Becoming a vet means you’re very likely going to be taking on student loans. That’s because vet school takes eight years (including your undergrad studies). And tuition prices and living expenses have only gone up over time. Figuring out how to pay for vet school when you know it’s going to cost six figures is no easy feat.
Because vet school is going to be expensive, you need to know the best ways to pay for vet school and what to expect for your debt versus salary. Keep reading to learn your best options in 2021.
Becoming a vet means six-figure student loan debt
In 2020, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reported 118,624 working veterinarians. Most of those veterinary students left grad school with tons of student loans.
So how much does it cost to become a veterinarian? The average four-year cost of a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) in-state program ranges between $78,479 and $155,295. And out-of-state programs cost between $131,200 and $285,376.
The average vet school debt reported by the AVMA for 2019 grads was $183,302. Student Loan Planner®, meanwhile, has seen numbers in the low to high $200,000 range for veterinarian clients.
In contrast to the major debt that vets graduate with, the average veterinarian salary in 2020 was $99,300 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The lowest-earning vets made $60,690 and the highest earners made $164,490.
The upside is that the demand for veterinarians is on the rise. Finding a position isn’t the problem. But paying down your vet school loans will take some serious effort.
The first two ways to pay for vet school
Get help paying for vet school by filling out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). By doing this you become eligible for vet school financial aid. The first two forms of financial aid you should always take are:
By filling out the FAFSA, you’ll be eligible for scholarships and grants offered by the school you attend. You may have to complete additional forms to receive the funds. You’ll also be eligible for loans, but you want to take out the “free money” first.
Here are a few ways to get started looking into grants and scholarships:
- Go to scholarship search engines and look specifically for veterinarian scholarships.
- The American Veterinary Medical Foundation offers a number of scholarships to students attending AVMA-accredited schools.
- Specific universities offer loan repayment programs while you are in school. For example, Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine accepts five first-year students into a loan repayment program offering $20,000 per year for up to four years. In exchange, you agree to practice in rural Kansas.
Looking for scholarships to pay for vet school can be a lot of work. But any amount you can take off your vet school loans is worth it.
How to pay for vet school with loans
At some point, you will run out of grants and scholarships. This is when it’s best to turn to federal student loans.
Federal student loans are the best way to pay for vet school (after scholarships) because they offer flexibility and protections. Because your salary will most likely be less than you owe in vet school loans, you want as many options as possible. Some of the federal student loan protections include:
- Eligibility for student loan forgiveness programs
- Eligibility for income-based repayment plans
- Can be put into deferment or forbearance based on hardships
- Have fixed interest rates for the life of the loan
- Don’t require payment while enrolled in school at least part-time
- Don’t require a credit check, except for the PLUS loan
- Interest may be tax deductible
Private student loans might offer one or two of these protections depending on the lender. But federal student loans always give you the most flexibility.
Which loans to take out first when paying for vet school?
When you take out federal student loans, it’s important you know what each type of loan means and what the loan limits are. The general order you should take out loans to pay for vet school is:
1. Subsidized Direct Loans
Subsidized direct loans are only available to undergrad students. So if you’re just starting your eight-year path to vet school, then you should take out these student loans first. These loans are at the top of the list because the government pays any interest that accrues while you’re in school.
The total amount you can take out in subsidized student loans is $23,000. This can go pretty fast when you’re in undergrad, so you’ll need to turn to the next best loan, too.
2. Unsubsidized Direct Loans
Unsubsidized student loans are available to both undergraduates and graduate school students. These are the next best option to pay for vet school because they carry a lower interest rate than PLUS loans and remain eligible for federal borrower protections.
Undergraduates can’t take out more than $57,500. Graduate or professional students have a total loan limit of $138,500. That number includes all federal loans taken out as an undergrad.
3. Direct PLUS loans
The Direct PLUS loan, or Grad PLUS loan, is for graduate and professional students only. The Grad PLUS Loan is last on the list because the interest rate is high at 6.28%.
This loan is eligible for forgiveness programs, but only if you do a direct consolidation loan right after you exit your grace period. The Grad PLUS Loan also requires an additional application and credit check.
The only reason the order in which you take out federal loans would change is in the case of PLUS Loans. Because they carry a high interest rate, you might want to compare your PLUS Loan options to private student loans.
How to pay for vet school with private student loans and be smart about it
Becoming a vet is a decision that needs to be funded strategically. If you’re going to owe more than your starting salary straight out of vet school, then it’s best to only take out federal student loans. The only exception to this rule is in the case of the PLUS loan or if you meet your loan limits.
If you need additional funds, always shop around for private student loans. When comparing the PLUS loan to the private student loan, look at:
- The total amount you need to fill the gap
- The loan origination fees — PLUS loans are at 4.228%*
- The private loan monthly payment and loan term
- The interest rates you’re offered on private loans compared to PLUS loans
- Whether the interest rates you’re offered are fixed or variable
- Whether the lender offers any kind of flexibility for hardships or death
If you do decide to look for private student loans to pay for vet school, keep in mind that some lenders may require payments right away. You need to be in a financially stable place to make payments while in school if required.
*Rates as of July 2021
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In some cases, you may be tempted to pay for vet school using family loans or money. Or you might even consider bringing in a cosigner on your private student loan. These kinds of financial choices shouldn’t be taken lightly. Missed payments or hardships could lead to severed relationships.
Don’t forget to compare schools
When you’re looking at how to pay for vet school, you should also consider the cost of each program. Almost all in-state public colleges are going to be more affordable than out-of-state or private colleges.
For example, the four-year cost of attendance at University of Oregon State’s DVM program is about $189,244 for in-state residents and about $290,460 for non-resident students. That’s a staggering difference in total cost!
Have a plan to pay off your vet school loans
You need a plan to pay off your vet school loans. Depending on the type of vet you choose to be, you could qualify for a student debt forgiveness or student loan repayment program. Programs worth looking into include the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP), the Faculty Loan Repayment Program, and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF).
However, chances are you’ll need to count on a longer-term payoff plan. This could include:
- Income-Driven Loan Forgiveness with 20-25 years of payments, or
- Aggressive debt payoff with refinancing and 10 years of payments
If you’re considering going to vet school and taking on six figures of student loan debt, then you should talk to the team at Student Loan Planner®.
We know that people want to pursue their dream job, and this frequently means taking on debt. We also know that debt can cause stress and anxiety, not to mention wreck your finances if you don’t have a plan in place to get out of debt. That’s why we offer the pre-debt consult to make sure you go into this huge financial decision knowing which loans to take out and how you’re going to pay them off.