What is a Vet Tech Associate Degree?
Put simply, a veterinary technician is like a nurse or dental hygienist but one who takes care of animals instead of people or their teeth. Most associate degrees offered at this level are either Associate of Applied Science (AAS) or Associate of Science (AS) in Veterinary Technology, though a few veterinary technician programs exist as well. This can be somewhat confusing as veterinary technologists are different than veterinary technicians. The duties and workplaces can overlap in these two careers, though for now, we will be focusing on veterinary technicians. Vet tech associate programs teach students the basics of animal anatomy across several species, how to use diagnostic equipment, the fundamentals of pharmacology, and other clinical skills. These programs are geared toward people who are passionate about animals and want to make a living working with and caring for them.
Why Should I Get a Vet Tech Associate Degree?
Associate programs in veterinary technology are mainly intended for those who wish to work as veterinary technicians. To become a veterinary technologist, one has to earn a bachelor's degree in the field. Of course, for some, becoming a veterinary technician can be a step on one's career path rather than an end goal. An associate program in vet tech might be pursued with the intention of getting a job as quickly as possible and then work part-time on a bachelor's degree in the discipline. Many core courses will carry over between programs, so time can be saved toward earning one's bachelor's in veterinary technology via transferring credits.
Beyond a bachelor's degree, one might even aim to become a veterinarian. Academically, this requires a doctorate in the discipline. Whatever a vet tech student's goals are, they can build a solid foundation through an associate program in veterinary technology.
How to Choose a Vet Tech Associate Program
There are a number of things those interested in vet tech programs should keep in mind when selecting among different associate programs. Prospective students should limit their search to accredited programs, as this is necessary for certification. Among accredited vet tech programs, applicants should look for programs with curricula and facilities that match their interests. For example, if a student envisions themself working at a zoo, they should apply to programs with courses on zoo animals or that are located near zoos and have internship opportunities with them. Some programs focus more on laboratory equipment and experience, while others emphasize clinical procedures and settings. Students who have an idea of what sort of work environment they are after should take these factors into account.
As for those who wish to become veterinarians, they should look for programs that fill as many undergraduate prerequisites as they can for their intended doctorate program. These tend to be biology, chemistry, and physics courses with an emphasis on labs. One does not have to major in veterinary technology to take courses that fulfill these requirements, though sharing the same field means that programs at different degree levels often share fundamental courses.
Application and Admissions for Vet Tech Associate Degree Programs
For first-time college students, a high school transcript and the results of one's Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or ACT are sufficient when applying to vet tech associate programs. Most of these programs do not look for a certain GPA or test score, though they will consider these along with other elements of a prospective student's application. General Educational Development (GED) test results can often be used in place of a high school transcript.
Students who have already been to college are usually asked to submit transcripts from whatever institution they previously attended.
Other common elements of a college application include two to three letters of recommendation, an essay, and an interview, though some vet tech programs will not ask for all or any of these.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Vet Tech Associate Degree?
Most vet tech associate degrees can be earned in a year and a half to two years. AAS and AS programs in vet tech typically consist of 60-78 credit hours spread across four semesters, though some may have an additional fifth semester devoted to an internship. Semesters in programs with accelerated courses usually take eight weeks to complete, whereas traditional semesters are fifteen to sixteen weeks. If a vet tech degree's fifth semester takes place over the summer it tends to be shorter than a fall or spring semester. Twelve weeks is fairly standard for summer semesters.
How Much Does an Associate Degree in Vet Tech Cost?
With associate degrees in vet tech students can expect a range of tuition costs depending on where they live and where they choose to attend. In-state tuition versus out-of-state tuition usually accounts for the largest differences in the cost of a degree. For an associate in vet tech, in-state tuition tends to range from $100-$200 per course credit, while out-of-state tuition can be as high as $400-$500 per course credit. In a 60-credit-hour degree, this comes out to $6,000-$12,000 and $24,000-$30,000 for tuition, respectively. A few institutions, mostly community colleges, also have in-district tuition costs and these are usually priced at or below $100 per course credit.
Of course, tuition is not the only cost a student has to consider while earning their degree. Whether one lives on- or off-campus housing is a necessity, and for those who commute transportation costs must also be taken into account. Beyond these, there are also campus fees. Colleges and universities charge students on a per-semester basis for the use of their facilities, such as their labs and libraries. Most programs have a cost breakdown of their tuition and fee structure on their website, so those interested can use this information to figure out their expenses.
Associate Degree Coursework
The core curricula of associate degrees in vet tech split their focus between clinical work and lab work. Most vet techs will find themselves working as assistants in a clinical setting, so classes on animal anatomy and physiology are necessities. A general course covering common animals will be incorporated into every vet tech program. Many also offer or mandate courses on specific types of animals, like horses, or specific categories, such as exotics. However, learning about animals only covers the first half of the degree's title.
Understanding the technology of the trade makes up the bulk of several courses in any vet tech program. These classes give insights into the principles and uses of devices such as radiology equipment and the instruments used to draw and examine blood samples. Using such technologies to observe, test, and treat animals comes into play at both clinics and in laboratories. Depending on the program, one might also pick up more advanced clinical skills, such as animal dentistry or even veterinary surgery. Beyond all this, the vast majority of vet tech associate programs require students to take an internship course, though in the discipline they are called externships or preceptorships. While these terms vary in their exact meaning, both indicate closely supervised professional-collegiate work experiences. Other common courses include:
- Laboratory Techniques
- Anatomy and Physiology for Veterinary Technicians
- Clinics and Nursing
- Diagnostic Imaging for Veterinary Technicians
- Animal Pathology
- Surgical Nursing for Veterinary Technicians
How Much Can I Earn With an Associate Degree in Vet Tech?
Veterinary technician is one of the most common jobs graduates from associate programs in vet tech pursue. In addition to a degree, becoming a vet tech requires licensure or certification in most states. Once one is able to work, they can expect to earn around $25,000 to $35,000 a year. Starting salaries vary between states and within them, as the local cost of living is often factored into one's wages. Cities are typically more costly to live in than rural areas, for instance, and their job markets can be more competitive, both of which are factors that can potentially drive up salaries. More specific to vet tech, those who work with unique populations, like exotic animals, and jobs that more heavily emphasize surgery tend to pay higher wages, with some offering starting annual salaries of up to $45,000.
Begin a Career as a Veterinary Technician
Veterinary technicians mostly work at animal hospitals and clinics, though some will find work in laboratories. The typical education for animal health technicians consists of an associate or bachelor's degree. Veterinary technologists generally need to earn a bachelor's in the subject, though an associate degree is sufficient for the majority of veterinary technician positions.
A love of animals is beneficial as vet techs do not always get to deal with animals that are on their best behavior. Vet techs are in charge of examining and taking samples from pets, and not every animal is compliant during these processes. A vet tech may be bitten, scratched, or even kicked (depending on the animal) in the course of a normal workday. Beyond the physical challenges of the job, one should keep in mind that they might also encounter abused animals and may have to participate in euthanizations. Most states require vet techs to become certified, a topic that will be covered more fully in a later section.
Between 2019-2029 veterinary technicians are expected to see a 16% expansion of jobs in their field according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In terms of salaries, ZipRecruiter puts the national average for vet techs at $31,601. As for individual states, ZipRecruiter estimates that Washington, New York, New Hampshire, California, and Massachusetts are where vet techs can find the highest average salaries, with Washington offering the most at about $35,703.
Begin a Career as a Veterinary Assistant
While they sound similar, veterinary assistants and veterinary technicians fill different roles. Some responsibilities are shared between these two jobs, like looking after sick animals, but vet assistants tend to have more clerical duties and usually only require a high school diploma or equivalent education. They also take samples from animals and are in charge of sanitation. Unsurprisingly, vet assistants work in clinics, animal hospitals and laboratories just like the vet techs they work alongside. Vet assistants encounter the same highs and lows of caring for animals that vet techs do, and they benefit from having similar skills as well.
The BLS projects that vet assistant positions will increase by 16% from 2019-2029. Average yearly salaries for vet assistants come out to $25,894 according to ZipRecruiter Going state-by-state, ZipRecruiter puts Massachusetts, Hawaii, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Washington as the highest paying states on average, with Massachusetts topping the list at $27,960.
Certifications & Licensure for Veterinary Technicians
Each state has its own guidelines when it comes to certification and licensure. Beyond getting a degree from an accredited program, most states want their vet techs to become certified, licensed, or registered. The American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB) maintains a board and agency directory that lists post-degree requirements for working as a vet tech in each state. One of the more common tasks is that graduates become certified veterinary technicians (CVTs). The exact steps can vary between states, but it is sufficient in most to have attended a program accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), and to then pass the AAVSB's Veterinary Technician National Exam. The steps it takes to become a CVT in one state may match what another state requires for licensed veterinary technicians (LVNs) or registered veterinary technicians (RVNs). These differences often come down to variations in regulatory naming practices between states.
Accreditation for Vet Tech Associate Degree Programs
One of the first things potential students should consider before applying to any program is its accreditation status. Accredited programs have been reviewed by an outside authority in their discipline and judged to have met their educational standards. Veterinary medicine's accreditation authority is the AVMA, which accredits both veterinary medicine programs and vet tech programs.
Attending an accredited program is important for two reasons. The first reason is that it serves as a near-guarantee that students will receive a quality education from a given program. The second reason is that government bodies and private organizations that grant student aid also look for this same guarantee. To obtain most forms of tuition assistance, scholarships, and other awards, students usually have to be enrolled in an accredited program.
Transfer Options After Completing a Vet Tech Associate Degree
There are two main things vet tech students looking to put credits earned in one degree toward another should keep in mind. The first is that programs within the same college or university system have the highest chances of transferring credits between degree levels due to the standardization of their curricula.
The second thing students interested in transferring credits should know is that general science courses, those dealing with subjects like biology, chemistry, and physics, generally have better chances of transferring between programs at different institutions than those prefixed with VET for veterinary technician-oriented courses. This is because science courses deal with general principles, most degrees have general education requirements, and for science degrees, these are general science courses. This is not to say that an animal dentistry course passed in an associate program will never be accepted in a bachelor's program, but that vet tech programs vary more widely in their core courses than in their general studies requirements. For a concrete example, most degrees will accept the transfer of a molecular biology course, but programs without a division or course related to horses are unlikely to accept a course on equine physiology.
What Are Other Vet Tech Degree Options?
Continuing one's education beyond an associate degree in vet tech is commonly done to become a veterinary technologist, a veterinarian, or an instructor. Out of these three career paths, veterinarians require the most education, needing at least a doctorate in the discipline before they can be licensed. While the technical skills taught increase in complexity as one goes up in degree level, the biological and zoological knowledge picked up in an associate program will remain integral throughout one's education.
Bachelor's Degrees in Vet Tech
A Bachelor of Science (BS) in Veterinary Technology is the best option for graduates from associate programs in vet tech who want to continue their education in the field. These degrees cover material found in similar associate programs, though often in greater detail, and generally provide further opportunities for externships and preceptorships. In terms of greater depth, one might only have a single course or section of a course on drawing samples, like blood, in an associate curriculum, but a BS in vet tech might have an entire course on hematology, or the study of blood. These and other courses tend to amount to 120 credit hours, which will take students about four years to complete. This added time also allows for more practical experience working with veterinary technologists and veterinarians in clinics, animal hospitals, and laboratories.
Master's Degrees in Vet Tech
Vet tech does not offer degrees at the master's level. The main reason someone with an undergraduate degree in vet tech would go on to earn a master's is to qualify for a doctoral program. For instance, to become a veterinarian one must obtain a relevant doctorate. Because no positions in the field ask for a specific degree, those looking to earn a doctorate have several options. While not necessary in every case, it is generally helpful to stick close to veterinary medicine when looking for a master's degree if becoming a veterinarian is a student's ultimate goal. Alternatives that share similar foundations and that naturally build toward a doctorate in the discipline include Master of Science (MS) in Animal Science, MS in Animal Physiology, or even MS in Biomedical Science. Most of these degrees can be earned in around two years and their credit hours typically range from 30-60. Although the curricula between these degrees differ, each can serve as a sturdy bridge between a BS in vet tech and a doctorate in veterinary medicine.
Doctoral Degrees in Vet Tech
To become a veterinarian, one must complete a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program. Credit hours vary between programs, with most ranging between 60-120, and a majority take four years to complete when enrolled-full time. Many DVM programs structure their first two or three years around general scientific knowledge, subjects like anatomy and chemistry that can be taught in either a classroom or a lab. When this is the case, the last year or two will be focused on clinical studies, such as surgical techniques and practical working experiences. DVM programs commonly devote one or more courses to small animals, like cats and dogs, feed animals, such as cows and pigs, and equines. Some also highlight other groups, like exotic animals.
Certificate Programs in Vet Tech
Seeing as an associate degree is the standard minimum for eligibility to most vet tech jobs there are no veterinary technician certificates. However, this does not mean that students and professionals in the field more broadly have no use for certificate programs. In vet tech, certificates are a great way to gain expertise with a specific patient population or clinical area. One might obtain a certificate in marine science to prepare themself for working with aquatic animals or a biochemistry certificate to buff up their laboratory skills. Both undergraduate and graduate certificates are available to students looking to expand their repertoire in this fashion.
Scholarships & Financial Aid for Vet Tech Associate Degrees
For students looking to get tuition assistance, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will likely be their first stop. Those who apply for federal tuition assistance through FAFSA and are accepted will receive an amount of money each semester that is based on their income and other factors. State governments are another potential source of student aid, and one's best bet is to search their state's department of education website for details on scholarships and awards.
Students might also try using CareerOneStop's Scholarship Finder. Scholarship Finder is a database of awards from grants to prizes and fellowships that covers multiple disciplines. Searches can be customized to fit a student's exact needs, whether it be honing student aid to one's degree level or limiting results to where one will be attending their college or university.
An example of a scholarship one might find on CareerOneStop's database is the Truthfinder Scholarship for Women in STEM, which is awarded to women enrolled in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics-based programs.
Other opportunities also exist, such as the Minnesota Association of Veterinary Technicians Scholarship. Only those attending an AVMA accredited vet tech program in Minnesota are eligible, though state organizations elsewhere may prove helpful to other students.