The Best Veterinary Schools in California

Promoting the health and wellbeing of animals can be an enriching career. For many people, a pet is like another member of the family, and the general welfare of animals is of concern to many as well. Whether caring for the smallest critters or looking out for horses at a stable, animal lovers can channel their care and passion into a career that improves the quality of life for animals and humans alike.

There are many reasons to become a veterinarian. Besides potentially high earning potential (veterinarians earn a median salary of $89k a year), the occupational outlook seems very promising. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of jobs in this field is projected to grow by 16% within the next ten years, rapidly outpacing growth in many other areas.

Being a great veterinarian requires compassion, excellent interpersonal skills, problem-solving skills, and a comprehensive science education. These qualities take years to develop and hone, and it takes a great veterinary school to acquire the scientific knowledge and clinical skills necessary for a successful career in veterinary medicine. 

There are a handful of schools across the nation that adequately prepare an aspiring vet for this career. California is already known for world-class educational institutions. It is also home to two of the best veterinary schools in the country. We present a snapshot of these schools and a brief guide on how to stand out from the rest of the applicant pool; these schools are competitive.

UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine (Davis, CA)

UC Davis
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

The UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine has the honor of being the largest veterinary school in the United States, receiving $36.9 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health in 2020. The funding attests to the school’s impact and role in innovative research aimed at the wellbeing and health of animals, people, and the environment. Students who begin their journey at the School of Veterinary Medicine have a promising and rewarding future ahead.

Vet Med offers three main tracks for an advanced degree in veterinary medicine: the dual D.V.M./Ph.D., a master’s in preventative veterinary medicine, and a graduate studies track. The most attractive option for aspiring vets is the D.V.M/Ph.D track; it is the most promising for this career path. Students in the D.V.M track receive a strong foundation in comparative veterinary medicine before choosing their species-specific training and tracks. 

Foundational courses in the first year include immunology, hematology, and nutrition, together with education in a clinical environment. As students progress through the program, they are increasingly exposed to work in a clinical setting, beginning as early as the summer following the second year. There are numerous clinical rotations from which to choose in the fourth year, ranging from Equine Surgery and Lameness to Small Animal Radiology to Zoologic Medicine.

At Davis, experiential opportunities abound. Classrooms and laboratories are equipped with the most cutting-edge technology. One of the premier veterinary teaching facilities is the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, which serves as the clinical setting for student training and serves over 50,000 patients—numerous species— annually. No quality program in medicine is complete without a fantastic residency matching program. 

The residency program at Davis encompasses residencies for large and small animals, with at least one opening each year. The house officer program, which facilitates residencies, internships, and fellowships, is the country’s most extensive program due to increased donations from private donors and corporations in recent years. This program is hosted by the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. Completion of a residency requirement is necessary for licensure.

Davis is renowned for its voluminous and high-caliber research output. Faculty are world-class practitioners and scholars in a wide array of veterinary specialties, actively engaging in numerous projects throughout the year.

Admission into the med school is very competitive; out of the 1012 applicants who completed application requirements, only 165 were offered admission, making the admission rate for the most recent class around 16%. It is much harder for an out-of-state candidate to get into the school than it is for a CA resident. This is evidenced by the average GPA and GRE scores for in-state vs. out-of-state applicants who were offered admission. 

The average GPAs for CA residents and out-of-state applicants for the incoming class of 2024 were 3.62 and 3.96, respectively. In addition to solid GPAs, applicants earned above-average scores in the Quantitative section of the GREs. Most enrolled students came from a solid undergraduate background in the sciences, most commonly the animal and biological sciences, while a handful of liberal arts/humanities majors made the cut.

While an undergraduate major in the hard sciences is not required, applicants are expected to fulfill prerequisite course requirements. These requirements include one semester of statistics, two semesters of lower-division physics, chemistry, biology, organic chemistry, and a handful of upper-division courses. Several renowned pre-vet studies programs are out there, particularly for high school students contemplating a career in veterinary medicine.

Students need to demonstrate their interest in animal science and medicine; high GPAs and GRE scores do not speak for themselves. A robust application includes some pre-DVM experience during the undergraduate years, such as a summer internship. At the very least, veterinary experience hours will go a long way.

As part of the secondary application process, prospective students are required to submit a personal statement and three letters of recommendation. In subsequent stages of the admissions process, applications are ranked by the most recent semester hours for overall GPA and the GPA for science courses and quantitative GRE score and then the top 180 applicants are selected for an interview. For this stage, the admissions committee selects from the top 25% of CA applicants and the top 10% of out-of-state applicants. During the interview, applicants are assessed based on qualities and traits that are not adequately conveyed by GPA or GRE scores.

Western University College of Veterinary Medicine (Pomona, CA)

Western University of Health Sciences
Ryan Hoff, Ethan Allen Park at WesternU, CC BY-SA 4.0

The College of Veterinary Medicine at Western notably ditches the traditional, lecture-based curriculum in favor of an approach that is centered on problem-solving. Through this approach, vet students proactively track their own learning by working in small groups and identifying their own strengths and deficiencies as they progress through the curriculum. For the first two years, students are randomly assigned to small groups and a faculty facilitator who presents a clinical case vignette each week.

Students learn to apply basic knowledge from the medical and general sciences through lab work and seminars in identifying and solving problems within these weekly vignettes. In the final two years, students are exposed to clinical work and patient care at select clinical locations under the guidance of faculty members. Problem-based learning and live-patient care culminate into six-week clinical rotations in the fourth year. Students have a variety of settings and geographic locations to choose from.

Because of the college’s Reverence-for-Life philosophy, students learn surgery and anesthesia through the use of computer simulations, inanimate models, and cadavers supplies though the Willed Deceased Animals for Veterinary Education (WAVE) program. This approach ensures proper and in-depth hands-on training while adhering to one of the college’s core principles.

Because of the school’s proximity to downtown LA, students have access to plentiful and diverse opportunities for applying the knowledge and skills they gain from the curriculum. LA is home to many veterinary practices and hospitals that have partnerships with Western University, such as Banfield Pet Hospital and the LA Zoo. 

Furthermore, there are variety of veterinary student clubs and volunteer opportunities, ranging from the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine to the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. These organizations connect students to plethora volunteer opportunities around LA and beyond.  

Western has drawn high-caliber researchers and practitioners in a wide variety of veterinary medicine specialties. Doctor Peggy Barr, for example, is a world-renowned content expert in animal microbiology and immunology, authoring chapters in animal virology in textbooks and mentoring undergraduates and vet students. Besides being an exemplary and researcher, Barr has been actively involved in outreach programs aimed at encouraging girls and young women to get involved in STEM fields.

Admittance to the veterinary medicine program is very competitive. With that said, it is important for applicants to exceed the minimum requirements. Submission of the primary application, GRE scores, three letters of recommendation, and a minimum GPA of 2.75 are only the bare minimum requirements. Prerequisite coursework in some of the hard sciences, such as organic chemistry, biochemistry, statistics, and microbiology are a must. Applicants should note that in-person labs are also a necessary supplement to these courses. 

The acceptance rate in Fall 2020 was 11%, with the average GPA and GRE score being 3.24 and 151, respectively.

What else does it take to get in? The best admissions committees view applicants as more than stats and stacks of numbers and letter grades. For the veterinary medicine program at Western University, the admissions committee wants dynamic and compassionate vet students who are eager to learn and who embrace the principles of the profession. Given the unique, problem-solving focus of the curriculum, the matriculated applicant demonstrates a capacity and willingness to take an active approach to their education and training.