In this interview with Caitlin, you will learn how to directly strengthen your application if you do not gain admittance the first time around. Among other things, Caitlin invigorated her letters of recommendation (she goes into detail on exactly how she went about it). After she took a gap year to work on enhancing her application, Caitlin got into The University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. On average The UF vet school accepts about 25 out of state residents each application cycle. You can see the UF vet school admitted class statistics here.
Name, veterinary school attended, and year that you started after your gap year.
Caitlin Holly, University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, started August 2018
Who are the animals that you currently share your life with?
I share my apartment with my 14-year-old Red Heeler Chloe and my 2-year-old kitty cat Lucy.
How do you balance caring for them with classes?
Chloe is walked three times a day- once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once before bed. Most days classes are out early enough that I can do her afternoon walk when I’m done for the day (around 4 or 5) but there have been times I’ve had to make a quick circle home to take care of her and go back to school. While I was apartment shopping I kept that in mind and stayed within 10-15 minutes of the school after peak traffic was accounted for. When I’m home studying, I make up for all the time I’m gone and toss some toys around or let them onto the couch with me. We also have a group chat for the students in my class to make plans for getting together at a dog park when we aren’t as busy.
Do you think there were any specific experiences or items on your application that helped to strengthen it? Did the gap year help?
Absolutely! One thing that I’ve come to believe rather strongly between my two application cycles is that it isn’t your GPA or veterinary and animal hours that get you noticed- those are qualifiers that at least 100 other applicants will have. It’s the experiences and opportunities that belong uniquely to you that will make you catch a school’s attention. For me, I believe that was my time in marching band (6 years and over 100 hours) in both high school and undergrad and the two years I spent as a pharmacy technician for Walgreens (around 800 hours).
Where did you attend undergrad and what was your major?
I attended UCF 2014 – 2017 and majored in Biology
Did you apply for vet school after, or during your Bachelor’s education?
Both! I applied my senior year and was not invited for an interview, then again after taking a gap year the summer after graduating.
Did you attend grad school?
I did not.
At what age did you first apply to vet school?
My first application was sent in when I was 20. I would have been 21 by the time of starting school if accepted. After my gap year, I was 21 when accepted and turned 22 before starting.
How many schools/application cycles did you apply to before being accepted?
I applied for the 2017 matriculation to only UF. After taking a gap year I applied for 2018 matriculation once again to UF, but also Midwestern University, Lincoln Memorial University, and Western University.
Were you waitlisted at any school?
I was not waitlisted for any programs either cycle.
How many schools invited you for an interview?
I was not invited for an interview in my first cycle. My second cycle, all four programs invited me to interview with them. I attended all except Western.
How many of those gave you an acceptance letter?
All three that I attended interviews for!
If you were accepted to more than one school, what were some reasons for your choice of school?
My biggest reason for choosing UF was the in-state tuition. At the end of the day, all other factors aside, that probably would have reigned. That said, the other two schools I was accepted to (MWU and LMU) are both very new programs (they weren’t even accredited yet at the time) and while that has some perks (brand new facilities!) it also means they lack some of the benefits that come from being at a veterinary school with a rich history, established clubs and annual programs, etc. UF has a very well rounded program with opportunities in Public Health, Zoo, and Exotic medicine, Aquatic medicine, Shelter medicine, among many other special interests, and it was important to me to have those opportunities available to explore and identify my passions. This is also my first time away from home, and it’s nice to still be relatively close.
Do you remember any specifically challenging interview questions?
Oh yeah. For me, the standard “What is your greatest weakness and greatest strength” question is tough because I feel like it’s a balancing game between talking up your strength without sounding conceited or too self-confident, while also spinning your weakness in a way that shows you can compensate for it or are working on building it up.
I was also hit with a curveball though- at the time I interviewed, the issue of importing hunting trophies was hot in the news, as the White House flipped back and forth on its position on the matter. I was asked to elaborate on my own opinion regarding the issue (importation of foreign hunting trophies) and discuss why I felt that way. Luckily I had taken a course on Human-Animal Interactions and was well-versed on the topic.
What was your GPA (in undergraduate)?
3.5 overall, 3.3 science, 3.1 last 45
(Down from the 3.59 overall my first application cycle)
What was your GRE score?
167 (98th) verbal, 160 (76th) quantitative, 5.5 (98th) analytical writing
GRE at Magoosh.com!How many extracurricular activities did you list on your application?
Pre-Vet Society Member (80 h)
Marching Knight, UCF (448 h)
High school marching band (560 h)
I also listed two other clubs I was active in high school, a math honor society, and Latin club
Did you have exotic, large, and small animal experience prior to applying?
I had 84 hours in wildlife rehabilitation, 120 hours with an equine and large animal veterinarian (shadowing), and 1360 hours at a single doctor private practice that was exclusively small animal (hands-on volunteer/tech assistant)
Did you join student clubs in your DVM program? If so, which ones? Were they helpful?
Yes! The clubs are helpful for remembering why you’re here when the academic avalanche can make it easy to forget, and they also offer so many extracurricular opportunities for events and networking. Every club has meetings with speakers that come in to talk about some facet of veterinary medicine related to the club, and also hosts wet labs for active members. I’m active with the Wildlife, Zoo, Aquatic Animal Medicine club, and you can volunteer with the zoo ward at the hospital through this club. I’m active in the Shelter Medicine club and actually had the opportunity as a first-year to neuter a cat (under direct supervision) last semester. Through the Veterinarians in One Health club (which I’m President of for the upcoming academic year) I was able to get a three-year operations level certification in technical animal rescue and can deploy with our disaster relief team in the future. I also was able to travel to the CDC in Atlanta,
GA through this club. I’ve attended sporadic meetings from other clubs as well throughout the semester- all club meetings are open to the entire CVM student body.
Who gave you your letters of recommendation? Did you know them well?
Both application cycles, my veterinary letter of recommendation came from the practitioner at the small animal hospital where I got the majority of my hours. The first time, UF informed me that one of the weaker parts of my application was my recommendations. Nothing bad was written about me, but it seemed as though neither my veterinarian nor my manager from Walgreens knew me very well. I spent more time shadowing under that veterinarian before the next cycle and was told the letter was much stronger. I replaced the letter from my manager with a letter from the pharmacist that I began working under between the two cycles. I worked every week directly with this pharmacist and we knew each other very well- he was also a UF graduate, and I was told at my interview he wrote me a glowing recommendation.
Also both cycles, I was given an academic recommendation from my pre-veterinary advisor and professor for several classes. I was told this letter was very strong both times and it was re-written between cycles. My first time applying I had taken Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy with him which was a 5-days a week class with both lab and lecture components. By the second time I applied, I had also taken Mammalogy with him and done my animal behavior research through a course he conducted. I would say that we knew each other pretty well, especially by the end of my second time applying. He’s my best academic mentor and someone I look up to a lot.
Did you find the application process stressful? Why or why not?
Oh my god, yes. The hardest part of vet school is getting into vet school. The period between applications opening and closing was the most stressed I’ve ever been in my life. VMCAS is approachable, organized, and easy to use. It isn’t anything about the process itself that generates stress for it, rather for me it was agonizing over every detail and reflecting on my experiences and grades and choices and wondering if any of it was going to be good enough, what I could or should have done differently, etc. I don’t think I would be able to talk my past self out of it, but if I could, I would just say “breath, do the application, and let it go.”
Are you happy that you chose this career? What makes you most happy about this career choice?
Yes, I am so happy with this career choice. Veterinary medicine is a world of endless possibilities. You can work on any species (except humans), you can be in a clinic, you can work with wildlife and conservation, you can conduct research or supervise research or join academia as a professor- you can go into politics, pursue public health, work with the CDC on disease outbreaks, help with disaster relief and response, the list honestly
never ends. You can use the same degree for a different career every 5 years if that’s what you want- the world really does become your oyster.
Do you have any advice for students, once accepted? Any study tips?
Review anatomy the summer before you start, especially if you’ve never had anatomy before. There are some terms that are like a foreign language (dorsal, ventral, cranial, caudal, lateral, medial, etc) that once you know anatomy becomes far more intuitive. Look for apartments early, connect with your new classmates, and get yourself settled well before school is due to start.
Stay on top of your studying but forgive yourself for taking time to yourself. C = DVM, you made it. You worked so hard to get here, and you don’t want to make yourself miserable by spending every waking hour studying. It isn’t necessary and it will get you burnt out quickly. Just pay attention in class and set aside some hours in the morning, evening, or weekend to review in chunks.
What have been some of your favorite classes, within your DVM program? What has been the most challenging class, in your DVM program so far?
I thoroughly enjoyed Endocrinology and Immunology. My favorite class so far has probably been our Ethics and Animal Welfare course, which was discussion-driven and included bringing in professionals from various specialties to discuss specific issues, such as dairy welfare, the state of feral horses, control of feral cat populations, and zoo animal welfare. The most challenging class for me so far has been large animal anatomy. I’m very much not a large animal focused person and I don’t enjoy the anatomy lab as it is.
As a student, did you have to take out loans for your education? If so, are you concerned about the amount of debt you will have after graduation?
Yes- I’m living entirely off of loans, to cover tuition, housing, and other various living expenses. It comes to just over $50,000 / academic year as an in-state student. I’m not concerned about the debt. I’ll be doing what I love, which is what matters most to me, and I intend to do income-driven repayment.
Is there anything in particular about your DVM program or the school itself that you like?
I love the variety of student-run clubs at UF. I also like the somewhat different schedule we follow- you start clinics the summer between your second and third year and continue through the fall of your third year. Spring of your third year and fall of your fourth year, you go back to didactic courses before finishing with clinics in the spring of your fourth year. I think having a chance to get your feet wet with some clinical cases before returning for your most difficult classes is important- it provides a real-world context that you’d lack otherwise.
Does your school offer study/review sessions held by upper-class students?
Not currently but we do have a tutoring service offered through the school and I have no doubts that there are upperclassmen who would be willing to hold study or review sessions for the younger classes (me included!).
Do you have any advice for students thinking about attending your University?
Come to our annual open house, explore the campus, and reach out to our pre-vet advisor, Alex Avelino.
At this point do you think you will have a specialty?
My strongest interest is in Public Health and the One Health Initiative. I’m not sure I’ll pursue any additional boarded veterinary specialties but I may pursue a Master’s in Public Health.
As a student have you had any challenging cases yet?
I have not yet been on clinics.
Do you work a paid job while attending the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine? If not did you know of anyone who did?
I’m still employed with the hospital I worked for in Orlando, and I work shifts over the holiday. I have classmates that work paid jobs on the weekends, some veterinary-related and some not. It’s definitely doable, but you need to manage your time and study habits well.
Have you read or listened to anything worth sharing (doesn’t have to be Vet related)?
Zoobiquity – Barbara Natterson-Horowitz & Kathryn Bowers
A short book on the parallels between human and animal health, and a great read. Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic – David Quammen
Details historical emergent zoonotic diseases and discusses the processes of isolating reservoir species and identifying the point of ‘spillover’ into human populations. Reads like fiction- very captivating.
Do you have any last words of wisdom?
Be yourself, in your application and at your interviews. Don’t stress. It isn’t the end of the world if you don’t get in your first try- I would not trade my gap year for a first cycle admission, even if given the option. If you’re feeling even a little burnt out from school, it will only compound in vet school- don’t be afraid to work for a year, get more experience, or just take some time to yourself. It can strengthen your application and it’s just good for your mental health.
Include non-vet, non-animal hours. If you worked in retail, if you were a server, if you did dance or choir or band- you include that. It makes you unique and it shows you’re well-rounded.
When it’s time to interview, the biggest thing that helped my nerves was remembering this:
It isn’t just the school interviewing you- it’s you interviewing the school. You are a strong candidate that deserves to be walking those halls and you wouldn’t have been invited to interview if that weren’t the case. Show the school why they want you there- have the confidence to be yourself.
How can people find you? (Social media or email)
I’m a member of the APVMA Facebook group and do not mind Facebook messages at all. I can also be reached at my school email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or via my website https://www.docofalltrades.net
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Read Interviews with Other Students Who Took a Gap Year