So you want to become a vet tech? Between finding the right school and landing your first job, there’s a lot to think about along the way. The good news is, a little research and guidance from the right people can take you from an uncertain first step to a confident and successful last one. Here are four key questions you should ask yourself before applying to programs, and three more things you should consider once you’re ready to move forward.
Why do you want to go to vet tech school?
Before getting any further, you need to know why you want to become a vet tech. The reason may be different for everyone, but there’s usually a common theme: you want to work with and help both animals and people. While you may think a desire to help animals is all you need, the desire to help people is also imperative. You should also enjoy studying medicine, science, and math, because you’ll get plenty of all three. The National Association of Veterinary Technicians, NAVTA, has some excellent resources for aspiring vet techs, including information on the role’s specifics from medicine and surgery, to behavior and husbandry
What types of animals do you want to work with? Do you want to have a specialty? Where do you want to work? The options are endless in veterinary medicine, from small animal general practices where you assist small animal veterinarians in medicine and surgery, to large animal practices where you help vets and farmers with their livestock. Are you interested in a specialty where you can focus on one specific thing such as surgery, emergency medicine, anesthesia, dermatology, or ophthalmology? Do you like teaching? If so, consider a teaching veterinary hospital or even teaching other veterinary technicians. Do you prefer a traditional general practice, emergency room, lab, or zoo? All of these places need vet techs. To learn more about the different specialties available to vet techs, check out Step 6 on our page on how to become a vet tech page.
There are a few options for your degree, do you want to be a veterinary assistant? Typically, vet assistants can’t do as much as veterinary technicians, but the schooling is shorter which works better for some students. As a veterinary technician you can choose from the more common 2-year degree or the longer 4-year degree depending on what your long-term careers goals are. For example, students who plan to become vet techs as a stepping stone to a career as a veterinarian, opting for a bachelor’s program can be beneficial in achieving their long-term goals.
Typically, fully-online vet tech programs don’t exist and every program will have some hands-on portion. Because the veterinary profession is extremely hands-on, students will be better prepared if they attend in-person labs and gain experience working directly with animals from their professors. The AVMA explains that there are distance learning programs to accommodate students who can’t visit an on-campus program on a weekly basis. However, these students will need sponsorship from a licensed veterinarian to complete their required clinical hours. These different education options give vet tech students the option of what learning method works best for them. Whether you work better alone or in groups, or from a computer or a professor, there is a vet tech program for you.
Doing your research is one of the most important steps in finding the right vet tech program for your needs. Research what veterinary technical schools are close to you and see if you qualify for any local schools with in-state tuition to help keep your costs to a minimum and decrease the amount of time you’ll spend traveling to campus. If there are no programs with campuses near you and if you’re unable to relocate for school, research the best online vet tech programs and how distance learning work. The more research you do before starting your education, the more prepared you’ll be and the better you’ll do.
The cost of tuition can play a huge role in where you decide to go to vet tech school. In-state tuition is usually more affordable, so choosing a program in your state can really help cut costs. See where you qualify for in-state tuition and research their vet tech programs. It may be beneficial to choose a local program initially and transfer to an out-of-state school if you decide to pursue a more advanced degree. Looking into financial aid and scholarships for vet techs early can also make a big difference in the total cost you end up with.
When choosing your veterinary technician program, the accreditation of the school is extremely important. The AVMA has an updated list of what schools have their accreditation. In order to sit for the VTNE or the Veterinary Technician National Exam, the final step in becoming a vet tech, you must graduate from an accredited vet tech program. Researching the accreditation of your program should be one of the first things you do when considering training. It may also be helpful for you to research some statistics regarding your schools of interest. What kind of pass rates do their students have for the VTNE? Accredited programs are more likely to have student resources in place to help you find success in your field.
Finally, when making the big decision about which vet tech program is for you, ask around. Word of mouth is a great, underutilized tool. Ask former graduates what they thought of the program and if it properly prepared them for their career. Talk to clinics in town and ask the managers or veterinarians if they have noticed which programs have graduated their top performing technicians. Talk to instructors at the schools to see if their teaching style would work with your learning style. Tour the schools to find where you feel you would be most comfortable learning.
These are just some of the things to consider when finding the best vet tech program for you. The veterinary technician profession is looking for more passionate technicians to join the workforce. If you have a great work ethic and passion for animals, job security won’t be a concern in your career. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, vet techs make, on average, $34,420 per year, and jobs are plenty. Remember to do your research and don’t forget that vet techs have wonderful and fulfilling careers and you want your education to get you started out on the best foot forward.