Competing with the Big Dogs

by Natasha Evdokimoff

Two Arts & Science alumni say the U of L gave them a leg up when applying to veterinary school

Getting into veterinary school is no easy feat. Thousands of hopeful students apply each year for a meager number of new openings. Everyone who applies has great marks – that’s given. So the difference between being accepted and getting a rejection letter often comes down to having an undergrad experience that stands out from the crowd.

University of Lethbridge alum Evan Vandervalk and Kendra Sullivan (BSc '13) know a little something about carving the way toward a career in veterinary medicine.

Both Vandervalk and Sullivan are currently enrolled in veterinary programs, and although they focused on two different majors (Vandervalk studied biology and was accepted after only 3 years of his undergraduate degree whereas Sullivan studied biochemistry), both students agree that their academic paths at the U of L helped to set them apart in a sea of veterinary applicants with similar undergrad résumés.

“The size of the U of L makes a big difference,” says Vandervalk. “I learned early on how to collaborate and work well in a group setting. Undergrad students who go to larger schools don’t generally have that experience. When you get to vet school, class sizes are small, which throws some people off because they’ve never had to communicate with profs. At the U of L you’re doing that from day one.”

Kendra SullivanSullivan says that the opportunity to pursue independent studies and participate in a co-op program made a difference not only on her vet school application, but also in the rigorous interview she faced prior to admission. She completed two independent studies with U of L professors and two co-op work terms with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Lethbridge Laboratory where she gained hands-on experience working in a lab and with livestock.

“The independent studies I undertook gave me invaluable lab experience, and co-op instilled a level of professionalism in me that certainly went a long way,” says Sullivan. “I believe my animal disease research set me apart from other candidates to gain acceptance to vet school. The admissions interview I had was more like a conversation with colleagues than a test of what I did or didn’t know.”

Vandervalk also completed two co-op placements (the first studying grizzly bears near Jasper, and the second as a Wildlife Technician in Waterton National Park) and says the experiences were incredibly beneficial not only from a learning perspective, but on vet school applications as well.

“My co-op experiences gave me a strong foundation in research, as well an experience not typical of most students,” says Vandervalk. “Co-op was a huge boon to my academic résumé.”

Vandervalk is now attending veterinary school in Calgary at the University of Calgary and Sullivan is in Saskatoon at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine. Although they find their respective programs extremely challenging, both Sullivan and Vandervalk feel the U of L helped prepare them for academic success and a bright future in veterinary medicine.

“You’re an individual at the U of L, not a number,” says Sullivan. “The attention you get is personal, which is motivating. It helps you to reach a higher standard.”

Vandervalk agrees: “I was really shy and rather intimidated to start university, but I felt at home at the U of L right away. There’s a sense of community on campus that’s not common at larger universities. It’s like a family. I’m really glad I chose the U of L. I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I’d gone anywhere else, and vet school is exactly where I’m meant to be.”

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