How to Become a Vet Tech: Different Paths to a Fulfilling Career

Want to become a vet tech? These are all the steps you need to pursue this fulfilling career.

Published August 24, 2023
Young vet with dog at

Do friends tell you that you’re kind of a pet whisperer? Do you love animals more than most people? Then becoming a vet tech might just be the right career move for you. Veterinary technicians are an integral part of the veterinary hospital and are in extremely high demand, though you will need education and experience before entering the workforce. There are a few different routes you can take to become a vet tech, which gives you the flexibility to decide which path works best for you.

How to Become a Vet Tech

Are you ready to start your vet tech journey? Follow these steps to get credentialed and start a fulfilling career in veterinary medicine.

1. Complete an Accredited Program

The most straightforward route to becoming a credentialed vet tech is to get a 2-year associate’s or 4-year bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology. It’s really important that whatever program you sign up for is accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (AVMA CVTEA). This means the committee has reviewed the program, and it meets all the educational criteria to set you up for a successful vet tech career.

Group of veterinary students in an anatomy class

Most of these programs are in-person, but there are quite a few that you can complete online. As far as the cost of vet tech school, the price varies from program to program. Some cost as little as $3,000, whereas others can be upwards of $30,000. In-state tuition is always less expensive, and in-person programs are usually cheaper than distance learning.

Need to Know

How long does it take to become a vet tech? Including your education, training, and board exams, you’re looking at between 2 to 3 years from start to finish.

2. Gain Experience in the Hospital

Even though you’ll gain all your knowledge in the classroom, you’ll also need to get hands-on experience in the field. Your program will help coordinate externships, where you’ll shadow a veterinarian or vet tech, but you can get extra experience if you like.

Find a job as a veterinary assistant so you can foster a relationship with the staff (and potentially get hired on as a vet tech after you graduate!), or start volunteering at an animal shelter or rescue organization. Any and all hands-on experience you can get will be helpful for your vet tech career. This is also a great way to gauge what type of environment you could see yourself working in after you graduate.

3. Take Your Board Exams

After you’re finished your degree, you’re not done. You’ll need to take your national and state board exams. The Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE) is a big one that tests your knowledge of everything you learned in the classroom. A lot of states also require a state exam, which tests your knowledge of local laws pertaining to animals. They’re both electronic tests you’ll need to register for and take in an actual testing center (that means no notes, no phones, etc.).

4. Get Credentialed

Woohoo, you passed your exams! Now it’s time to get credentialed. You’ll need to submit an application with your state’s veterinary medical board and have all your scores sent off to them.

Some states call credentialed techs Registered Veterinary Technicians (RVT), whereas others have Licensed Veterinary Technicians (LVT) or Certified Veterinary Technicians (CVT). After they approve your application and send you your official license, which will be good for two years at a time, you can put those well-deserved letters after your name.

5. Start Job Hunting

There are plenty of places you can search for vet tech jobs, including the AVMA Career Center, your state vet tech association, LinkedIn, or Indeed. But don’t just stop at traditional veterinary hospitals when looking for jobs. Veterinary technicians are needed at zoos, aquariums, wildlife rehabilitation centers, shelters, and laboratories.  

6. Keep Up With Continuing Education

Vet techs need to fulfill continuing education (CE) requirements as a knowledge refresher and to keep up with advances in the field. Depending on which state you’re credentialed in, you might need to complete 10 to 20 hours of CE every 2 years.

Sign up for CE webinars or attend conferences whenever you can to keep up with these requirements and learn new material. These are also great opportunities to connect with vet techs around the world!

7. Consider Specializing

If you want to take your career to the next level, you could consider specializing. There are currently 16 areas you can get specialized in, including dentistry, internal medicine, zoo medicine, and more. In order to earn the Veterinary Technician Specialist (VTS) credentials, you’ll need to work as a credentialed vet tech for at least 3 years, among other requirements, but it’s definitely something to look toward for your future!

Golden Retriever on Examination Table as Veterinarian looks at X-Ray Scan

An Alternate Pathway

This path is considered a little controversial within the veterinary community, but there is another way to get credentialed: the “alternate” pathway. You can really only choose this route if you live in Alaska, California, Wisconsin, or another state whose veterinary medical board acknowledges the alternate pathway. You’ll also need to have 4,000+ hours of experience working as a veterinary assistant over at least 24 months in order to be eligible.

If you meet those criteria, you can register for an alternate route veterinary technology program. A lot of these classes are offered online, though you may need to have an overseeing DVM sign off on your skills as you move through the coursework. After you graduate from the program, which usually takes anywhere from 4 to 6 months, you’ll be eligible to take the VTNE and your state boards.

Quick Tip

If you’re looking for a way to become a vet tech without going to college, the alternate pathway might be right for you.

Test the Waters Before You Jump In

Before you invest the time, money, and energy needed to pursue a job as a vet tech, it’s important to know if this career is really right for you. If you haven’t spent time in a vet hospital before, see if you can shadow a vet tech for a day. That can give you some valuable insight into what their day-to-day looks like and if you can see yourself doing it. But if you’re certain this job is your life’s purpose, you now have all the necessary steps to bring it to fruition. Full steam ahead, future vet tech. You’ve got this!

How to Become a Vet Tech: Different Paths to a Fulfilling Career