our most important tips for the vet school application process:
Find Out Each School’s Admission Requirements
Make sure you have taken the required courses for each school you are applying to. While most requirements are similar, the specifics do vary somewhat from one school to the next.
Document Your Experience
Keep a log that documents your hours working in a vet clinic as well as all other animal-related internships and volunteer activities. Be sure you gain experience working with both small and large animals if possible. Make yourself a well-rounded candidate.
Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute to Start Your Application
Be well aware of the deadline for applications and be sure to have your application materials completed early.
Applications through the VMCAS service are usually accepted beginning in May or June, with the deadline being early October. There are many sections that are required and it can take a significant amount of time to complete all areas.
Ask for Letters of Recommendation Early
It is important that you ask for letters of recommendation well in advance of the deadline so your mentors will have plenty of time to complete the task.
You will need a letter from at least one veterinarian for whom you have worked.
Carefully Craft Your Personal Statement
Pay special attention to your personal statement, which is a response to a prompt about your background and career goals. This is your one chance to personalize your application and show the acceptance committee what you might bring to the profession if selected.
Take Required Tests as Soon as Possible
Take any required tests early so you have time to re-test if your scores are not as high as they need to be for acceptance. Most vet schools require the computer-based GRE (Graduate Record Exam), though some schools also accept the MCAT. It is a good idea to take GRE practice classes and get a practice test book. You need to be thoroughly prepared.
Apply to Select Schools
You should only apply to the schools you are truly interested in attending. This involves a bit of research on your part, and it is also wise to attend open houses and other events at each school if possible. Applying to a dozen or more vet schools is costly and doesn’t really increase your chances. Your best chance of acceptance is generally at an in-state school or one that has a reciprocity agreement with a neighboring state.
Become Familiar with the VMCAS Online Application System
You should take some time to explore the VMCAS web portal and learn about the procedures you will need to follow to submit and pay for your applications. There are several pages of instructions and many subsections that should be carefully reviewed.
Be Prepared for Your Interview
Preparation for your interview is critical. This is the final stage of the admissions process and carries a great deal of weight with the acceptance committee. Have creative answers ready for commonly asked questions like “why are you interested in veterinary medicine” or “why are you interested in this particular school?” You should also try to find out what sort of interview your schools of interest plan to conduct (phone, panel, multiple mini interview (MMI), etc).
Dress nicely and do your best to appear calm and collected when meeting the interview panel.
Have a Backup Plan
You should also develop a backup plan in case you do not get accepted on your first try. It is fairly common for prospective students to go through the application process two or even three times before gaining entrance to a veterinary program. There are many things you can do while waiting to reapply. You could work at a veterinary clinic, take additional classes to raise your GPA, become a licensed veterinary technician, complete more internships, or participate in more leadership activities.