The Official Houston SPCA Humane Education Blog

Teaching us about our animal friends

So You Want a Career in Animal Welfare – PART 3

In parts 1 and 2 of this series we discussed the best ways to get a career in the animal welfare field when attending high school, community college, or a 4-year college / university.

We have now arrived at that wonderful, life-changing, pocket-emptying, sleep depriving, degree obtaining experience of graduate school.

There are many different types of graduate school – medical school, law school, veterinary school, master’s programs and doctoral programs. Depending on what you want to do with the rest of your life, the choice for graduate school can be very easy or very difficult.

During your junior year of college you will want to start preparing to apply to whichever graduate school you wish to attend. This will be determined by what animal welfare career choice you wish to make.

Want to be a veterinarian? Start researching vet schools (hint – there are only about 27 vet schools in the U.S. so it narrows it down a bit for you).

Want to be an animal rights lawyer or lobbyist? Start researching law schools (there are over 200 of these so the choice might be more difficult).

Want to be a marine biologist or wildlife researcher? Start researching graduate programs for your master’s or PhD (this will be more like the first time you applied to college – hundreds of choices!).

And you thought you were done with testing after you took the SATs…

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More tests?!

Each graduate program will require you to take an entrance exam before applying. You WILL need to study for these just like you studied for your SATs (you did study for your SATs right?). These will be difficult, there is no denying it. Be prepared to be up late at night studying flashcards and doing math problems you haven’t done since high school.

To apply to a master’s or PhD program you will need to take the GRE – Graduate Record Examinations. This test will consist of verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, analytical writing, and critical thinking skills that they think you should have acquired in your time at college. They do not test you on any particularly specific thing. There are many books and study guides out there to help you prepare for the GRE. The GRE is a computer based test that your college will most likely proctor at certain dates throughout the school year. Sign up for those at the end of your junior year or very beginning of your senior year of college.

To apply to veterinary school you will need to take the GRE or the MCAT – Medical College Admission Test. Some vet schools will take the MCAT in lieu of the GRE so it really depends on where you are applying and which test you think you will do best on. The MCAT is a tough one, though, so choose wisely.

To apply to law school you will need to take the LSAT – Law School Admissions Test. The LSAT is a half-day standardized test administered four times each year at designated testing centers throughout the world. It is designed to assess reading comprehension, logical, and verbal reasoning proficiencies.

So you’ve taken your entrance exams and want to apply to graduate programs – what else do you need?

There are going to be many things you need to get into graduate school other than your entrance exam scores.

First, keep your grades up! Do not slack off junior or senior year – keep that GPA high. You will be competing with some of the best minds in the world so you will want to keep working hard to earn that bachelor’s degree.

You will need letters of recommendation – and no, your mom and dad can’t write them for you (even if you are their special little bundle of joy)! You will have to ask professors you are close to, your employer, or college advisers to write glowing letters of recommendation to send to the schools you are applying to. This may seem really really awkward at first BUT they are used to being asked to write letters for students so do not be afraid to ask them. The worst they can say is ‘no’ and then you move on to another person. Make sure to ask people who actually like you… it could be bad if you send graduate programs letters that don’t paint you in the best light.

Something you may need to do (not all programs do this) is contact a faculty member in the department you are applying to so they can sponsor your application. Again, this may seem awkward but all you need to do is e-mail them or call them and hopefully they will help you out. Do not be afraid!

Lastly – essays. Be prepared to write a bunch of essays. At least you can type them so your hands won’t hurt but they will want to know more about you and why you want to attend. Write them with passion and full of the best parts of yourself. Do not hold back! Show them how amazing you are!

OK you’ve applied, gotten into your top vet school / law school / graduate school … now what?

Be prepared to have absolutely positively no social life for a few years! I promise it will be worth it!

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That deadline isn’t going to go away anytime soon!

You are going to work really hard while in your graduate program. You will have sleepless nights, endless amounts of research to do, classes you will have to teach, papers you will have to submit for publication, surgical practice, and so much more.

  • A master’s program will take approximately 2 years of study and if you wish to continue on to obtain your doctorate (PhD) you will have another 2-6 years and a thesis to create.
  • A law degree will take 3 years of study and you will then have to pass the Bar Examination to obtain your Juris Doctor or J.D.
  • You will spend 4 years in veterinary school, after which you will have internships and residencies to complete your training as a vet. After your four years you will have to pass a Veterinary Board Exam to get your degree as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.

After all of that, you have the degree you want and now you are ready to enter the field of working with animals. What do you need to do?

Apply. Apply. Apply.

Find positions that would fit your qualifications and work towards getting that job.

Graduates from vet school should find a practice to do their residency (a time in which you are learning specific surgical or medical practices from a veteran in the field).

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Law school graduates should start researching practices that work towards animal rights or represent animals against cruelty and neglect. If they want to be a lobbyist, find an animal welfare organization that needs help and start speaking out for them.

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If you have obtained your master’s or doctorate in an animal welfare related field, you will probably already be working for a university in that field. You will want to try to establish yourself with that college/university and obtain tenure (so they can’t get rid of you). Keep doing what you love – you have already made it!

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Still can’t find a position working with or for animals?  

Start from the bottom – even though you probably have loads of debt from school (we all do) you may need to start in an entry level position to work your way up. That probably isn’t what you want to hear but hard work always pays off in the end. Your education will pay you back when you work your way up the ladder.

And now – you have the animal welfare career you have always wanted – enjoy life! Work hard and live well. Share you love of animals with the world!

Check back every week for a new post all about animals and education!

Check out http://www.HoustonSPCA.org to see all of the amazing animals we have available for adoption!

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