How to Win a $50,000 Veterinary Scholarship and Graduate with a Guaranteed Job

Updated for 2014!
That's me delivering a heavy dose of reality.

That’s me delivering a heavy dose of reality.

I can see you now, staring off into space, wondering how in the world you’re going to learn a semester’s worth of material in the next couple of weeks. It’s not easy, with the beautiful spring weather to enjoy, summer plans to finalize, and a brain that doesn’t want to stay focused for more than five minutes at a time. But who said becoming a vet was going to be easy?

With all this going on, do you really have time to think about finding a job eventually? Or even paying for vet school? Those things will take care of themselves, right?

Hate to break it to you, but they won’t. Especially not with the way the economic outlook for our veterinary profession has been so negatively impacted by the great economic shifting of our time.

Veterinary Scholarship Program with Guaranteed Job

Now that I’ve given you one more thing to worry about just when you didn’t need it, I’ll tell you about a program that might provide a great solution. Don’t delay, though, because the application for this $50,000 scholarship is due by March 20, 2014.

I know some of you are probably kind of sick of hearing about my experiences as an Army veterinarian, and you’re wondering if there are actually any other ways to help pay for school and get a nice stable government job when you graduate. Not everyone is up for the shoot-‘em-up combat action that Army vets sign on for, and that’s totally okay.


Let me introduce you to government organization called the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). APHIS falls under the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and it is often confused with another USDA organization called the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Together, these organizations employ almost 2000 veterinarians who are making a median annual income of $112,000.

APHIS veterinarians support a broad mission that includes protecting and promoting U.S. agricultural health, regulating genetically engineered organisms, administering the Animal Welfare Act and carrying out wildlife damage management activities. They can be located all over the U.S and the world, and their actual jobs range from guiding the government’s One Health efforts to helping to control brucellosis and tuberculosis in the Greater Yellowstone Area to developing emergency preparedness plans focusing on animal welfare in partnership with our country’s zoos.

FSIS veterinarians focus predominantly on food safety and food defense, and they can end up doing some pretty interesting stuff too. Keep an eye out for a new podcast interview soon featuring one of these FSIS vets.

USDA Pathways Program: Saul T. Wilson, Jr., Internship

Okay, I hear you, enough with the background information already! Here are all the juicy details.

How does a $50,000 scholarship sound? Combine that with paid internships during school breaks and an automatic conversion when you graduate to full-time job as one of the aforementioned APHIS Veterinary Medical Officers, and you have yourself the Saul T. Wilson, Jr., Internship (PDF).

Now before you get too excited, I have to admit that the $50,000 is the best case scenario in which you are selected as a pre-vet student with two more years of undergraduate studies (with a $5,000 scholarship per year) and then move on to four years of veterinary school (with a $10,000 scholarship per year).

You could also apply as a first year vet student and get a total of $30,000 (again, $10,000 per year for graduate studies) in scholarship funds, along with these other benefits.

Application Requirements

I just spoke with Mr. John Morris from APHIS. He’s listed as the point of contact in the job listing online, and I wanted to get some clarification for you about the academic requirements. Here they are straight from the USAJOBS site:

  • Undergraduate applicants must have completed at least 2 years (60 semester hours or 90 quarter hours) of a 4-year preveterinary medicine or other biomedical science curriculum.
  • Graduate student applicants must have completed not more than 1 full academic year of study in veterinary medicine.

Mr. Morris let me know that these requirements are at the time of the application. That means that in most cases only junior or senior undergrads and first year vet students are eligible to apply. If you have more specific questions, you can get in touch with Mr. Morris by phone (202-799-7076) or by e-mail (John.C.Morris[at]

If you make it past the first round by meeting the basic eligibility requirements, you’ll be asked to submit three letters of recommendation and a personal statement explaining why you are a good candidate for the program. Make sure you read my advice on how to get a glowing letter of recommendation so you’ll be ready to go when that time arrives.

Program Obligations

Like most government scholarship programs, this one also comes with a mandatory service commitment of one year on the job for each school year that you participate in the program. Depending on when you start the program, this could be anywhere from three to six years working as an APHIS veterinarian.

The other tough requirement is that you have to complete at least 640 hours (16 full-time weeks) of paid internship with APHIS during your participation. This could limit your ability to pursue other types of experiences during your vet school summers and elective rotation time. But you could also end up getting exactly the types of experiences you were looking for anyway, and get paid for them too.

Small Window, Big Opportunity

The application window for this scholarship program is only open for two weeks. That doesn’t give you a lot of time, but don’t let that stop you from trying for what could be a life-changing opportunity. Your future job possibilities and financial stability are going to be shaped by the decisions you make now, as a student. That’s the truth, whether you make conscious decisions about it or not.

Elliott-Garber-cattle-vaccinationSo maybe you’ve never even considered for the government, especially the Department of Agriculture! But what if that work could involve shaping national and international policies regarding the welfare of captive zoo animals? What if you could be involved in developing sustainable solutions to the ever-expanding problems at the interface of wildlife conservation, livestock production, and public health?

Do yourself a favor and at least think about it. This is a pretty cool route into a unique career as an uncommon veterinarian. Again, you can read an informational brochure about the program here or go directly to the USAJOBS online application to find out more.

Have you considered working with the Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service? Can you share any personal stories about APHIS vets that you’ve interacted with? What is holding you back from pursuing an opportunity like this?

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27 Responses to “How to Win a $50,000 Veterinary Scholarship and Graduate with a Guaranteed Job”

  1. Jessica May 1, 2013 at 8:21 pm #

    Hi, thank you for the information! This sounds like an incredible opportunity. I will be starting at Ross in September. Do you know if I would still be eligible for the program? I look forward to hearing from you.

    • Elliott May 1, 2013 at 9:21 pm #

      Hey Jessica, the only restriction I can find for this APHIS program is that the school must be accredited. Because Ross has full AVMA accreditation I assume it would meet this requirement, but you might want to give a quick call or e-mail to Mr. Morris (info above) just to be sure. Good luck!

  2. Zuzi May 1, 2013 at 9:39 pm #

    Hi, this sounds really great, but it is only possible to apply as a US student, right?
    Oh, and if You know anything about great stuff like this going on in Europe, would love to hear about it as well 😉
    You run a great and very inspirational blog, thanks for the motivation in times of need.
    //Polish vet-student 🙂

    • Elliott May 1, 2013 at 9:53 pm #

      Zuzi, thanks for your comment. Yes, unfortunately this program is only for U.S. citizens since it involves working for our government after you graduate. :-/ But I will do my best to try to find out more about similar opportunities in Europe and in other places around the world!

  3. Marston May 2, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

    Certainly worth looking into! Glad I caught this on the front end of you posting it.. I’ll have to do some research into it, but it seems like a pretty incredible opportunity.

    • Elliott May 3, 2013 at 7:31 pm #

      Glad you found it with plenty of time, Marston. Definitely an interesting opportunity to consider seriously!

  4. Didi May 3, 2013 at 10:01 pm #

    I just completed 2 semesters at Ross Univ and I’m about to start my 3rd…would that make me ineligible?

    • Elliott May 4, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

      Hey Didi, good question. I know that Ross has a slightly different academic schedule than a lot of vet schools, but in your situation I think you should be good to go. The requirement pretty clearly says, “Graduate student applicants must have completed not more than 1 full academic year of study in veterinary medicine.” It seems to me that you should fit within that by any definition. That said, you might as well give Mr. Morris a call just to be sure!

  5. Carrie May 3, 2013 at 11:18 pm #

    This was interesting to read about! I was wondering if you could please clarify some numbers for me:

    I’m reading about the $10,000 scholarship per year of vet school. Can that be spent on tuition right away?

    The 640 hours of paid internship to be completed before vet school graduation- what is the pay like? And where are the internships located?

    You mentioned that APHIS and FSIS together employ almost 2000 veterinarians who are making a median annual income of $112,000. Is that meant to reflect starting salaries, or veterinarians who have worked for the APHIS for several years?

    On the other hand, the USAJOBS link above states that the salary range for a Student Trainee is $27,990.00 to $61,678.00/per year. Where does that fit in along the timeline?

    Thanks for your time!

    • Elliott May 4, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

      Carrie, thanks for your questions! I’ll do my best to answer the ones I can based on the information I have, but it would also be a good idea to get in touch with the program administrator for any clarifications.

      I think that the $10,000 scholarship would have to go directly to your vet school towards tuition. I doubt they would even send it to the recipient at all, but that’s just my assumption.

      For the 640 hours of paid internship, there are locations literally all over the U.S. and even some internationally that would qualify. Here’s what the job listing says about it: “Your Pathways duty station will be determined by the agency, and will be based on where you reside during the summer months and school breaks.” So it sounds like they will try to place you somewhere near where you would be planning to live anyway, but I’m sure there’s flexibility.

      The pay during these paid internships is based on your GS grade at the time, which if you’re applying as a vet student would be a GS-7. Those pay scales are standardized across the federal government so you can look them up. I assume that is where the listed salary range of $27,990.00 to $61,678.00 per year is from, but you would only be getting it for the actual hours worked.

      The $112,000 median income figure is for all non-military veterinarians employed by the federal government. So, that would include everyone from new grads to the old guys with thirty years of service. I think that the starting salary for a new grad veterinarian would be in the $70-80k range.

      Hope that helps!

      • Carrie May 4, 2013 at 7:29 pm #

        Great, thanks for the information

        • Lorie Pemberton May 9, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

          Hello Elliott,
          My son will be starting his vet tech program at a community college in our area. He also has high school veterinary courses that have prepared him for this field. Does he still have to go to a 4 year program before he can apply for your program, or will his certification courses qualify him when he finishes, so he can continue at a four year program?
          Also, how long has this program been in existence and how many students are accepted each year?

          • Elliott May 9, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

            Good questions, Lorie. I don’t think it matters if applicants are at a community college vs a regular four-year program, as long as they will graduate with all the pre-requisite courses for vet school and can get admitted to vet school at the end of it.

            You’ll have to get in touch with the program administrator for your last two questions. I’m not formally connected to APHIS or this program — just sharing the details about an interesting opportunity that I learned about! Good luck to your son.

  6. Cassie May 5, 2013 at 8:16 pm #

    Hi, this looks like an incredible opportunity! I’m a graduating senior from Trinity College and have only taken 2 biology courses. I do, however, have significant experience working with animals in a vet setting. Are there any opportunities for me to apply?

    Thank you for your time,


    • Elliott May 5, 2013 at 8:22 pm #

      Hey Cassie, unfortunately I don’t think you would be in the best position to apply right now, unless you’ve already been accepted to start at a vet school this fall. It sounds like you’ll need to take a few more of the veterinary pre-requisite courses first, and then you could apply for this APHIS scholarship once you are more sure that you’ll be starting vet school. Good luck!

  7. Annie May 7, 2013 at 3:31 am #

    This was extremely helpful! Thank you for linking to this on the Student Doctor Network. I submitted my application today. I was hoping to get in contact with a recruiter or someone who has more information about a career with APHIS and FSIS. Do you know how I could find someone to talk to?

    Thank you,

    • Elliott May 9, 2013 at 7:39 pm #

      Hey Annie, that’s great! Best of luck with the application. Two of my favorite ways to connect with other veterinarians are by using Twitter and LinkedIn. Most people on those sites are there because they enjoy interacting and networking with strangers like you and me. If you join my Uncommon Veterinarians group on LinkedIn, there are several APHIS vets who have expressed willingness to help aspiring uncommon vets.

      I also found this information for recruiters on the APHIS and FSIS websites:


      LaWanda Thomas
      National Recruitment & Outreach Program Manager

      Pamela McDonagh
      National Recruitment Program Specialist

      FSIS: Every vet school has its own assigned recruiters, which can be found at:

  8. austinplummer May 9, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

    Hello my only question about this is upon graduation when you are actually employed as a veterinarian, are you forced to re-locate to a new state/area or is it pretty available in most areas in most states?

    • Elliott May 9, 2013 at 8:02 pm #

      Hey Austin, unfortunately I don’t have a good answer for you on this. I know that there are APHIS vets scattered all over the U.S., but I’m sure that the program is not able to guarantee you placement in the location of your choice, either. You might be required to relocate for the job that is available, and since you have committed to the program and are obligated service to pay back the scholarship, you’re not in the most powerful position to argue! I’m sure they try to accommodate new vets as best they can, just like the Army does, but that won’t mean you’re guaranteed to get what you want. :-/

  9. Kate July 26, 2013 at 11:11 pm #

    Hi! I’m interested in this scholarship but haven’t been able to find much information on it or how to get it. Is it directed mostly towards people interested in large animal medicine (since the USDA works mostly with them. And if so do you think it’s important to get a large amount of experience with large animals before applying?

    • Elliott August 3, 2013 at 8:44 pm #

      Hi Kate, that’s great that you’re considering applying for this unique scholarship program. The application window is closed for this year, but I’ll do my best to let everyone know via Facebook and Twitter when it opens back up again.

      USDA veterinarians work with a wide variety of species and are often working more on the public health and administrative sides of things. That means that large animal clinical experience probably isn’t a necessity in order to have a successful application. I’m sure it would help, but I really think that you could be successful without it as well. My best advice would be to try to talk to a few USDA APHIS vets before applying or even spend some time shadowing them so that you can put yourself in the best position to succeed. Good luck!

  10. Dawn N February 3, 2014 at 7:32 pm #

    Hi Elliot,

    Do you know how many interns are hired each year / how competitive this internship is?

    • Elliott February 3, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

      Unfortunately no, I don’t. Your best bet would probably be to give the program administrator a call to see if he or she could help you. Good luck!

    • Stephanie January 20, 2016 at 3:51 pm #

      Hi Dawn,

      I received the scholarship this past year. I’m a first year veterinary student at LSU. In regards to your question, this scholarship is very hard to get and even harder to get an answer from the USDA-APHIS. It took about 7 months for the application process and during that time I called to see how many they were giving out. They told me that it was all dependent on the USDA budget . I was told they gave out about 5-10 this year out of 100 applicants.

      The USDA is extremely helpful in helping you prepare your application and resume for the scholarship. When I submitted my application, my application was marked as “highest qualified”. I definitely couldn’t have gotten that if the USDA hadn’t helped me prepare my resume and I think having a background in research, large animals, and public health helped me a ton too.


      • Ali January 10, 2017 at 5:10 pm #

        Hi Stephanie! Can you provide more details on the steps you took to be a successful applicant? Do they weigh vet school GPA more heavily than undergrad? Any infomation would be helpful!!

      • Marie January 21, 2018 at 10:46 pm #

        Hi Stephanie,
        Congratulations! I’d like to conquer with Ali – do you mind sharing ad ice on how USDA helped you prepare?

  11. Elijah nyamache August 31, 2016 at 6:07 pm #

    I would like to apply for the do i go about kenyan 37yrs an ophan since i was the first born in our family i had to support my younger siblings.this made me not to reakize my dream of becoming a was a problem too.

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