“But everyone HATES the dentist!” “You really want to have your hands in other people’s mouths all day?” “Why not just go to medical school?” These are just a few examples of the myriad of questions one typically hears while growing up with aspirations of being a dentist. For some odd reason, despite these protests from family and friends, I always had a desire to attend dental school and learn the ways of oral healthcare.
It is an exciting field that allows independence, ever-evolving technological advances, and the opportunity to wear scrubs every single day along with cool-looking magnifying glasses. What is there not to love?
After deciding on dental school as my future career choice and applying I was excited to be accepted to The University of Kentucky College of Dentistry, class of 2020. What I was not so elated about, however, was the painful out-of-state tuition and fees cost that would plague me annually for the next four years. Ouch. Nobody ever mentioned how significant an impact taking out loans to cover around $80,000 per year just in school tuition can have on a new adult.
Luckily, my lovely wife that I married just days prior to school starting was able and willing to find a job in our new city and state. With her making just enough for us to pay bills and eat food every now and then, I have been fortunate to be able to simply take out the minimum amount of loan money to cover tuition and fees, without having to dip the ladle down for more to include living expenses.
That has been such a blessing because, at almost 7% interest, those federal direct and GRAD plus loans will be (and currently are) adding up with speed and rigor.
Despite logic, I still think that investing in this education and procuring this loan debt is worth it. I have genuinely enjoyed the last two years here in Lexington, Kentucky, and I can say that I am more interested in dentistry than ever. There is always a sense of panic or stress when I think about my loans and the amount of interest alone that I am constantly accumulating.
However, I am confident that I will find a way, just like the thousands of dentists before and after me, to live a comfortable and productive life while doing what I love.
Words of Advice
My future plans upon graduation are to become an associate with an older dentist, while my wife applies to and attends law school (more debt, yay!), and eventually buy out the practice and become the sole owner and clinician of a successful dental office. That’s the dream. All I can do now is to be wise with our limited finances, make smart economic decisions that are future-focused, and set ourselves up for opportunities to follow that ideal plan.
I have some words of advice for future or current professional students, so please bear with me.
1. Be Smart When Applying for Loans
Almost everyone has to use them for graduate school, so don’t feel bad. However, some people tend to think that loan money is a never-ending bucket that has no consequences. You must pay back every dime, with interest, that you borrow from the government, a bank, a rich uncle, whomever. Therefore, it would be wise to only take out the absolute minimum required amount of money that you will need to live. I don’t mean try to save enough so that you only eat two meals per week, but also try not to take out thousands of dollars more than you will need to pay your tuition, rent, gas, groceries, and entertainment.
2. If you are Offered Help From Family or Friends, Take it
This is no time for pride or hard-headed independence. I am lucky that my in-laws decided to buy the house in which we currently reside, so we just pay them a significantly reduced rental rate each month compared to my friends who live in similar-sized houses or properties. While we were looking for apartments or homes here, my wife’s parents expressed interest in getting into the real estate investment business. Now, we have four whole years of fairly-cheap rent right next to campus, where I can commute by bicycle daily. It is undoubtedly a better scenario than if we decided to go it our own way and find an apartment or housing complex ourselves.
3. You Probably Can’t Live Like you did in College or While you Were Working
What I mean by this is that going to restaurants and bars, and taking road trips or vacations, isn’t likely going to be possible or financially smart while you are in professional school. For one, you will not have the time. But more importantly, all of those activities cost money, which is typically limited in your case. We have been able to live rather well and spend a lot of time with our friends and socialize, but we always plan ahead. That means we ask ourselves is this something that we really want to do, and is this something that we can afford right now.
Most of the time we agree that we can participate in whatever it is, but sometimes we have to say no and just watch Netflix that night. Again, it’s that future-focused mindset that we use all the time in order to make financial decisions.
4. Don’t Worry so Much About Your Loans Right Now
Don’t get me wrong, they deserve a healthy amount of fear and respect. But, it is not fun or beneficial to constantly be thinking about the debt or interest or paying it back once you get out. You will figure out a way to do that. You will get it done, and it will be a personalized and specific path to get there.
I hope that I haven’t scared anyone away from professional or dental school. It really has been one of the most challenging yet rewarding, fun, and exciting time of my life. This living situation will be worth it in the end, and it will be a funny and endearing time that my wife and I will laugh about in the future.
We are all in this together. You and me. Let’s get through school, pay off our debt, and contribute to society in the specific ways for which that we have been training. Godspeed, and may the odds be ever in your favor.