Personal statement advice: veterinary medicine

The competition is tough for aspiring vets – so along with good grades, you'll need an impressive personal statement that sets you apart from the crowd. Here's how to do it.

The University of Liverpool's veterinary science department gets straight to the point when it comes to making an application to its veterinary science department: 'the competition is fierce.'

This is where a good personal statement can be an asset. 'Most applicants will have good predicted grades and references, so your personal statement is your main opportunity to set yourself apart from the rest,’ the Royal Veterinary College adds.

Work experience: do your research

Normally, you will need to have a range of relevant work experience before you apply and to reflect on this in your statement. The quality of your insights into the profession is crucial.

You also need to be clear about what individual veterinary schools expect, because it varies. For instance, Liverpool requires a minimum of ten weeks’ experience, while most others require a minimum of four or six weeks. The range of experience typically needs to include:

  • at least one veterinary practice
  • working with large domestic animals on a livestock farm, especially dairy or lambing
  • other animal experience such as stables, kennels, catteries, zoos, wildlife, or rescue centres, pig or poultry farms, or something more unusual

A day at an abattoir may be especially beneficial, and observing research in a veterinary or biomedical laboratory could be valuable too.

Do note that the University of Cambridge's requirements are slightly different, as they are more concerned about your interest in 'the scientific principles that underlie both the health and disease of animals.' They do require you to demonstrate a commitment to the profession and say that some experience will be useful, but they don't want you to give up on your other extra-curricular interests for the sake of gaining extensive work experience.

It's essential to research this in detail beforehand. Check out department websites and, where possible, attend open days or events.

Getting the balance and flow right

With the required experience under your belt, the next step is to achieve the right balance between brevity and detail in your statement, and to gear it to what your chosen universities are looking for. It will probably be a challenge to condense it all down to 47 lines, but here are some key points you could include:

  • Motivation: show what has motivated you to follow this career path. Be specific, and make it current or recent. What aspects are of special interest to you? Where do you hope the degree will lead? Reflect on what it is that’s driving you now, not something out-of-date.
  • Experience: provide some detailed evidence that shows you’re realistic and informed about the challenges you will face. Describe some of your experiences and observations, both of veterinary practice and from your wider animal experience. Get the balance right. They want you to show the breadth of your experience, but they want depth as well. Try to write briefly but reflectively about some of the highlights and what you learned from them. Also, try to include something that demonstrates your understanding of why interpersonal skills are crucial.
  • Academic interests and wider reading: give them a glimpse of your current academic and scientific interests, whether it’s from your studies, a project or issues you’ve come across in journals, books, blogs, events you’ve attended, and so on. If Cambridge is amongst your choices, it’s especially important to demonstrate your intellectual curiosity and your passion for science.
  • Extra-curricular activities: demonstrate your resilience, initiative, self-motivation, compassion, or other relevant transferable skills. This could be through the contribution you have made to school, college, or community activities, volunteering, your part-time work, or any wider interests, personal achievements, or responsibilities. Again, be specific!

Then consider the flow of your statement. Tell them enough to engage them and win yourself an interview, but leave enough unsaid that can be discussed in more depth at the interview itself. Remember that everything you write could be used as an interview starting point.