Work Experience – The Cornerstone of Your Application

Work-experience is still the most reliable way of being sure that training to be a vet is what you really want to do, as it lets you see and experience first-hand exactly what you’re letting yourself in for by choosing a veterinary career. In spite of the challenges associated with securing placements, it is a vital part of your vet school application and should be taken as seriously as your academic work. This means careful planning, determination and showing enthusiasm at every stage. If you really have your sights firmly fixed on a place at vet school then you’ll relish the challenges and opportunities presented by work-experience, and have a lot of interesting experiences to discuss at interviews.

Do the vet schools really care?

In a word: Yes. Yes, they do. Training a vet is a lengthy and expensive process, and with the competition for places the vet schools really do have their work cut out differentiating between all those students who eagerly submit applications each year. They need to feel confident that those applying to study veterinary really truly know what it is they are letting themselves in for, as the commitment from both sides is HUGE! Seeing that applicants have completed a broad range of practical experience goes some way to reassuring the admissions tutors that the student they are reviewing has given the idea serious considered thought and knows, to a lesser or greater degree, what being a vet and working within the profession actually entails. Of course there will still be aspects of the job and career that one cannot possibly glean from a relatively short period of time ‘seeing practice,’ but the surprises should be far less marked than if people simply decided to apply to vet school on a whim convinced that the job simply involved petting puppies all day.

So…… What type of Work Experience should you do?

Excellent question. The answer is a broad range of different placements is best as opposed to weeks and weeks of one type. For example, two weeks spent at a small animal practice, a week at a dairy farm, another at a riding stables, and another couple shadowing a large animal vet or doing some lambing will be far more informative and useful experience than spending 8 weeks following around the world’s greatest small animal surgeon. At the end of the day the vet schools are not looking to offer places to students who already know all there is to know about veterinary – there would be little point in trying to educate such accomplished people anyway! Seeing evidence of understanding across a broad spectrum of professional functions is the key, as this will enable applicants to speak about their experiences and lessons learned with conviction.

Placement Types:

  • First Opinion (small animal, farm, equine) – time spent shadowing and working with both vets and nurses on the frontline of clinical care is an essential. Expect to pitch in with some of the less glamorous jobs such as cleaning kennels in addition to getting the chance to see some very interesting cases.
  • Farm placements – whether calving, milking, lambing or working on a pig farm, time spent on the farm is very important. Large animal vets interact with farmers and their livestock on a daily basis and are instrumental in establishing and maintaining long term animal health.
  • Stables – shadowing a horse vet will permit some experience of working with horses but the very best way to learn more about their husbandry, health and handling is to spend some time helping out at a stable.
  • Kennels & Catteries – again, as far as gaining vital animal handling and husbandry knowledge and skills, both options are fantastic.
  • Laboratories – from quality assurance to genuine research and development labs, time spent gaining an understanding of laboratory practices is useful and could certainly help set you apart from others applying at the same time. Vets play a vital role in both disease detection and surveillance, and also in original research, all involving laboratory time.
  • Specialist Veterinary Placements – if you fancy getting your teeth a little more into veterinary then there is no better place to look than specialist, or referral, clinics. Vets will be much more specialised and focused on a narrower area of expertise, meaning that time spent at this kind of placement will certainly see you at the cutting edge of the profession.
  • Zoo/ Exotic – generally very hard placements to secure but can be fascinating. With more people keeping exotic species the demand for vets with such specialist interests appears set to rise.
  • Abattoir – vets play a vital role in ensuring the hygiene and safety of our food, with abattoirs being their stage. Gaining even half a day at one will be viewed favourably as they are important placements but very hard to secure.
  • Other/ Non-typical placements – these could be considered as the icing on the work experience cake. The type of placements which will help you really stand out from the crowd but which should not be completed at the expense of satisfying the fundamental basic requirements, such as good quality farm work or time spent in a first opinion practice. The placement that I felt helped me stand out when I was applying was the two weeks I got to spend at the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket after completing my GCSEs – fascinating and the kind of placement that had I not taken a chance by writing to them and then benefited from a smattering of luck would not have happened.

How to actually secure a placement

Basically by asking. The overused cliched saying of “If you don’t ask, then you don’t get” is absolutely spot on. Do your research on a particular placement provider, for example by checking out their website, and ideally ascertain who it is you need to write to/ speak with that can make the decision as to whether or not you can do a placement with them. It might be the owner, for example, or maybe a junior member of staff who has been charged with the role of work experience coordinator. Find out who you need to contact and please ensure that you know how to spell their name correctly for the purposes of writing to them. A few rules for securing a work experience placement:

  1. Do your research – at the very least look at the website and know the basics about who you’re applying for work experience to and which person you specifically need to direct enquiries. If it is not clear from the website then pick up the phone, call and ask who you need to contact.
  2. Main contact – confirm who it is you should direct your request and ensure you know how to spell their name correctly. A person’s name is a precious thing to them and mis-spelling it can be an easy but sure way to make a poor first impression.
  3. Write a letter or email – my preference is for a letter as emails are so numerous these days that yours may simply get lost in the avalanche of electronic mail that your addressee has to wade through each day. Nicely written letters are such a rarity these days that I believe they make an impactful and lasting first impression.
  4. Write/ apply yourself – trust me when I say you get far more respect when you’re the one to actually write in rather than leaving it to mum/ dad/ auntie/ everyone else. For a start it actually proves you’re interested in the first place as opposed to being a vet simply being an idea that your parents think might be a good one. If you’re unsure of what to write or how to write a decent letter/ email then by all means seek some help but dodging the bullet of actually plucking up the courage to put yourself out there will not stand you in good stead for vet school or life in general.
  5. Follow-up – ok, so you’ve written ten letters and not heard a single reply after a week. Clearly everyone you wrote to is an a*&%hole, right? No, not necessarily. The truth is that they have probably just been so busy with their own jobs and lives to have realised that the nice letter they received from you is yet to be replied to. Do them a favour and remind them, politely of course. There is nothing pushy about follow-up. In fact, it is expected and further demonstrates maturity, pro-activity and a desire to advance. A polite enquiring phone call is usually all that’s necessary, with many placements being booked and confirmed there and then. I would give it at least a week before ringing though as there needs to be some time for your letter to actually arrive, reach the top of the ‘to read’ pile and then have a reasonable chance of being dealt with.

And after placements?

Simple really. Thank them. Again, a well written letter goes a long way to showing your gratitude and is always well received. A decent cake or some biscuits on your last day probably won’t hurt either 🙂 The other key thing to remember to do following your placement is to request a reference to be written, preferably as soon after finishing as possible whilst you’re as fresh in everyone’s minds as possible.

Work Experience is not only an essential part of any serious application to vet school but is also often good fun, so do remember to HAVE FUN and ENJOY YOURSELF.

(Remember to check out Vet School: Part One for an even more extensive look at Work Experience)

Reapplying & More

Reapplying & More

Emma Harris, Year 1 Edinburgh Vet School

That time of year

It’s that time of the ‘applying to vet school’ year where you now know where you stand.  Some of you will have offers (congratulations) be it conditional, and now concentrating on getting those all important grades.  Or unconditional where you can sit back, relax and eagerly await the coming of September.  However, for many of you, this time will have been bitterly disappointing as you find yourselves in the horrible position of having obtained four rejections.  

Fear not my young vet school applicants, all is not lost.  Speaking from experience, I myself have managed to obtain 15 rejections from my 4 years of applying to vet school and am now, eventually, in my first year at Edinburgh. There is a huge amount that you can do if you just can’t shake that vetty feeling.

The initial shock

No one likes being rejected.  You have no doubt worked very hard over the last few years; getting top grades, cleaning up after a menagerie of animals on work experience and slaving away at your personal statements for the early UCAS deadline.  To have all that thrown back at you, especially if you didn’t manage to secure any interviews, is extremely disheartening.  However, there is a time to sulk and a time to take action!  By all means, have a mope (I did after all my rejections, including the one where I was accidentally rejected and had to wait the whole weekend for the admissions team to rectify their mistake) but now is the time to ‘chin up’, find out what went wrong and concentrate on achieving those grades if you haven’t yet sat your exams.

Now what? 

Email the universities for feedback as soon as possible.  As always, they are very busy people and it may still take a while for them to get back to you – but at least you’ve ticked it off your ‘to do’ list.  I have found that feedback from the universities is very good if you’ve had an interview.  If you didn’t manage to get one then getting a response that isn’t ‘unfortunately there are x many applicants for x many places’ is pretty rare.  However, if you didn’t get an interview the most likely reason would be due either to academic requirements or your personal statement wasn’t quite ‘up to scratch’.

 There are a number of things you can do to improve your personal statement.  I won’t list them but make sure you get anyone and everyone to have a look over it.  The more people the better, and by far the most important thing is to ensure you talk about your work experience and what it taught you about the veterinary profession.  If you’re having a gap year, dedicate a paragraph (doesn’t have to be big) for your plans – you don’t want the admissions tutors thinking you’re doing nothing in your year off!  Additionally don’t panic if at this stage you haven’t attended a lot of the work experience you have booked, as by the time interviews come around (or you have to complete work experience questionnaires) you will have done a lot of it.
 If it was your academics that let you down, things are a little more difficult. If you just missed your grades, have a look/email the universities you’re thinking of applying to.  Each has individual requirements for re-sits so check you’re still eligible to apply.  On the whole, unless applying to Cambridge, I believe module re-sits are okay as the universities don’t take them into account and just want the overall grade (check the websites, or email to make doubly sure).  If you missed your grade by a lot, then you need to consider why this happened or what you could improve on.  The veterinary course is very challenging and being realistic about why you haven’t achieved what you wanted is key to knowing and being able to cope with the work load that will be waiting when you get here.


If you got to this stage, even if it didn’t end well, give yourself a pat on the back.  For me, the interview represents the halfway stage, you’ve sent everything off, waited patiently to hear (don’t forget that no news is more than likely good news when it comes to applying for veterinary) and have finally been rewarded!  People kept telling me that getting the interview was the hard part. For me it was the start of the worst part – and may feel like that for you to.  I was not very good at preparing for interviews. I tried to learn answers for questions they might ask me (and of course they never did). I also only got asked once, out of my 7 interviews, why I wanted to be a vet – which was a relief as I still can’t answer it without sounding clichéd) instead of knowing what I learn’t on work experience.  This is crucial.  Knowing why you’ve seen what you’ve seen, not necessarily how what you saw works.  Now, it is important, for instance, if you’ve spent x weeks at a small animal hospital to know that we remove the uterus from a dog during spaying.  However it is much more important to know the reasons for that spaying than it is for you to tell me what suture material the vet uses when doing a midline or flank spay, for example.  If you’ve been at that practice for more than 2 weeks I would expect you to be able to outline roughly what happens in a spay, but they would not ask you this outright in an interview – if it came up they would gradually build to it.  If you turn up and immediately answer simple questions with a lot of detail you will be liable to dig yourself in a hole and get confused about the simple things.  Interviewers are looking to see how you think and deal with different situations. Of course if you’ve said you’ve seen things on work experience they expect you to talk about it – but not in so much detail.  After all, if you already know it all what is there for them to teach you?

There is also the worry that everyone else who is applying knows more than you.  Social media is a great but worrying thing.  My best advice to you is to not get hung up on what other people know or are doing for their interview prep – it doesn’t mean they will get offers because they know in-depth about x which may not even come up.


Do I or don’t I?

So you’ve already been through that once, you followed the advice, had a cracking personal statement, got the interview but it didn’t work out again.  The big question now is do you re-reapply or go down another route?  The only person who can answer that is you.  It took me less than a nano-second to decide to re-reapply after my second lot of rejections.  I had had interviews this time round and experience; surely this next application would be a breeze?  It clearly wasn’t, but that was down to me and my, as I’ve mentioned, really bad interview prep.  After the third set of rejections, the question wasn’t so easy.  The reason I went for it was because I felt I could still improve my application.  If I had been rejected that time I would of taken my backup option, as I truly had exhausted all possibilities of improving.

When I was applying people applying a third or even fourth time was almost unheard of (or if they were they kept quiet about it). The thought of having another gap year while your friends are halfway through their degrees puts a lot of people off.  Its also difficult thinking of things to do after you’ve had a gap year of work experience and traveling etc just earning money or doing more work experience may not appeal to you.  You may have parents or friends not being very supportive and thinking you should give up, or try a different route. The graduate route is expensive, even with some of the universities now offering lower fees.  You would still be in competition with others for the places, and don’t forget, if you ever had to re-sit a year you would have to pay for that extra year as well.  You would also be older, which may bother some people.  Applying abroad is another popular choice, or doing a completely different degree altogether and forgetting about veterinary.  There are a huge variety of things that you will need to think about.  Some of you wont be daunted by the huge fees, or traveling abroad, some may even think that in the end veterinary wasn’t for them and could end up doing something else that pays better and has considerably less stress involved.  The point that I’m trying to make is that if it’s your first, or your fifth application, the decision to re-apply is one only you can make.  You are the only one that knows deep down why you wanted to apply for this course despite the high competition, crazy amount of work experience and dedication needed.

Work Experience – Top Tips from Phoebe

Veterinary Work Experience

Phoebe Russell, with her horse, LuckyPhoebe Russell

My name is Phoebe Russell and I’m from Norfolk, currently in year 12. I’m hoping to apply to vet school this September, for a 2015 deferred start, after a gap year. I work at a local petting farm, and have a pet snake called Casper, among a menagerie of other pets, including a horse too, called Lucky!

We all know the journey to vet school is a challenge; the course is competitive, and everyone applying is going to have tip top grades. So, to set yourself apart from the crowd, you really must get some work experience under your belt. Although not always an easy task to find placements, they are so valuable and will pay dividends when it comes to writing up your personal statement, and during interviews.

Obviously there will be loads of keen vetty hopefuls who are also applying for placements at your local vets or farm, for example. So how do you get the establishment to notice you? I’ve found it best to generally write a formal letter to them, one directly tailored to the particular institute you’re applying to, not merely a one for all. This proves you have genuine interest in their business, and you’ve not just sent a stock letter out willy nilly, and hoped for the best. Also, it may sound obvious, but remember to include:

  • Your name
  • Your age
  • Address
  • Email
  • Telephone number
  • Reasons for wanting the experience
  • What you are currently doing (e.g. sixth form/college)

It could also be beneficial to mention previous placements if you have any, and that you are willing to send a CV or references, if required. Better still, you could send them with the letter in the first place. Lots of contact information gives the person you’re writing to very little reason to not get in touch. After all, you’ve made it so easy!

However, do not expect that by merely sending this letter, you will actually get a number of responses. In fact, you’re lucky to get any offers at all. Vet practices in particular want to see that you really do want the placement, and you’re a worthy and willing candidate, so you should write a follow up letter, a week or so later, if you’ve not heard back. Otherwise, give them a call, drop them an email, or go straight in and ask! Being confident enough to do so would be admirable by potential placement establishments, and what’s the worst that can happen? They tell you no? Suck it up!

 The same issue stands with farmers or abattoirs too; they’re incredibly busy and you’re not their prime concern, so your letter may be at the bottom of their “to-do list”, so get in touch!

In a desperate panic in mid June, I realised summer was quickly approaching, and I needed to fit in some placements! So I hastily picked up the phone, called two vet practices, an abattoir, and a research centre. Straight away I was given the opportunity to organise placements, with email addresses of the person who I directly should contact thrust at me! Fab!

Remember your “pleases” and “thank yous”, before, during and after your placement; it will be completely appreciated and you never know, you may be offered a job at the business, which is always great. A card or phone call afterwards shows you truly are grateful, and the experience has been beneficial- the place is more likely to accept future applicants if you’ve not been a hindrance to them!!

So, my top tips are:

  • Be enthusiastic!
  • Be organised and get booking early!
  • Be polite!
  • Be confident and go that extra mile to get where you want to be: vet school.

Gap Years – A Vetty Perspective

Anyone who has read my books will know that I took a Gap Year before starting vet school in Bristol and absolutely loved it. In fact I would go so far as to say it was one of the most important years of my life in terms of preparing me well for life away from home as a confident, self-reliant student whilst at university. I had, however, been set to go straight from A-levels into the vet course but when results day came around I suddenly had this overwhelming sense of needing to press the pause button and just take a breath for a bit before diving head first into several years of intense training and a major life change.

Thankfully, Bristol was open to the idea of me deferring – in large part due to having been oversubscribed that year from what I understand – and so I had the green light to go off and fill a year before taking up my (now confirmed, phew!) place the following Autumn.

So….. what to do? I had been so used to having a structure to my days and a firm, fixed goal in mind – do well in exams, get grades, go to vet school – and yet now I had a blank slate on which to create something. Where on earth do you start?! I had initially advised the university that I intended to spend the year working, primarily in order to save money to pay for what I knew was going to be a very expensive stage in my young life, and complete some more work experience, perhaps somewhere overseas. Other than that basic ‘plan,’ if indeed that’s what you could call it, I was clueless.

Where to Start?

When contemplating the unknown it’s never a bad idea to do some reading and see what others who have trodden a similar path before you did and look for inspiration from them. I guess that’s what you are doing when you read Vet School, for example. So, a trip to the library and a pile of ‘Gap Year’ titles was the result. This was, however, all done against the backdrop of finding a job as I knew that whatever I decided to do I would need some dosh. Agency sign-up complete. Rather dull but regular office temping job secured. Now time to do some dreaming and planning.

What to do?

It quickly became apparent to me that the idea of spending an entire year just working for the sake of saving was about as appealing as documenting paint drying and I started to get those classic twinges that come with the travel bug. I had always enjoyed seeing new places but until then my experiences were very very limited indeed. I had never really traveled properly or been out of Europe, unless you count my time as a foetus in Florida or my first 3-4 years in South Africa, of which all I can really recall is hiding out in a large laundry basket (odd what you remember!). As such, the world very much was there to be explored. But where should I go? What should I do? Should I be going off and engaging in some selfless charitable work? I quickly decided that the cost alone of signing up for some of the expeditions on offer was prohibitive and would only have enabled me to spend a very short time ‘traveling.’ Well, I knew I wanted adventure and I was sensible enough to realise that chucking myself in at the very deep end of the global traveler experience might have been a little much. My dad had, for a period in his hairier days, spent time living and working in New Zealand and so I had always been a little intrigued by the land of the long white cloud. A little research later and it was confirmed – New Zealand was perfect!

It was English speaking, which as a first time traveler made me feel a little more confident, far away so as to feel like I really was going on a huge adventure, and had so many options for doing crazy, nutty, adrenaline-fueled activities that it was as if it had been designed as an adventure playground. I had always wanted to try skydiving and bungy jumping and skiing, and all of the other such sports that Kiwis just get to do almost as a matter of normal life. With the where confirmed, I then did some more research and discovered that you could apply for a working holiday visa for a year. Perfect! Adventure that was going to pay for itself. Rather than jump on a plane myself and jet off into the unknown I did, again, think somewhat sensibly and found out about an organisation called BUNAC, who ran trips out to various parts of the world, including New Zealand. The advantage of booking through them was that they helped with every aspect of putting the trip together, from the important work visa, to booking flights. The most important reason, however, for electing to go through an organisation rather than be all independent was that a) I got to travel out to New Zealand with a diverse group of like-minded individuals from all over the UK, providing not only some semblance of reassurance – remember, I was a fresh faced naive wee young thing from Norfolk, UK – and a great social circle from the get-go. Meeting so many interesting and varied characters at the very start of the adventure was a great introduction to the experience of truly traveling and being somewhere new and embracing the rich experiences on offer – much like starting university where meeting and getting to know new and unknown people is so vitally important. The other advantage of traveling with an organisation was that I had a known support network in place once in New Zealand. Although my time in the country was ultimately very independent and I soon headed off on my own adventures, I knew that should things go awry then I had the backup of a team of professionals in the UK and Auckland in New Zealand. The other advantage was that I often ended up bumping into many of my original ‘BUNAC buddies’ during my travels round the country, which was lovely.

I guess the take-home message here is to a) have some idea of what you might like to do during a Gap Year – is there anything you’ve always wanted to do? Anywhere you’ve always wanted to visit? A Gap Year is the perfect time to indulge in such dream activities. However, the other thing to try and remember is to b) keep an open mind – do some research, talk to people who have had Gap Years and this way you’ll be surprised at how much inspiration and how many ideas you can generate that you wouldn’t originally have come up with. A Gap Year is, ultimately, a very personal experience and it is very much your blank slate on which to etch on to. Of course, if you’re planning on taking a Gap Year in order to resit exams or apply/ re-apply to vet school then there are some restrictions. Having said that, it is still a great chance to organise something unique, perhaps a “golden ticket” work experience placement.

Deferred Entry

As I mentioned, I had intended to enter vet school straight after my A-levels and so I guess I ended up deferring by rather unorthodox methods. I think the chances of being able to do the same are slim and if you apply to go this year then I daresay you will be expected to turn up this year. The options when it comes to deferred entry are therefore two-fold:

1. Apply for deferred entry – some vet schools will consider applications for deferred entry, the advantage being that you have an offer confirmed and can head off into your Gap Year safe in the knowledge that you have a place at vet school to come back to. Not all do so it is worth checking the latest applications info on each vet schools’ website to see if they clearly state their position on deferment.

2. Take a Gap Year and apply during it – after getting your results you could then take those stellar grades and submit an application for the following year’s intake. Obviously you would then need to be on hand to attend interviews and deal with any other associated administration, such as work experience questionnaires and university accommodation, and finance matters, but there would likely be more than enough time and opportunity – especially once final offers have been made – to indulge in some great Gap Year activities.

Include in your application/ Personal Statement?

I am asked often whether students should mention their Gap Year plans in their application personal statements or not, and my answer is “it depends.” If you have something firmly planned and confirmed, and it is of relevance to your vet school application then absolutely include it. The key with personal statements is reflection and illustrating your suitable and favourable qualities for vet schools so if you have organised a trip to go off and do some amazing experience somewhere, not even necessarily animal-related, then mention it and say what it shows about you (eg adventurous, determined, charitable, eager to educate etc etc). Simply stating that you are heading off to kayak the Zambezi without any further explanation does nothing really for your application, even though on the face of it is awesome. If you don’t have any plans for a Gap Year or they’re just unconfirmed ideas at the moment then I would pause before writing anything. Remember that it is easy to say what you’re going to do – for example, I am “going to” complete an Ironman next year – but universities are only really interested at the end of the day in what you have done as this is all they can realistically and fairly assess candidates on the basis of.

What are you up to? Any ideas?

What ideas have you got for an amazing Gap Year? Share your ideas and plans here or on the Facebook page so that others can feel inspired. Some ideas that I can think of to get you started include:

  • go to ‘Safari School’ in South Africa
  • work on a ranch in the USA
  • spend a year on a working holiday in Australia and New Zealand
  • learn to dive and volunteer at a small animal clinic in Thailand
  • build a school in Africa
  • teach English in Peru

The options are endless…..!

Summer Planning – Laying the Foundation for an Awesome Application

The sun is shining (occasionally), the weather is sweet (yeah), makes me want to move my writing hand…. and produce an awesome application in September.

Perhaps not the lyrics to an epic summer anthem but surely summer is indeed a great time to be thinking of and preparing for the application obstacle course that is soon approaching. It is truly amazing how rapidly deadlines can loom – I only have to think of the ones I impose on myself for writing the newsletter (and have, to my shame, occasionally missed spectacularly) – and the one for your vet school applications will be no exception. In fact, as far as deadlines go it probably represents one of THE most important ones you will have at this stage in your young lives.


Personal statement preparationSo, when is the deadline? Well, when it comes to applications submitted through UCAS to Cambridge, Oxford and professional courses, including Veterinary, the final deadline for application submission is 15th OCTOBER. Go ahead and write that somewhere prominent in BIG, BOLD lettering as it is very very important to keep that date firmly in mind.

Although many deadlines are there to be actually reached, this is one that you should really aim to come well under. In other words, you would be wise to aim to get your application finalised and submitted in advance of the deadline, with the best time to do so actually being when applications start to be accepted, which is September. “Why so early?” you might ask. The fact is that most applicants will leave theirs until the very last minute and as such the admissions tutors at the vet schools literally receive huge tsunamis of applications close to the deadline. They only have a finite amount of time in which to carefully read and appraise each and so naturally the time available to really appreciate your carefully crafted masterpiece is limited compared to much earlier in the process.

If you had a million and one (thankfully not literally) applications to read through you would be very keen to skim read and quickly assign submissions to either the “yep, lets interview them” pile or the “nah, not feeling it” pile. You have a much higher chance of being in the former the earlier you submit, in my opinion, purely due to fact that tutors will be able to spend a little more time actually reading your statement properly, thus enabling all of the wonderful things there are about you and your prospects as a future vet to be fully appreciated, much like taking the time to really savour a fine wine as opposed to quickly glugging it down.

Planning to Succeed

Okay, so you know that you should aim to get your application in early. What next? Well, planning and writing is the key step here and this time of year is the perfect time to start doing both. How do you write a masterpiece? Funnily enough authors tend not to just sit down and have a bestseller flow effortlessly from their fingertips in the first sitting. They ponder, plan, jot, scribble, cross out, proof read and generally go through several drafts before they are finally happy with the finished product. That, as it turns out, is also the key to a great personal statement. I won’t go into too much detail here about what should be your statement as that is a whole blog post, and actually chapter, in and of itself. Instead, the key take home message here is to prepare yourself adequately for success by starting early and preparing well. The old saying “to fail to prepare is to prepare to fail” is so true but the good news is we can do something positive to avoid it applying to us.

Key Steps to Preparing to Write an Awesome Personal Statement:

1. Be aware of the character and line limit – as much as you want to tell the vet schools everything about everything, there is only a finite amount of space for you to effectively state your case for why that vet school place should be yours. Being aware of the limit will help you get used to being succinct and to the point.

2. Summarise your work experience to date & identify lessons learned – vet schools want to see evidence of reflection following work experience and not just a meaningless list of placements completed. They want to know that you actually paid attention and identified what important traits go towards making a great vet and why you have shown evidence of such traits. I would advocate taking a large sheet of paper, making a big table and writing down what placements you have done so far, when they were, what key experiences stood out from them and what important lessons or skills you took from them. For example, working with the nursing team to prepare a patient for orthopaedic surgery at your small animal placement may well have highlighted to you the importance of effective teamwork and communication. By tabulating your experiences in this way you will also be able to spot at a glance any areas of experience that might need adding to, with time over the summer to hopefully do so. The other advantage is that you have a very simple to refer to summary of all of your work experience placements for when it comes to completing any additional supplementary work experience questionnaires, which some of the vet schools do ask you to complete.

3. Identify skills and attributes that you demonstrate through school and extra-curricular activities – the vet schools are keen to see that you bring more to the table than just an impressive ability to ace exams. What else do you do, both at school and outside of it and what do these activities tell the vet schools about the kind of person you are, and the sort of vet you might make? Again, summarising with the use of a large sheet of paper and a table can really help to pick out the key points when it comes to writing your initial drafts.

4. By all means be inspired by what others before you have written – the key word there was to be INSPIRED, not simply plagiarise. There is nothing wrong with taking a look at what others have written, including their style of writing, the flow of their statements and the kind of information included. What is not acceptable, however, is simply copying the work of someone else and passing it off as your own. Your statement should read and feel like it is actually you speaking and if it doesn’t then it will certainly become obvious come interview time. As I say, there is nothing wrong with gaining inspiration from others and there are a number of sources of previous veterinary personal statements that you may be able to use, from friends or family who have already been through the process of applying to vet school, to the example statement included in my Vet School book, or even to other example statements that become available. We all need a little inspiration sometimes. This, however, is definitely something to do at an early stage in the writing process as you will want to be focused on your own words later down the line.

5. Write drafts, scribble notes, read and read again – it is highly unlikely that you will produce a perfect statement on your first attempt so several drafts are to be expected. Write something initially, read it and then you have the basis for tweaking. The earlier you start this process then the easier it will seem and the better the results you will see.

6. Do a little each day – the cumulative effect of spending small amounts of time each day working on a project, such as your personal statement, can be incredible and I guarantee that by applying yourself in this way, as opposed to panicking and trying to bring everything together in one last minute mammoth effort, will lead to you producing better work and feeling much happier in the process. Don’t worry if it feels as if you’re not achieving huge amounts initially – that’s the beauty of cumulative effort: it adds up over time to a big, impressive result. Why not start or end each statement preparation session with a short period of reading up on scientific and veterinary current affairs, thus applying the same cumulative principle to your interview preparation. It will barely feel like work.

A few sage bits of advice I am sure you would all agree. The hard bit, however, will be implementing them and practicing what I preach. It will be worth doing so though. Good luck and enjoy your summer – you’ve earned it!

Work Experience – How do you get placements?

Farm vet, bannerOkay, so you know WHY you need work experience in order to apply to vet school, you know WHAT placements you should be looking to get, but the big question that is likely forming in your minds right now is HOW to go about actually getting said placements.

Applying for and successfully booking work experience is not rocket science – trust me. However, it does require a high level of organisation, forethought, planning, targeting, meticulous attention to detail and, most important of all, follow-through.

Ok, so from the top:

Organisation, Forethought & Planning

The first thing you should do is have some idea of the breadth and type of placements that you want to complete as a minimum. You can find details of what constitutes this minimum in the earlier work experience post, or in the book. Once you know WHAT you need to achieve, the next step is to sit down and work out how much TIME you have available in which to fit in work experience. If you’re starting nice and early and have a few years in which to gradually build up experience with animals and vets then great. However, many of you will have decided you want to be vets either around the time of your GCSEs (or equivalent) or A-levels (or equivalent), and so many only have a finite number of school holidays in which to fit placements around your other commitments. This is why planning how much time you have available is important, as it enables you to identify the really important placements and focus your maximum efforts on securing them.

Ok, so lets say you have a total of 10 week’s vacation time before applying and you know you need to get at least two weeks at a small animal vets and a week on a dairy farm, what next?



Where do you want to do your various placements? You may have no idea, and that’s fine, but you will need to draw up a list of places to apply to and know why it is you want to do so. There is little point applying a scatter gun, one-size fits all, generic model to applying to placements, as it is less likely to work and will probably just see your email or letter land in the bin. Do a little bit of research on the businesses and establishments that you are planning on applying to, taking note of who it is that you need to address when applying to do placements – many vets, for example, will have a dedicated member of staff assigned to placement requests so a letter or email directed personally at that person would be a smart move.

If it’s not clear from their website, assuming they have one (many farms, for example, would be unlikely to have a web presence) then jot down their phone number and put in a polite call to ask a) whether they take students and b) if they do, who to address a request to, ensuring that you check any non-obvious spellings of names. One key piece of advice here is DO IT YOURSELF. I personally hate it when parents come in asking about work experience for their sons and daughters. Those same young people wish to be veterinary professionals and so will be expected to interact with people on a daily basis. Why not start that process of development now – you’ll get far more attention and kudos by being the one to pick up the phone or write the letter. Trust me.


Attention to Detail

You now have a comprehensive list of target placements (do yourself a favour and don’t pile all of your eggs into one basket – apply to several of the same type of placement so that there is a better chance of success with one) and know who to address your email or, preferably, letter. Now comes the slightly dull part: writing them. As stressed before, don’t just write one generic, catch-all letter and fire it out to everyone. It just screams “couldn’t be arsed,” and usually winds up in the bin. Obviously include all the key info on all of them, such as your name, address and other contact information, what stage you are at school, and which dates you are actually available for any placements they can offer. Open the correspondence with ‘Dear [name of the key contact you researched for that placement]’ and introduce yourself. If you have any personal connection with the establishment, such as your pet is treated there, then it can make a nice, personable opening sentence to a letter, but is not essential. State very clearly, but politely, that you are intending to apply to vet school (this is important as it will differentiate you from the applications they will undoubtedly receive from vet nursing candidates and other, general animal experience students. Give some indication of any previous relevant experience, and then state what it is you want (eg I am looking to book a placement with you for two weeks, either continuously or over the course of more than one placement) and the options for when you are free. These two steps are important as they a) enable the person reading the letter to decide straightaway if they can even consider your request, and b) whether they have any free slots on the dates given. Simply saying “I would like some work experience,” tells nobody anything and unless the person reading is particularly generous and hasn’t got much else to do with their time than come back to you with a range of options, it is likely to be too much like hard work to bother with.

Close your letter with a simple thank you in advance, and by saying that you look forward to speaking with them soon. There will be no surprise on their part then when you follow-up your letter or email a few days later.

End your request with a polite sign-off (eg yours sincerely), sign your name and type your full name at the bottom.

Proof read what you have written, thus ensuring any spelling errors are detected and corrected, and that the information, including the addressee is correct. Now, you can send 🙂

Wait. Wait some more. Probably wait longer than you’d like.

It sucks but it has to be done.



This isn’t a description of a good golf swing, but rather the oft ignored practice of following-up on previous correspondence. People are busy and it is not their job to remember to get back to you and make your desires a reality. The simple truth is that most of the time they will have had good intentions of replying to you but life and the busy professional nature of their work simply intrudes and distracts them, resulting in your request inevitably getting pushed further down the priority list.

A simple, polite follow-up email or, preferably, call to the person anything from 3-7 days after they would be expected to receive your letter/ email (remember to allow postal time for letters) is perfectly acceptable and will likely just prompt them to give you the answer you’re longing to hear there and then, or at least a commitment to get back to you asap. Try and time your call wisely though, in order to avoid bothering them when they’re likely to be at their most stretched. That means calling on a Monday morning or Friday afternoon is probably not the best times. Needless to say, if the answer is that they will get back to you and you don’t hear anything for another week, then there is no rule against following-up as many times as is needed. Basically, follow-up until you either get a yay or a nay.

ps: if you get a “no” then politely ask why (if it’s something you can change then you’ll be better placed to do so) and if they could suggest anyone else to try (a personal recommendation/ referral tends to be more successful than a random, cold call).


Some Tips for letter and email writing:

  1. Ensure spelling (especially the name of the addressee) and grammar are correct. If unsure then ask someone to proof-read it for you.
  2. Try and limit any requests to no more than a single side of A4. Any longer and a busy person is unlikely to bother reading till the end.
  3. Use an easy to read, clear font and make it a decent size (11 or 12 is fine). Again, if they have to pull out the microscope to read your letter, the chances are that they won’t bother.
  4. Expect to send out lots and receive very few, if any, positive responses. The competition for decent placements is fierce and it sometimes just comes down to playing the numbers game. With perseverance and application of good methods there is no reason why you won’t be the one who comes out on top though.

Good luck 🙂

Work Experience – How to get the best from placements

With the half-term break upon us and many of you either busy arranging work experience placements for the next break or currently on one as we speak, I thought I’d delve into the chapter on Work Experience from the brand NEW Vet School book that I am currently finishing, in order to bring you some helpful advice on how to get the very best from your placements…


During placements

There is nothing more aggravating to a vet, or any other placement provider, than having students present who clearly do not wish to be there. I have worked in clinics when we have had work experience students who couldn’t be less interested and it ends up being more work trying to enthuse and share insights and knowledge with them. Thankfully, the vast majority of you are not like this as you are genuinely motivated to become vets and learn from your experiences. That would be the key message here: show an interest. Even if you find some aspects of the placement dull, frustrating, or unsavoury – and you will, especially when asked to help with dirty jobs such as cleaning up muck – remember the end goal and show willing. If we can see that you’re keen then we’re far more likely to put in an effort to explain things to you, get you involved in cases and, ultimately, offer you a unique insight into the profession. There are, however, some limits, which it is a good idea to just bear in mind. The following applies specifically to small animal practice, but the same principles can easily be applied to all placements:


  1. Show willing and enthusiasm – it’s guaranteed to result in a far more enjoyable and interesting placement.
  2. Ask questions – there is no such thing as a stupid question and if you find yourself wondering about something that you’re watching or have heard, then ask, assuming it is appropriate to do so at the time (see below).
  3. Listen to instructions and follow them – you will be given a briefing during your placement, including Health & Safety information. Yes, its all achingly dull but is important so take it in, as it is ultimately for your safety and means that the profession can continue to offer work experience. You may not get to do as much animal handling as you’d perhaps expect, mainly due to insurance concerns and the risk of injury such as bites. If you are clearly sensible and build a good level of trust with the vets and nurses, however, then you will be given more opportunities to get involved practically, so be guided by the staff and if in doubt ask before doing something.
  4. Be polite and your usual charming self – we know you’re a good sort because you took the initiative to organise the placement. Just relax and be yourself. After all, we really don’t bite and the vast majority of us like having students around.
  5. Ask for a reference either at, or just before, the end of the placement – character references are a good way of keeping a record of your experience, having an official statement of how nice, competent and suitable for vet school you are, and can be useful when it comes to interviews or completing work experience questionnaires. It is always better to ask for this to be done whilst you are still present as whoever writes the reference will a) know who you are, compared to if you ask in six month’s time by which point several other students may have passed through the clinic; b) have formed a good, strong opinion of you and thus be able to write a far more personal and enthusiastic reference than they would if they were having to dredge their memories back up; and c) you will have the reference safely in your possession, avoiding the need to go back round placements trying to collect them up when you suddenly decide you would need them.



  1. Turn up late or skulk off early – think of yourself as an employee during your time at a placement. An employer wouldn’t be impressed by such practices so don’t think that it’s okay just because it’s work experience.
  2. Become over-cocky or stray beyond boundaries set – some students are clearly more confident than others, which is no bad thing. The potential issue arises when that confidence strays into the realms of being cocky and too familiar with the placement and staff, resulting in decisions being made which are not sensible or appropriate to make. Remember that as a work-experience student you are a guest of the provider and so wouldn’t be expected to take it upon yourself to get animals out, handle them, walk in on operations or consults, or talk in consults unless invited to do so. That doesn’t mean you can’t be pleasant to clients and greet them when they enter, or respond to questions and conversation that they may direct at you. Rather, it is just a polite reminder to remember that the vet is the one running the show and it can be construed as rude to be seen to over-stepping the line if the vet finds you talking over them, interrupting, or otherwise disrupting their ability to do the job. Its really just a simple case of using your judgement.
  3. Discuss or disclose any information about clients or their animals outside of the placement – by being invited in to see practice, you are being given privileged access to confidential information about cases, and clients. It should be needless to say that none of this should be discussed outside of the placement, in exactly the same way that you would be really ticked off if you discovered people talking about your private medical history. Again, needless to say but be careful about inadvertently disclosing private information on social networks, blogs and the like. The vet schools take ‘Fitness To Practice’ very seriously and your status as a suitable future veterinary professional would be called into question if it were discovered that you were not shown to be trustworthy.


Its never a bad idea to take in cake on your last day – vets, and indeed any work experience provider, are suckers for such things and you’ll well and truly cement your status as ‘The Best Work Experience Student Ever’ by doing so. Some call it creeping, I just call it a nice thing to do. If that’s not your style then no worries – it’s not compulsory 🙂

After placements

The main things to do after a work-experience placement are: a) thank the placement, by sending a card or a letter, for example, and b) remembering to follow-up on a request for a reference, if you were not able to obtain one before the end of the placement. The sooner you can get your hands on a reference then the better, as the longer it is left, the greater the chances are of either not receiving one at all or it being bland, generic and basically written for anyone and everyone.

If you are keen to do further experience at a specific placement, then making them aware of this as soon after finishing as you can is a sensible idea. Many students find themselves able to book further placements or agree a long-term work-experience arrangement, such as coming in to help on Saturdays. This is one of those times when the saying “if you don’t ask, then you don’t get” is very apt.

Keep a good, organised and clear record of the placements that you complete, including dates, locations and the main activities you undertook or interesting things that you saw. Such notes will definately come in handy when it comes to completing your applications and especially the supplementary work-experience documents that many of the vet schools ask applicants to complete.


Enjoy your time on placement and use it to gain as much insight into the veterinary profession as you can. Good luck 🙂

Work Experience – is it important?

Lots of the questions that I receive from you guys relate to work experience, whether it be what experience is necessary through to how to actually go about finding and securing placements. Some ask if it’s even really that important.

The answer to the last question is yes, it is undoubtedly one of the most important factors in a successful vet school application and should definately be taken seriously.

How do you really know that you want to be a vet?

How do you really know that you want to do something? The answer is by doing it. You might think that you know what being a vet is all about from watching TV shows, reading vet books and watching your pet’s vet in action on their annual vaccination trips, but the truth is that until you pop the hood and take a look at the mechanics of the car that is your chosen career option, then you’ll not be able to make informed decisions about what is actually one of the most important decisions of your life.

Vets work in many different capacities, from small animal practice to equine to farm, and beyond. Our training is still one in which we are taught, examined and ultimately qualified across the board. If you find that upon starting your training there are aspects of being a vet that you cannot cope with, such as meat production, then you’ll either find the course incredibly difficult to complete or feel compelled to leave vet school, with the heartache and stress of having potentially wasted a number of years of your young life that you could have spent focusing your efforts on a far more suitable career. The value of work experience is in drastically reducing the chances of this from happening by exposing you to the realities of the veterinary profession before you apply. This will either have the effect of confirming your wish to pursue a career as a vet, in which case your application will undoubtedly beam with passionate enthusiasm and wonderful examples of your dedication to and knowledge of the profession, or inform you that it perhaps was not quite what you had first imagined and that your future may lay in a different direction. This is what is mean’t by making an informed decision and is why I believe work experience is the most important aspect to anyones’ preparation for applying to vet school.


Do the vet schools really care?

Yes, they do. Training you to be a vet is a costly, lengthy process and it really sucks to have students drop out of the course during their degree. By focusing on recruiting students who have shown that they have seriously considered their options and made an informed choice that veterinary is what they want to do, the vet schools significantly reduce the chances of you not sticking with things. The drop-out rate for vet degrees is incredibly low, in large part due to the fact that in spite of it being really tough at times, each vet student accepted their place with eyes wide open to what lay ahead and the prize at the end.
Most vet schools will assess your level of work experience through reading your UCAS application and specifically your personal statement. If they see potential then you will likely be invited for an interview during which you may well be asked to expand on your experiences. Some, such as RVC and Edinburgh, request extra information on your work experience to be submitted separately to your main application.

This is such an important topic that I plan to bringing you more on the subject, in addition to it making up a rather large chapter in the upcoming edition of Vet School. If you have any specific questions about Work Experience, then please contact me via Facebook, the vetschoolsuccess website or Twitter.