Advice to Students
Let's start with pre-veterinary, the area of most interest. For now, I'll focus on undergraduates but will be adding a sections for high school students (and earlier). You need relevant experience, excellent grades and test scores, and prerequisite classes. Vet schools want to make sure that you understand what a veterinarian does and that you will contribute to the class and the profession.
As an undergraduate, take advantage of all of the resources offered, including opportunities to volunteer and the help of pre-vet and major advisors.
While volunteering is important, do not sacrifice your grades to do it. If your grades slide, your experience will not compensate (in almost every case). You will have time to volunteer later.
You have to take science prerequisites, but you do not have to major in science.
Shadowing (or following a veterinarian) is a great start. Build on it. There are so many areas to look at--small animal practices; large animal practices; public health; shelter animals; zoos; specialty areas such as dermatology and neurology. Explore and enjoy the journey.
After shadowing, dig in. Find hands-on opportunities. You may even want to do research. You can also create your own projects to help animals.
Don't tie yourself to a timetable. You may not want to hear this. Take time if you need it. There is no rule that says you have to attend vet school the year you receive your undergraduate degree. You may even decide to take a gap year and travel or work after graduation.
Take advantage of your college resources. Talk to your advisors. You can also network with alumni in the field. Join the pre-vet club. Start one if it doesn't exist. When the time comes, ask your advisor to review your essays.
This site includes timeline handouts and advice to parents. It will be helpful to all pre-vet students at all universities.
Next topic: How to find an externship or internship.