Veterinary Medicine

Studying to become a vet is challenging wherever you do it, but we believe that the Cambridge system is ultimately more diverse and rewarding. St Catharine's is committed to Veterinary Medicine and works hard to make sure that its veterinary students reach their full potential, and also that they enjoy their time here. If you are interested in finding out more, you may wish to come to a St Catharine's, whole-University or Vet School open day. You may also wish to have a look at the Veterinary School admissions webpage, which has many more details about the Cambridge veterinary experience.

Please note - for applications made in 2017 and after, Cambridge will no longer be asking applicants to take the BMAT, and the University's typical conditional offer will be A*AA - click the 'What we look for' tab for more details.

Why Cambridge?

When you apply for vet school, you can choose up to four UK vet courses of the eight available. All vet schools recommend that you carefully review what each has to offer, so you can make the right decision for you. So, what are the advantages of the Cambridge course?

1. A strong practical focus. The Cambridge course progressively guides you towards your clinical goals. From their first week, our students learn handling and management skills in all the major domestic species, and subsequently with amphibians, reptiles, birds and ‘exotic’ mammals. In the early years this is supplemented by integrated sessions in clinical examination, thoracic auscultation, abdominal palpation, orthopaedic evaluation, echocardiography and neurological examination. Our students have the use of superb facilities – bespoke consultation and examination facilities, imaging and surgical suites, a linear accelerator for radiotherapy, clinical pathology and post mortem labs, and our Clinical Skills Lab is available 24 hours a day for students in all years.

2. The best science. The key to being a skilled vet is combining practical skills with excellent grounding in the science underlying practice. Cambridge gives you the unique opportunity to study to become a vet at the world’s premier science university – also consistently ranked as one of the best-funded and most productive UK universities. You will be fully immersed in our environment of cutting-edge biomedicine, and experience shows that this makes our graduates better equipped to deal with the high pace of change in veterinary medicine, and poised for a wide variety of flexible and challenging careers. Most importantly, all our non-graduate vet students study a single subject to a high level to gain a full Cambridge BA science degree. The unique opportunities provided by a Cambridge veterinary education are invaluable in our graduates’ future career progression and flexibility. Indeed, external feedback confirms that our graduates are better equipped to deal with unexpected clinical situations and the high pace of change in veterinary medicine.

3. Treating you as an individual. Ours is the smallest UK vet school, training around 70 students each year, and this is central to our students’ experience. Right from the start, you will be in very small dissection, animal handling, and lab practical groups. You will also benefit from Cambridge’s unique ‘supervision’ small group teaching system – which gives you regular opportunities to consolidate your learning and follow up on your interests. Later in the course, the small class size become even more valuable. Our clinical rotation groups are tiny, which ensures a high caseload, and thus more experience and confidence by the time you qualify.

4. The full 'Cambridge experience'. Most students say that, apart from the vet course itself, college life is the main reason they are glad they trained here. For at least the first three years you would live in college accommodation alongside 100-150 other students studying the whole range of subjects offered by the University. Colleges, and Catz in particular, are often students’ main social hub, as well as providing many of the facilities they use – for study, sport, music, and fun.

5. It's surprisingly inexpensive. A recent survey by the Association of Veterinary Students and the British Veterinary Association showed that, per term, Cambridge is the least expensive UK vet school to attend. Our students live in competitively-priced college accommodation for three-to-six years of their course and the University is inexpensive in other ways, too. There is an array of financial support available. The generous Cambridge Bursary supports students from low-income households, and there are also many sources of funding to prevent financial hardship, and also support student study, travel and recreation for all - see for example, this page about St Catharine's funds. Cambridge is also the only vet school which provides funding to support its students during their Clinical Extramural Studies.

6. Great career opportunities. Almost all Cambridge vet graduates go into veterinary practice when they graduate, and many stay for the rest of their careers - in farm, equine, small animal and exotics practice, in the UK and across the world. Those who decide to do further training, or study for qualification as a veterinary specialist find that the unparalleled scientific and clinical training they received at Cambridge puts them in an excellent position to further their career. Cambridge vets are also well placed to exploit all the opportunities their science BA and veterinary VetMB degrees offer them, be they in scientific and clinical research or teaching, industrial research, government and management.

7. A great university city. Cambridge is a beautiful, exciting place to spend your university years. Importantly, Cambridge Vet School is only a ten-minute cycle ride from the very centre of the city, including St Catharine's – far closer than the other UK vet schools. This means you can easily access the Vet School in your ‘pre-clinical’ years, yet not be isolated from all the city has to offer in your ‘clinical’ years.

Course structure

Years 1-2: The College consolidates and amplifies student learning by the provision of 'supervisions' - teaching sessions for small groups of two to four students. We also endeavour to highlight areas of clinical relevance in the veterinary course. During this time, students receive their lecture and practical teaching in the University departments - either as a vet-only group (when studying anatomy, physiology, neurobiology, animal management and 'preparing for the veterinary profession'), or alongside natural scientists (studying reproductive biology) or medical students (for physiology, biochemistry, pathology, pharmacology).

Year 3: The broad skills of the college fellowship support students as they specialize in one subject for their 'Part II' in which they pursue a subject of their choosing for a whole year. This year gives Cambridge veterinary students an unparalleled and exciting opportunity to work with researchers at the cutting edge of their field, and they often also carry out an in-depth research project of their own. Most vet students study a biological subject in this third year - ranging from palaeontology to developmental neuroscience to the history and philosophy of science - but non-scientific subjects may occasionally be chosen, such as Management Studies. At the end of the third year, vet students receive a full Cambridge BA degree equivalent to that awarded to Natural Scientists - and having such a qualification from the world's premier science university can prove invaluable in their later career. This is why the Cambridge course is one year longer than the other UK veterinary schools, and you should bear in mind that this is the most distinctive feature of the Cambridge course. Catz vet students do not have to choose their third year subject until near the end of their second year.

Years 4-6: St Catharine's actively fosters a sense of continuity as the vet students progress to their fourth, fifth and sixth year clinical studies (including an all-clinical final year) at the Vet School on Madingley Road, which is ten minutes by bicycle from St Catharine's, despite the college's central location. During this time, the course gradually transforms from a lecture/practical system to a final year which is entirely taken up by rotations in various clinical fields (e.g. small animal orthopaedics, farm animal medicine, equine surgery). As a result, the Cambridge veterinary course is one of the most 'practical' in the UK. We provide ample opportunities for clincial and pre-clinical students to mingle at St Catharine's, and the college's undergraduate and graduate 'tutorial' systems ensure that vet students receive excellent pastoral care throughout their six years here. At the end of the six years, students are awarded the degree of Vet MB and thereby membership of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (and the ability to work as a vet in the UK, EU and most of the Commonwealth). If you want to work in the US, this is probably the best time to sit AVMA and state board exams.

The six-year course

One of the major differences between the veterinary course at Cambridge and those at other UK veterinary schools is that it takes one year longer to complete. We believe that the extra year is a major reason to apply to the course here, and more than justifies the extra time required to complete the Cambridge course.

The 'extra' year at Cambridge is the third year (see above), when vet students study a single subject to an extremely high level and receive a Cambridge BA in that subject (for historical reasons, Cambridge does not award BSc degrees and all science students get BAs). This degree is a full Cambridge science degree, identical to that awarded to Natural Scientists.

Aside from the satisfaction and enjoyment of being awarded a science degree from the world's top university, having the Cambridge BA degree can be extremely useful later on in your career. Many people applying to vet courses do not realise that they may spend much of their career in research, in teaching, in academia more generally, in industry, running companies, writing books and generally enjoying a very wide variety of career choices. The Cambridge BA is a recognised mark of scientific excellence around the world, and that 'extra' year can often prove to be worth its weight in gold later on in your career.

Six years at vet school means an extra year of fees and living costs. However, this is mitigated by the fact that Cambridge is a relatively inexpensive place to be a vet student for the following reasons: 

St Catharine's ('Catz') is a strong college for Veterinary Medicine. We usually have the second largest number of veterinary students in the University, and have an excellent complement of specialist teachers who teach the subject areas in this course.

We usually make offers to admit five or six vets each year, and over the six years of the course these means we have a large, sociable cohort of vet students. As well as doing well on the course, our students participate very fully in all that college life has to offer. Catz benefits from being a central college, a few minutes' walk from the main biology departments in the city, yet only ten minutes' cycle ride from the more rural Vet School.

During our vet students' first three years they get the same 'Cambridge experience' as any Cambridge undergraduate, and in their 'clinical' years, they become members of the College's graduate community: our 'Middle Combination Room', as it is rather archaically known, was recently voted the best of any Cambridge college.

While vet students at any university have to work hard, we beleive it is important that you have time to do lots of other things too - and there is a bewildering range of sporting, cultural, recreational and social opportunities at Catz and the in the wider University.

The college offers generous travel grants to undergraduates (the first three years before the BA degree) and graduates (the three years between the BA and VetMB degrees), which can be sought to support veterinary extramural studies (EMS) in the UK and abroad. Another consequence of our long veterinary tradition is the well-stocked veterinary section in the College Library - which saves our students a great deal of expenditure.

The college Director of Studies is Dr David Bainbridge, the University Clinical Veterinary Anatomist. Dr Bainbridge is very active in the direction and development of 'all things veterinary' at Cambridge. Prospective veterinary applicants should feel free to e-mail him at any time to ask for advice (db125@cam.ac.uk).

Also, if you click at the 'Beyond St Catharine's' menu tab, one of the graduates profiled is a vet student!

In recent years, St Catharine's has usually aimed to admit 5-6 vet students. Our University-set 'quota' for vet students is five each year, but we are sometimes permitted to take one more. We frequently consider placing applicants in, or taking them from, the inter-collegeiate pool - this allows the colleges to cooperate in admitting the most able applicant to the Cambridge vet course.

Admissions to the veterinary course are carried out by the different colleges - you do not apply directly to the Veterinary School. This means you can make the most of individual colleges' admissions offices if you wish to ask for advice or guidance.

Our decisions to take candidates to read Vet Medicine are made on an overall assessment of students' abilities, but the following criteria are key. They are arranged in decreasing order of importance.

 

1. Attainment in science/maths at school

For applications made in 2017 onwards, you should be likely to get (or already have) A*AA at A2 Level - or equivalent: we are equally happy with Scottish highers (offers often AAA), the IB (total 42, with 776 in highers or science.maths subjects), the Pre-U (D2, D3, D3) and other examination systems.

As for subjects, we require Chemistry, and one, but preferably two, of Maths, Physics, Biology/Human Biology and Further Maths. At St Catharine's we consider these 'non-Chemistry' subjects completely equally - so you do not have to be taking Biology. Obviously, we would slant your admissions interview towards whatever science/maths subjects you are taking.

If you are considering taking two science/maths A-levels, consider that, while there is no absolute requirement for students to be studying, or have studied, three science/maths subjects at A2 level, applicants should be aware that (a) statistics show that 3-science/maths applicants have a better chance of getting an offer than 2-science applicants across the University, and we suspect that this is true at other vet schools, too, (b) we may interview you in greater depth about the two science/maths subjects you are taking, (c) if you receive a conditional offer we may ask specifically for A*A in your sciences/maths, and (d) Veterinary Medicine is an inherently scientific career, so it is easier to thrive on any vet course if you have a diverse scientific training behind you - and it makes sense for that to start at A Level.

We encourage you to consider the important of science in a veterinary career at the stage when you are choosing your A Levels. You can, of course, consider taking four science/maths subjects, but this is a personal decision - any offer would probably still be A*AA in Chemistry plus two other science/maths subjects, and it is up to you to decide if taking three or four science/maths subjects will optimise your chances of attaining that.

Applicants who are likely to achieve, or have achieved, high scores in their end-of-school science/maths exams are in a strong position - in fact, they may find that Cambridge is the veterinary school at which they have the greatest chance of gaining an offer.

2. The interview

The college interviews are a very important part of the applications process and usually take place in early December. We look for candidates with commitment to a veterinary/scientific-related career, good problem solving skills and, ability to discuss scientific and mathematical concepts, an ability to discuss veterinary cases they have seen, veterinary/scientific issues as well as their own interests, and evidence of an ability to balance work and leisure activities.

Usually candidates have two 25-minute interviews - on the same day, and often in quick succession. It is important to us that applicants perform to the best of their ability, so we will do our best to put you at your ease. Some of our students say that Cambridge became their first chocie of vet school because of the relaxed and interesting nature of the interview - really!

Of the total interview time, perhaps one quarter will be allocated to asking you about work experience you have seen, and the rest to discussing topics and problems drawing on skills you have acquired in your school science/maths subjects.

Unlike some other veterinary schools, we do not stipulate that you should have completed specified amounts of particular types of animal care/veterinary work experience - merely that you should have done enough to be able to discuss and analyse your experiences at interview and have a realistic idea of what a veterinary/scientific career entails. Perhaps a total of two or more weeks 'seeing practice' with a vet or vets working with any species is sufficient. This limited requirement is very important as regards fair access to the course: not everyone has the time, money, contacts or parental availability to see remote hill sheep farming practice, but most people can arrange a couple of weeks with a local vet. Quality is more important than quantity - and by quality we mean the ability discuss the scientific and professional aspects of what you have seen. Be observant, interactive, thoughtful, questioning, and maybe research some of the clinical conditions you have seen!

3. The Admissions Assessment

From 2017 onwards, applicants to read Veterinary Medicine at Cambridge will not be asked to sit the 'BMAT' examination. Instead they will be asked to take the University's 'Admissions Assessment' in Natural Sciences (NSAA). You should be entered for this, usually by your school, and will probably sit the assessment in early November, alongside most of your school's other applicants to Cambridge and Oxford. When sitting the NSAA, you should feel free to answer optional questions in any science or maths topic - you should not feel that you have to select Chemistry or Biology questions over those in Maths or Physics.

It is important to realise that the aim of the NSAA is to give us a measure of how our applicants are doing in their school science/maths subjects, and allow us to assess applicants future potential. It is just one of the criteria we use when making our admissions decisions.

4. GCSEs (or equivalent)

Most successful candidates have good GCSE (or equivalent) results - a few A*s, at least, with As as well - especially in science/maths subjects.

 

Other useful information

It is generally accepted that the admissions process at Cambridge is more science-oriented than that for other veterinary courses. Because of this emphasis, applicants with science/maths exam grades lower than 'A' will be at a considerable disadvantage. Conversely, applicants who are confident at science and good at dealing with novel scientific concepts will find Cambridge the easiest veterinary course on which to secure a place.

You do not have to attend an open day or residential course at Cambridge or any other vet school to apply to us. You may certainly find these events informative, helpful and enjoyable, but they will not increase your chances of gaining a place at Cambridge. No one should feel that they must spend large amounts of money on courses to improve their chances of admission to Cambridge, as this is not the case.

Please note that the College does not accept affiliated student applications (i.e from those who already have a degree) in Veterinary Medicine - we recommend that such candidates get in touch with one of the colleges which specialise in admitting and supporting such students - Lucy Cavendish, St Edmund's, and Wolfson.

The college is very happy to consider candidates who are re-applying, following previous unsuccessful applications to veterinary schools, including Cambridge.

The college enthusiastically supports the Cambridge Extenuating Circumstances Scheme.

The college welcomes applications from non-UK and non-EU applicants, whose applications will be considered in the same way as other applicants. Neither St Catharine's nor the University has maximum or minimum quotas for such applicants.

We are happy to consider applicants who wish to take a year out. We see this neither as an advantage nor a disadvantage. However, we would recommend applying at the earliest opportunity to maximise your chances of eventually gaining a place at a vet school (i.e. there is no need to  wait until your year out to apply!)

If you already have a degree, the Cambridge course lasts five years. If you are a graduate, we recommend that you apply to a college with more experience of teaching graduate vets than St Catharine's: Wolfson, Lucy Cavendish or St Edmund's.

I had some of the best times of my life at Cambridge. The degree was hard work, but I made amazing friends, laughed until I cried too many times to remember, partied harder than I ever will again, and grew remarkably attached to the most beautiful city I have ever has the fortune to visit, let alone live in.

The support and encouragement of the staff, be they lecturers, supervisors, clinicians or tutors meant that we were always encouraged to do as much as possible. In my case that translated into being able to go and see practice abroad, which later helped me with getting my first job in South Africa.

Don't be put off by the widespread opinion that all Cambridge students and graduates are prodigies and/or geniuses (not true, clearly as I can't pluralise 'genius' properly), but see it as an opportunity to do more and enjoy the company of some truly fabulous people and be part of a wonderful piece of history. 

Georgie Kellett