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Is Becoming a Veterinarian Worth It?

Is Becoming a Veterinarian Worth It?
Rebecca Safier
Rebecca SafierUpdated September 8, 2023
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If you love caring for animals, you may be considering heading to veterinary school to train as a veterinarian. Working as a vet can be a rewarding and fulfilling career that makes a difference in the lives of animals and humans alike. However, you’ll have to commit to four additional years of schooling and may need to take on student loan debt in the process. If you’re wondering if being a vet is worth it, here are some factors to reflect upon as you make this big decision. 

Education and Tuition 

Becoming a veterinarian involves rigorous educational requirements. You’ll need to earn your Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DMV) degree, which requires four years of schooling in addition to the four years you already spent as an undergraduate. Getting into veterinary school is competitive, as there are only 32 accredited vet schools in the U.S. Along with meeting admissions requirements, you’ll need to fulfill prerequisites, which typically involve courses in biology, chemistry, and related subjects. According to the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges, the median annual tuition rate for veterinary school is $32,000 for in-state students and $53,000 for out-of-state students. That adds up to $128,000 to $212,000 in tuition over four years. The cost of vet school may be highest at private institutions. Along with earning your degree, you might take part in internships or specialized certification programs. After graduating, you’ll need to pass a licensing exam in your state in order to be qualified to work as a veterinarian. 

Veterinarian Salary and Earning Potential

As for how much vets make, they earn a higher-than-average salary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for vets is $100,370. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) puts the average starting salary for vets who are employed full-time at $111,242. Income can vary, though, based on a variety of factors, including your area of specialization, years of experience, and geographic location. For example, AVMA says that veterinarians that provide care for companion animals like dogs and cats have significantly higher salaries than vets in equine practice. You may also find that starting salaries are higher in urban areas than rural ones. That said, your cost of living may also be higher, which is something worth accounting for when predicting your future salary and how it will impact your quality of life. Recommended: Average Salary of College Graduates

Job Satisfaction

A passion for working with and caring for animals is a key part of the decision of whether or not to become a veterinarian. If you love caring for furry, scaly, and aquatic friends, you might find working as a veterinarian to be deeply fulfilling. You’ll experience the joy of helping animals and making a positive impact on pet owners’ lives. In fact, CareerExplorer found that vets rank among the top 20% of all professions for job satisfaction. At the same time, this work can be emotionally challenging. You may be dealing with sick and injured animals, as well as providing euthanasia and consoling aggrieved pet parents. The work can also be physically demanding and has some risks involved, from dealing with sickness and infection to treating potentially aggressive animals. 

Work-Life Balance and Job Demands

Many veterinary practices operate during normal business hours, giving veterinarians a high degree of work-life balance. If you work in an emergency clinic setting, though, you may have to work nights and weekends or be on-call for emergency situations, which could be time-consuming and stressful. Some veterinarians go into private practice, which allows them to set their own schedules. Running your own business has its own set of challenges, though, and may require you to become skilled in marketing and managing how clients pay for vet bills along with providing veterinary services. Recommended: How to Start Your Own Business

Job Outlook and Security

The job outlook for veterinarians in the coming years is strong. BLS predicts a 19% increase in employment opportunities for vets through 2031, which is significantly faster than the average growth rate for other occupations. Market demand will likely vary depending on where you look for employment. Some veterinary graduates go on to work in clinics that care for domestic pets or open their own practice. Others choose to work at zoos, aquariums, farms, or wildlife sanctuaries. And some may head to rural areas or find positions through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Safety Inspection Service, which is the largest employer of veterinarians in the country. 

Student Loan Debt and Financial Considerations

The cost of veterinary school may have a major impact on your decision of whether or not to attend. According to AVMA, the average veterinary student who borrows student loans owes $186,430 upon graduation. If you borrow for vet school, you usually don’t have to start paying your student loans while you’re in school or for six months after you graduate. That said, you could opt to pay off the interest while you're in school to prevent your balance from ballooning. Once you graduate, you have a few options for managing your student loans. If you owe federal student loans, for instance, you could apply for an income-driven repayment plan, which will adjust your monthly payment according to your income. You can also explore student loan forgiveness and repayment assistance programs. Some states offer student loan assistance to veterinarians who work in rural or shortage areas. This Maine student loan forgiveness guide, for instance, goes over the details of Maine’s Veterinary Medicine Loan Program Forgiveness program.You might also explore refinancing your student loans if you can qualify for a better interest rate. Reducing your interest rate can save you money over the life of your loans and potentially help you pay them off faster. Be cautious about refinancing federal student loans, though, since doing so turns them private and means losing access to federal repayment plans, forgiveness programs, and other benefits. 

The Takeaway

In the end, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of whether or not to become a veterinarian. This career path is both rewarding and challenging, and it requires serious dedication and a passion for working with animals. Unless you can cover the costs of veterinary school out of pocket, you may also need to be prepared to take on student loan debt. If you’re planning to borrow (or already have), explore your options for repayment plans, forgiveness programs, and repayment assistance. If you’re interested in refinancing your student loans for better rates, Lantern can help you find and compare leading student loan refinance offers.

Frequently Asked Questions

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About the Author

Rebecca Safier

Rebecca Safier

Rebecca Safier has nearly a decade of experience writing about personal finance. Formerly a senior writer with LendingTree and Student Loan Hero, she specializes in student loans, financial aid, and personal loans. She is certified as a student loan counselor with the National Association of Certified Credit Counselors (NACCC).
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