U.S News & World Report is the sole major publication ranking Doctor of Veterinary Medicine programs in the U.S.
Its vet school rankings are produced by weighing a mixture of factors. A peer assessment score and an assessment score by residency directors makes up 40% of the total score; 30% is made up of the total funding allocated to the school for research, additionally calculating research dollars per full-time faculty member; and the remaining 30% of the score is composed of faculty resources (ratio to students) and student selectivity factors such as mean undergraduate GPA, mean VCAT score, and student acceptance rate.
Another ranking source is StudentsReview.com, which basically allows students to score schools themselves based on their personal opinions.
High rankings are not significant or highly regarded by most of the academic veterinary community. A high ranking may give a vet school an extra degree of pull or minor bragging rights, and may initially capture the attention of students shopping for their vet school. Many schools and organizations disregard the legitimacy of any vet school rankings altogether, however.
Some vet students who are initially wooed by higher school rankings may find them less significant as their application and acceptance process rolls on.
"Rankings tend to be more important with younger undergrads," said Abbie DeMeerleer, assistant director of admissions and recruitment officer at Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine. "The closer they get to admissions, the less the rankings weigh in-it becomes more about the facilities and specialties a school focuses on. One of the downsides of vet school rankings is that they do not take into account the uniqueness of programs and the strengths of an institution that may benefit individual students."
There are several other great methods that incoming veterinary students can use to determine what school is best for them. With a limited number (28) of domestic veterinary schools to compare, students can quickly discover which ones offer the aspects that are most important to them.
"Students will want to consider the school's proximity to their home and where they want to live, likelihood of acceptance is a big issue, and they should determine if they are interested in a specialty area outside the norm. Most veterinarians -- 70 to 80 percent -- go into more traditional, companion animal practice. Students who want to do something different, such as biomedical work, conservation, poultry production, or aquaculture may find that certain colleges have a higher case load or more faculty in those areas," said Dr. Maccabe.
"Different schools have different strengths. If a student is looking for strong, basic, fundamental education, there's no way of distinguishing between schools. But if they are looking for a specific niche, students may find one particular school that meets their interests."
"The AVMA website links to every vet school that is affiliated, so students can find all the biographical info of an institution. Directly contacting the student services person listed for the school is a student's best bet, hands down. It's worth the time to find out the merits of each school, such as its faculty, significant research, and how many students graduate each year."
There also cannot be enough emphasis placed on a student's first-hand exploration of a potential school. "There are a few recruitment events-Washington, D.C. in the spring and others that are updated on the AVMA site. Vet schools do have a presence at recruiting events," DeMeerleer said.
Veterinary schools also tend to work hand-in-hand with one another more than other colleges. This is again thanks to the small number of schools and the close-knit industry. Students benefit from this cross-institutional generosity by exploring facets of veterinary medicine that they would otherwise miss out on from their choice institution.
"All fourth-year students can be 'distributed' to schools emphasizing the experience they want to focus on," said Maccabe. "This gives them the opportunity to spend four to six weeks of their fourth year working with, for example, a zoo veterinarian. They might have an opportunity to study marine biology, oceanography, and may get a chance to work with a zoo or government agency that might not have been an option otherwise."
The cooperation also gives interested students an advantage toward finding the best school for themselves.
"With so few schools, it's a small profession and very different from other fields. Veterinary medicine is more supportive and not as highly competitive as other disciplines because there's always a sufficient applicant pool," said Maccabe.
"Schools are always competing for students, but I believe that vet schools truly have the best interests of their students at heart," said DeMeerleer. "Each school wants their students to fit in and will recommend the best program suited to their interests."