Becoming a veterinary technician may seem straight forward, but there’s plenty to navigate along the way. How much will it cost? How long will it take? Can I take any of my classes online? The good news is, there are plenty of affordable and properly accredited schools and programs out there to get your career moving forward. And some of them even have online and hybrid options for those who need flexibility. Use this step-by-step guide to plan your vet tech education, learn about salaries, ready your resume, and turn your first interview into a first day on the job.
Should You Become a Vet Tech?
Not everyone is emotionally cut out to handle the challenges of a vet tech career. Before you commit to a two-year training program, address the following questions:
- Can you remain calm under pressure? Vet techs often face life-or-death crises with animals. They need to be quick thinkers and efficiently. They also face pressure from pet owners, veterinarians, and fellow staff members.
- Do you excel in customer care? Pet owners can be emotional. Most care deeply for their pets and can sometimes become angry and demanding. Others don’t care as much as we would like, and you need to be prepared for all the emotions that come with the job.
- Can you be compassionate, but professional during the animal euthanasia process? Pets are lovable companions, but in some cases, euthanasia may be the only solution to end their ceaseless pain. Are you able to assist in the procedure and communicate calmly with owners?
- Are you dexterous? You may be called upon to handle squirming animals, perform injections, draw blood, and operate lab equipment such as X-rays and lab testing equipment.
- Are you willing to undertake ongoing training? Depending on your employer, you may be asked to learn specialties needed for the practice. Many licenses and certifications require a specific number of continuing education credits to maintain your eligibility.
- Do you respond well to criticism? You will be evaluated. What will you do with the feedback? Or, if another employee makes poor decisions or goes against vet treatment standards, you may have to tactfully discuss your observations.
If these questions didn’t throw you, you may be a great candidate for becoming a vet tech. Next, explore the program options and training length that best fits your career objectives.
The Difference Between Vet Technicians and Technologists
Veterinary technicians earn a 2-year associate degree in a veterinary assisting major. They take jobs at pet clinics and hospitals under the supervision of licensed veterinarians. Both campus and online vet tech programs train students to take the national licensing examination for veterinary technicians. Technicians are prepared to conduct laboratory diagnostic tests and assist veterinarians with clinical procedures. They must also know how to tactfully communicate with emotionally-charged pet owners while educating them about ongoing pet care.
Veterinary technologists may also attend an associate degree program, but most employers will require them to hold a bachelor’s degree. Associate’s degree grads can land entry-level, supervised clinical jobs, but a bachelor’s program prepares students for research jobs with colleges, hospitals, laboratories, and related institutions. A bachelor’s degree is required for tech roles in federal agencies. The following table differentiates between two-year and four-year programs, including education, professional roles, and wages:
|Education||Job duties||Median Pay (PayScale)||Job growth|
|Veterinary technologists||4-year bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology||Work in private clinical practices or advanced animal research institutions||Median Pay (PayScale)$40,000||20 percent from 2016 to 2026|
|Veterinary technicians||2-year associate’s degree in a veterinary technology||Work under supervision in clinical practice including administering lab tests and inoculations.||$36,788||20 percent from 2016 to 2026|
Research Vet Tech Programs
The types of degrees and college programs provide vet-tech students with ample options in training. The educational path you choose should depend on your previous education, your career goals, and whether you have completed supervised volunteer work with a veterinarian. Selecting the ideal learning mode for your schedule is crucial. If you have job obligations or commitments to family, a flexible online associate’s degree program can spare you commuting or missing work. The online vet tech course delivery mode utilizes streaming class sessions, email, forums, and multimedia programs.
First, let’s break down your key decisions in finding the right degree:
Choose Your Degree
Depending on your career goals, there are two main types of degrees. Is a two-year associate degree suitable for your objectives? Or are you willing to complete an additional two-years on your training to become a vet technologist? Let’s dive into the particulars:
The short-track path to the vet tech profession, the 2-year degree prepares students to take the mandatory national licensing exams to work in a vet setting. In fact, students must have graduated from an accredited degree program to register for the test. The associate degree is well-matched for students who prefer getting into the field as quickly as possible. You may be required to have experience in a vet clinic or hospital for admission. The 2-year degree also offers an opportunity to evaluate your aptitude for the profession.
For students who are interested in a career as a vet technologist, rather than a vet technician, the minimum degree requirement is usually a bachelor’s degree. These programs take 4 years to complete and generally result in higher income jobs. A bachelor’s degree is required for veterinary government jobs. B.A.S. vet tech degrees are less common, making up only 22 of over 230 accredited Veterinary Technology Programs. Yet a B.A.S is a strong option for students who are seeking advancement or a research career as a vet technologist. The online B.A.S. is suited for leadership aspirants. Coursework covers the tech skills required for an associate’s degree and then augments them with training for positions requiring legal and ethical responsibilities, skills in office and staff management, specialist, and financial roles. A bachelor’s degree can become an educational stepping stone to post-graduate work or vet school.
Many schools simultaneously offer vet tech associate degrees online or on campus with the same curriculum and completion requirements. It’s important to enroll at an accredited institution. Some students may prefer a face-to-face education, but in-person programs don’t offer the same kind of flexibility to full-time workers and parents. With the exception of required on-site clinicals or internships, you can complete your entire degree from any location.
Private, for-profit online veterinary technician schools offer associate degree programs that can be completed in four semesters. Class curriculum includes courses in anesthesia, laboratory procedure, owner communications, and diagnostic imaging. These programs must hold accreditation from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) for their graduates to apply for national licensing. There are drawbacks to choosing these schools. Some may not offer as many specializations as community colleges. CostHelper reports that technical or trade colleges usually charge higher tuition than those assessed at community colleges. Private tech schools can be the best choice for students with a low secondary school GPA or a low post-secondary test score. Tech schools focus entirely on developing career skills and general education limited to biology, mathematics, and English.
Community colleges offer one of the fastest pathways to licensing. Associate’s degrees require half the course units required for four-year graduation. Community college tuition is typically lower than the cost of vocational school or bachelor’s programs. One plus is that academic credits from community colleges may satisfy course requirements when transferring to four-year vet tech programs. On the negative side, online students may find little or no campus life, including participation in student clubs and campus events. Community colleges are ideal for students who want to jump-start their careers without paying high tuition, or for those who want to evaluate their career choice without spending twice their time on learning.
Colleges and universities
Four-year vet tech programs can offer graduates a greater range of career-specific options and a depth of preparation that may qualify graduates for additional clinical procedures. Despite many veterinarian clinics and hospitals recognizing a two-year degree, some of them prefer applicants who have completed a bachelor’s degree. This can be especially true for undertaking research or vet leadership roles. However, not all four-year schools offer a vet tech degree program. They are available, but four-year schools may be better suited for students seeking a vet technologist degree. Other drawbacks include the completion of two years of general education courses, doubling the time and tuition required at the associate’s level.
Can You Become a Vet Tech Online?
Online vet tech programs are offered by community colleges, private career schools, and four-year universities. Exams and classes are conducted entirely online through a course management system, but students must undertake on-site laboratory clinicals. The curriculum mirrors the school’s on-campus programs. It’s crucial that you choose an accredited online program to qualify for national exams. At present, there are 11 online programs accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association. They can be an ideal option for students who cannot attend campus programs.
Make Your Decision
Now you know the type of program and learning model that works with your schedule. The next step is to review “must-have” requirements to narrow down your list of potential schools. Here’s a quick checklist:
Is the school accredited by the AVMA?
AVMA Council on Education represents the highest academic standards for vet tech schools and programs. To become eligible for federal licensing exams, students must be graduated from an AVMA-accredited institution.
Does the program offer multiple training methods?
Schools offering multiple training methods combine the best of all learning options to provide a well-rounded, effective vet tech program. These can include internet courses mixed with hands-on training, mentoring, or cross-training to expose students to a wider range of career skills.
Does the school have a career center?
Career advising and job center programs help students find the right employer for their skill sets. The center provides access to a job board or listings for internships. It also counsels students on the preparation of resumes and cover letters for employers.
Is there on-site training? Do they offer internships?
On-site training is a key component in vet tech school, where students integrate their learning with practical experience. Many pet hospitals, clinics, zoos, and research centers offer internships to vet tech students and graduates. Internships are a good way to get practical experience as well as create a network of professionals in the field.
Can you afford the program?
Crunch the numbers. The school website or admissions office publishes the current tuition. Don’t forget to include any possible costs for commuting/parking, college applications, day care, uniforms, and lab fees. If you’re set on the school and it’s just out of reach, look into the school’s financial aid programs.
Does the length of the program fit your schedule?
Where do you want to be in your career in two years? In four years? Can you sustain the financial commitment and academic rigors for a bachelor’s degree? Even a two-year program can carve into your plans for work and family activities. Decide how much time you can afford to devote to the program.
Apply to Schools
By now you’ve narrowed down your list of prospective schools. It’s time to learn the ropes for gaining admission to the vet tech program. Before you take the step, look into each school’s unique application process and prerequisites for admission to the vet tech program. You’ll also need to know whether the institution offers financial aid. Here are some things to keep in mind as you prepare your applications:
Entrance requirements vary by each school. Four-year programs may require a minimum high school GPA and/or SAT scores. Some schools require previous experience in an animal care setting. Private vocational schools may only require your completed application to enter. In some instances, institutions will look at your high school work to determine if you’re prepared for the program. Here are potential requirements:
- High school courses in science, math, and communications (bachelor’s programs)
- SAT or ACT entrance exams (bachelor’s programs)
- Official high school or previous college transcripts (associate’s or bachelor’s programs)
- Voluntary or paid experience in an animal care, research or animal welfare institution (bachelor’s programs)
Application process & fees
All schools set their own application procedures, requirements, and fees. Surf the websites of schools on your short list and visit their admissions page. In most cases, you can complete their official application online. You may be required by the program to complete prerequisites or document your experience in a vet setting. A completed application may also require delivery of transcripts and other required documents. Fees also vary institution, ranging from $30-$50, with private vocational institutes and four-year colleges at the high end of the scale.
Financing your program
Paying for your vet tech program may seem tough, but each student has options along the way. There are federal grants, loans, scholarships, and many schools provide their own assistance based on your financial needs. Learn more about financial aid.
Pass Your Classes & Complete Clinicals
Many vet tech programs combine online learning with clinical, hands-on classes. Students typically study anatomy, physiology, critical care, pharmacology, diagnostic imaging, veterinary dentistry, and laboratory animal medicine. Online programs still require onsite clinical labs and vet tech internships. Seek help from the school if you find trouble passing your classes. One way to thrive is to stay current, or even ahead, in the coursework. Clinical externships and courses require commuting, so plan wisely. Four-year degree programs amp up the general education requirements. Be prepared for a course load in subjects that may not interest you. If you’re learning online, be sure to balance your studies with breaks for fun and family.
Pass the VTNE & Get Licensed
Passing the Veterinary Technical National Exam (VTNE) is an important requirement for working in most states. It allows you to become professionally licensed with the designation of Certified Veterinary Technician. Even if you are planning to practice in a state that does not require it, the certification goes a long way to display your competence to employers. Each state establishes the minimum passing score for licensing. After passing the VTNE, you must register with the state’s Veterinary Licensing Board. Regulatory board requirements vary by state. Your vet tech program should prepare you to pass the VTNE, covering the subject matter and providing online practice tests. The computer-based exam is offered three times a year. The AAVSB handbook will walk you through the application process and assist you in applying to take the exam. Before applying, check to see if you’re eligible to take the exam. The application fee is $320.
What’s on the Exam
The three-hour exam is timed and comprised of 170 multiple-choice questions. The VTNE tests your knowledge of nine focus areas: Anesthesia, Emergency Medicine/Critical Care, Pharmacy & Pharmacology, Pain Management/Analgesia, Dentistry, Laboratory Procedures, Diagnostic Imaging, Animal Care and Nursing, Surgical Nursing.
How to Prepare for the VTNE
Your school should provide sample questions and guidance for passing the exam. There are also paid exam prep courses, study habit/time management guides online, including from the AAVSB. Be sure to prepare for three months or longer to take the exam and consider setting up a study schedule. Here are four resources for prepping:
Retaking the exam
Individual states set their own regulations for the number of times a vet tech can take the VTNE. They vary from as few as three, to more than five. Each time, the tech must submit a new application and the $320 fee.
Gain Additional Certifications
Going for a specialty certification depends on where you want to your career to go. They are also a great way to set yourself apart from other job candidates. For students wanting to work in a research field, there are three fully recognized technician certifications offered by the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS): Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician (ALAT), Laboratory Animal Technician (LAT), and Laboratory Animal Technologist (LATG). Also, according to the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA), there are 16 specializations with provisional recognition, each with its own organizations, websites, and processes for completion.
Becoming a specialized veterinary technician can take from two to five years. Is it worth it? According to DVM360, once a vet tech attains a VTS designation, there is a customary increase in earnings.
Certifications offered by the American Association of Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) include the Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician (ALAT) for work as a supervised assistant in a clinical laboratory, Laboratory Animal Technician (LAT) for work directly with animals, animal hospitals or research laboratory facilities. Laboratory Animal Technologist (LATG) for work in biomedical research facilities.
The Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Clinical Practice recognizes these VTS specialties:
- Clinical Practice (Exotic Companion Animal)
- Clinical Practice (Production Medicine)
- Clinical Practice (Small Animal- Canine/Feline)
- Clinical Practice (Small Animal- Feline)
There are numerous specialty certifications a vet tech can pursue after gaining on-the-job experience in fields including:
- Animal Nutrition
- Animal behavior
- Clinical pathology
- Equine nursing
- Emergency/critical care
- Internal or Zoological medicine
Create a Winning Resume
Your winning resume and cover letter should clearly identify your skills, professional experience, and vet tech training. Include your accomplishments and how your experience and skills directly match the job description. That’s why you should tailor each resume and cover letter to each potential clinic or hospital. Citing your experience, education, and skills upfront can separate you from other applicants or compel the organization to interview you. Here are some resume and cover-letter templates designed specifically for vet techs:
Cover letter examples:
Ace the Interview
If you’ve been invited to interview, realize that the organization is already attracted to you. Now it’s up to you to win the job through your preparedness and outlook. If you receive a working interview, you’ll learn more about the employer and give them a chance to see you as you work. They may even give you feedback to see how you handle criticism. Here are some time-tested strategies for nailing the dismount:
Prepare for these industry-specific interview questions:
- How would you deal with having to euthanize a pet?
- How would you deal with clients that are argumentative or opinionated?
- How can you protect a dog from deadly heartworm disease?
- Can you work shifts from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., alone on weekends, or when you’re called to the clinic?
- Are you interested in a particular veterinary specialty?
- Tell me about your experience with administering medications to animals.
- Why do you want to work here?
Dress professionally, but don’t overdo it
Vet techs should dress in business casual attire. For men, this means slacks, a tie, and button-down shirt. For women, wear pants or skirts, along with a neatly pressed blouse or sweater. Avoid polo or t-shirts at all costs. Depending on the Practice, you might want to cover tattoos or remove any facial hardware.
Practice in front of a mirror
Body language counts. Be friendly and relaxed. Be polite with the office staff you meet. Sit up straight and smile. Don’t cross your arms. Listen attentively. Make eye contact without staring. Avoid grooming yourself, dusting off dandruff, or otherwise indicating that you’re sloppy. Be sure to shake hands when meeting the interviewer and on your way out.
Learn as much as possible about the clinic or hospital from their website. Talk to local pet shops for recommendations. Ask the interviewer questions related to hours, policies, job roles, and veterinarian specialties. Ask about the clientele.
Plan in advance how to respond to tough questions with a positive spin. Don’t rant about the shortcomings of your previous employers or hospitals. When asked about your shortcomings, respond with how you addressed or improved on them, or your strategies going forward. Emphasize the vet tech skills you bring to the practice. Confidently discuss your abilities to create a good customer experience.