Amber McElhinney is a 2nd year veterinary student at UC Davis. Due to COVID many veterinary student summer plans were changed and Amber is one of many who has been helping out the VIN Foundation student debt efforts this summer. In an effort to help pre-veterinary students as they prep for applying to veterinary school we thought Amber’s insight into her personal pre-veterinary journey can help others. We hope you enjoy! As always, please reach out with any questions or feedback, or leave a comment below.
Veterinary school is a huge financial investment in your future. Most pre-vets are made fairly aware from the beginning of college that vet school is expensive, difficult to complete, and difficult to get into. You go into about the same debt as a medical doctor, with a fraction of the earning potential once you are out. Most of us accept going in that veterinary medicine is not a lucrative career, but we pursue it because we are passionate about it. What most people don’t realize early on, is that just applying to veterinary school can be a substantial cost, and there are many costs that pop up along the way before you start paying for veterinary school. Here are a few things I wish I had known to plan for while applying to veterinary school:
The next step in the admission process, and the next substantial cost to consider, is the interview. I am a believer in the value of in-person interviews, as I feel they give you a good chance to see the school and get a feel for the environment before committing to spending a quarter of a million dollars (at least) to go there. That being said, I preferentially chose to apply to a few schools that did not interview to save me some money, but with the intention of visiting anyway if I was considering attending that school.
Interview costs vary widely based on where you live, how far you are willing to go for veterinary school, and how much notice you get before your interview. I am from the Northeast, so I was lucky that there were at least a few schools in that area I could drive to if need be for an interview to save on flight costs. Some schools only give you a week or two notice before your interview as well, which can increase potential costs for a flight. In general, it is not uncommon to spend between $250-$500 per flight, even if you are not actually flying that far.
The other cost to consider while interviewing is a place to stay. Hotels can run $100+ per night easily, and unless your parents are going with you it is unlikely you will be with someone you know to share a room and split the cost. Staying with current veterinary students is a great way to mitigate this cost while getting good insight into what life is like at that school. You would be surprised by the number of veterinary students willing to have a distant acquaintance crash on their couch. Taking advantage of any connections you can, such as undergraduate professors or even Facebook groups, can help you to get in touch with current veterinary students and make these contacts. Personally, I was put in contact with some current veterinary students at schools I was considering applying to that had graduated from my undergraduate institution by a professor. From these communications, I was able to learn more about life at the schools I was considering, and I wound up staying with one of these students for my UC-Davis interview. Reaching out to friends or even acquaintances to see if they know anyone in veterinary school is also a great way to make connections.
After applying to your 5 schools, let’s say you got interviews at 3 – congratulations! Maybe 2 of them are far enough away that you have to fly, but you have to get hotel rooms for all 3. Assuming flights cost an average of $350 and hotels/food/miscellaneous $200 for each, your total cost to interview would be $1,300.
Congratulations, you’ve been accepted to veterinary school!
Now come the costs of reserving a spot in your class and actually moving to your veterinary school’s town. When you accept your admission offer, most schools require some sort of deposit to save your seat in the class. While this will eventually be put toward your tuition bill, it is still money you need to come up with before you get your loans. This cost varies widely between schools, but most tend to be around $500.
The last big cost before your financial aid (aka student loans) come in is moving. This varies based on how far you are moving, how much you need to purchase (furniture, kitchen utensils/appliances, etc.), and your chosen method of moving. For example, I chose to ship my car from New Hampshire to California, take a flight to get there and purchase new furniture once there. Other people moving from other states chose to drive themselves, rent a U-Haul, or ship a storage cube. And unless you’re purchasing a house to live in during veterinary school, you’ll likely need to rent an apartment, which means you also need to put down a deposit and pay your first month’s rent. You can try to keep these costs low by choosing a lower-cost apartment or finding roommates – maybe your fellow veterinary school classmates. Calculate how much a U-Haul vs. shipping box will cost before booking anything. Also consider how much it would cost to buy furniture, as it may be cheaper to buy items through Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist than to pay for a U-Haul.
These costs are near impossible to estimate until you know how far you will be moving, what you will need to move, and how much housing costs in your veterinary school town, but it is never a bad idea to budget at least $2,000 – 3,000. Let’s do some accounting to see where we are now:
Application costs: $2,431
Interview costs: $1,300
Acceptance cost: $500
Moving costs: $2,500
So far the total bill we’ve racked up for application, interviewing, acceptance, and moving is nearly $7,000. If your parents are able to help that’s great, but not everybody has that option. So how are you supposed to come up with this money? The first and best option is to be prepared and to save. Start putting away money as early as you can to cover all of the costs of applying to veterinary school.
If you are too far along in the process and it is too late for that, another option is to take out extra student loans during the last couple semesters of your undergraduate degree. While this option is not ideal or you may not be able to apply for more financial aid, it is one way to help cover the costs.
Another option is to be strategic with your spending and open a credit card with a 0% interest promotion period. This could at least help you get through some moving costs, and then you can use veterinary school loans to pay it off. Be careful with these last two options, particularly the credit card option. Make sure to not spend more than you can eventually pay off with your resources and hide that credit card from yourself once you’ve paid the balance in full, reserving it only for emergencies until you graduate and have a steady income as a veterinarian.