The majority of UK candidates applying to study veterinary medicine use A-levels. However, there are plenty of alternative qualifications students can obtain to get into veterinary medicine. Find out what these alternatives are, as well as how to become a vet later in life and what experience and skills are required alongside your qualifications.

The Traditional Route

A-Levels are more traditional than some of the other newer qualifications and therefore universities may be more set up to accept them into their programmes, making the process a little easier.

A-levels typically involve the study of three or more subjects over the span of two years, with examinations being the primary form of assessment, taken either at the end of each year or at the end of the second year.

A-levels are useful for veterinary medicine because they provide a more in-depth level of study in the chosen subjects compared to other qualifications such as International Baccalaureate which cover more subjects but in less detail.

This is especially beneficial when science subjects are taken as studying veterinary medicine has a heavy focus on science, especially in the first years.

The standard A-level offer for veterinary medicine in the UK ranges between AAB and A*AA with most requiring the subjects Biology and/or Chemistry.

Becoming a Vet Without A-levels

Veterinary schools in the UK offer various alternative qualifications to enter veterinary medicine. All universities accept equivalent A-level qualifications from other countries in the UK, such as the Welsh Baccalaureate, Scottish Highers and the Irish Leaving Certificate.

The table below highlights the further alternative qualifications that may be used to apply for veterinary medicine at each university in the UK.

UniversityA-level alternatives
Royal Veterinary College, University of LondonInternational Baccalaureate
BTEC Extended Diploma
Cambridge Pre-U
University of CambridgeInternational Baccalaureate
University of LiverpoolInternational Baccalaureate
University of EdinburghInternational Baccalaureate
University of GlasgowInternational Baccalaureate
University of BristolBTEC Extended Diploma
International Baccalaureate
Access to HE Diploma
Cambridge Pre-U
University of NottinghamInternational Baccalaureatte
Cambridge Pre-U
University of SurreyBTEC Extended Diploma
International Baccalaureate
Access to HE Diploma
Harper and Keele Veterinary SchoolInternational Baccalaureate
BTEC Extended Diploma
Access to HE Diploma
Aberystwyth School of Veterinary ScienceInternational Baccalaureate
Access to HE Diploma
BTEC Extended Diploma
Cambridge Pre-U
University of Central LancashireBTEC Extended Diploma
  • The Welsh Baccalaureate

The Welsh Baccalaureate can be achieved at three levels but typically, universities require Advanced (the highest level) in order to apply for veterinary medicine. The certificate focuses on skills such as undertaking an individual project and is aimed at developing employability skills as well as allowing students to study a topic of their interest.

To achieve the certificate, students also require supporting qualifications such as specified GCSEs. It is important to note that the Welsh Baccalaureate is only equivalent to one A-level and thus offers including the Welsh Baccalaureate will also ask for two additional A-levels.

  • Scottish Highers

Scottish Highers are the most common Level 3 qualification taken by Scottish students. Typical offers for veterinary medicine will include five subjects at Higher level which are taken in the first year of study and two Advanced Highers, which are subjects studied more in-depth and taken in students’ second year of study. 

  • The Irish Leaving Certificate

The Irish Leaving Certificate is the most common Level 3 qualification for Irish students. The certificate includes at least five subjects with one of them being Irish. These five subjects must usually all be taken at Higher Level (compared to Ordinary) in order to be accepted into courses such as veterinary medicine.

  • The International Baccalaureate (IB)

IB is an alternative qualification to A-levels for students in the UK with around 5000 students taking it each year. The IB includes five subjects taken from different groups such as languages, mathematics and social sciences and therefore allows a wider range of subjects to be studied. Three of the subjects must usually be taken at Higher Level in order to be accepted into courses such as veterinary medicine.

  • BTEC Extended Diplomas

BTEC Extended Diplomas tend to focus more on practical work and are assessed primarily through coursework and projects compared to examinations. BTECs are not accepted by every university and those which do accept it typically require top-level Distinctions in applied sciences.

  • Higher Education Diploma

Access to Higher Education Diplomas aim to provide a route back into education and prepare students for degree-level studies. Subjects are typically similar to degree-level courses such as nursing, science or business & management. To apply for veterinary medicine, students must achieve science-based diplomas, including Distinctions and Merits in the chosen subjects. 

  • Cambridge Pre-U

The Cambridge Pre-U is a qualification aimed to prepare students for university-level studies. Similarly to A-levels, three subjects are usually taken, but uniquely include a research project in a chosen topic. Applicants require Distinction-level grades in their subjects to be accepted into courses like veterinary medicine.

  • Bachelor’s degree

Bachelor’s degrees are usually also considered as an alternative qualification for veterinary medicine. Some universities require this degree to be in subjects relevant to biological sciences but some allow any subject.

Typically, candidates will need to achieve a 2:1 or higher in their degree to be considered. Additionally, a bachelor’s degree may give applicants the opportunity to apply to an accelerated veterinary medicine programme which is four years long instead of five or six.

Details around these qualifications vary depending on the university, so please check the universities’ individual websites for specific requirements. For example, many universities require specified subjects such as Biology and/or Chemistry. Some courses also require other qualifications such as GCSEs to be met alongside their main offer.

Finally, although grade requirements vary, applicants typically need top grades to receive an offer for veterinary medicine, being equivalent to AAB – A*AA at A-levels.

Becoming a Vet Later in Life

There are a few options for becoming a vet later in life. Some universities require qualifications, such as A-levels, to have been sat within a certain number of years (commonly 3-5 years) in order to be considered, therefore, applying to those will be more challenging if it has been some time since you received those qualifications. 

Instead, if you do not have a degree you may wish to consider the Access to Higher Education Diploma described above.

Usually, the only requirements needed are a pass at GCSE English and Mathematics. Students can undertake the diploma at any stage of life regardless of how long you have been out of education.

Its flexibility means you can fit in your study around your current work. To apply for veterinary medicine with an Access to HE Diploma, you will need a science-focused programme and top grades.

Alternatively, if you already have a degree, you will be able to apply to both undergraduate and accelerated veterinary medicine courses. Some universities require your degree to be in a subject related to science or animal studies but not all.

For example, the University of Glasgow and the University of Aberystwyth allow applicants with a non-science degree but they must fill some of the standard Level 3 entry requirements in addition.

Gaining Practical Experience and Skills

Academic qualifications are only one part of the application process to study veterinary medicine. Candidates must also demonstrate they have the experience and skills needed to study the course. Some universities, such as Aberystwyth, require a certain number of hours of work experience as part of their application. 

Regardless of any required hours, experience not only helps in deciding whether veterinary medicine is right for you but is also invaluable in the interview stage of the application to demonstrate your skills in dealing with animals and your appreciation of the science behind veterinary medicine.

Applicants can gain veterinary work experience through their local veterinary practices or places such as stables, farms or kennels. The best way to find work experience is to get in contact with as many people and institutions as possible.

Additionally, reading books on veterinary medicine and the latest research papers will be valuable in your application to prove your interest and passion in the subject.


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