Accelerated pharmacy programs can help pharmacists start earning a six-figure salary a year earlier compared to a four-year program. It sure sounds nice to be done with school a year early and start making $100,000 one year sooner.
That seems like a no-brainer on the surface — but it does, however, come with its challenges. Here’s what you need to think about when comparing options.
What accelerated pharmacy programs are out there?
There are more than 140 accredited pharmacy schools, and 14 of them offer an accelerated program. Here’s a list of accelerated programs from the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP):
These programs range from as low as $27,185 for the first year at Lake Erie (LECOM) to $76,443 at Pacific in California (that’s just egregious!). But it looks like there are plenty of options in the high $40,000 to low $50,000 range. The only option that offers an in-state discount is Maryland Eastern Shore, so lucky you if you live in Maryland.
Remember that these tuition prices are for the accelerated pharmacy program. They would need to be multiplied by three to get the full tuition. Four-year pharmacy schools, in comparison, are less expensive per year on average but take an extra year of tuition to complete the program.
3-year pharmacy school means year-round school
Anyone considering an accelerated pharmacy program needs to know that school goes through the summer with a week or two break here or there. Some have an issue with that and would like to have a few months off a year — but guess what? Working year-round is a part of life once you graduate, so an adjustment will have to happen either way.
Although graduating a year early could be good, sometimes it can mean taking out more student loans to cover living expenses. If someone is in school for essentially all 12 months, they either need to have the savings to support their living expenses, or they have to take out extra loans to cover those costs.
A reason to consider a four-year pharmacy program could be to have the ability to work during the non-school months, earn some money and build up some savings. That way, the savings could be used to lessen the amount of student loans. Taking the opportunity to work full time during the summer and build up savings to pay for the day-to-day living expenses could make financial sense.
Aside from the financial aspect, there’s a difference between going to school and working in terms of lifestyle. School means going to class, then building in the time to study. When you’re not in class, you have to study. Entering the workforce means having a work schedule — but often having the ability to leave your work at work. When you’re home, you’re home, and you can do with that time what you want. Someone who has experienced serious school fatigue in undergrad should take that into consideration, too.
Is there tuition savings for accelerated pharmacy programs?
As the table earlier in this article shows, the cost of going to a three-year pharmacy school is more expensive per year than the traditional four-year pharmacy program. The question is if the higher tuition for three years ends up being more or less than the lower tuition for four years.
The short answer is that it depends on which four-year school someone plans to attend. Travis Hornsby, founder of Student Loan Planner, states:
While the average pharmacist we’ve advised has owed $215,000 of student debt, there’s a huge range around that number. You could owe $120,000 from attending a low-cost public pharmacy school, or you could just as easily owe $300,000 from attending a high-cost private school. Both institutions give you the same opportunity to work as a pharmacist.”
There are nearly 50 pharmacy schools with in-state tuition around or below $35,000 per year. Most students who attend these programs graduate with under $200,000 of student debt. Those who attend private pharmacy schools end up owing between $200,000 to $300,000.
If we look at the 14 accelerated pharmacy programs and the tuition they charge per year, we can compute that going with the three-year track could mean having less than $200,000 in student loans upon graduating.
The bottom line is this: If you have the opportunity to attend an inexpensive in-state pharmacy school, then a four-year track will lead to lower student loan debt than a three-year program. If you don’t have that option, the three-year track should mean a lower cost for the degree compared to a four-year program. This is important because the amount of student loans taken out will greatly affect loan repayment and how long it takes to pay them back.
Loan repayment options for pharmacists
You might be thinking, I’m just looking at my options to go to pharmacy school. Why do I need to know about repayment now? Well, it’s important to know that there’s a threshold of debt that can make paying them back possible in a much shorter amount of time.
We’ve done more than 2,000 individual consults and advised on over $500,000,000 of student loan debt. What we’ve found is that people who owe 1.5 times their income in student loans or less are able to pay off their debt in 10 years or less using an aggressive approach. They often refinance to get a lower interest rate to save even more money paying back their loans.
Those with more than two times their income in debt, on the other hand, tend to be better off going for income-driven repayment. This means paying back their loans over 20 to 25 years while saving up for the tax bomb that will come when the loans are forgiven.
When examining the difference between an accelerated pharmacy program and a four-year program, here’s an equation to estimate how much student debt you’ll have after graduation:
(Tuition per year + $10,000 per year of living expenses) x Number of years to graduate
Now, take that number and increase it by 20% for good measure, since tuition costs go up each year. Ideally, people considering pharmacy school should aim to owe less than $180,000 when they graduate.
Pharmacist debt threshold
Why is graduating with $180,000 in student loans or less better? It may sound like an obvious question because most people want to graduate with less student loan debt. But this number is an important threshold for the average pharmacist.
The average pharmacist makes around $120,000. Owing $180,000 or less puts them on the aggressive repayment track (student loans that are 1.5 times their income or less), unless they have the ability to go for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). To me, a pharmacist would be much better off having the ability to pay off their loans in less than half the time versus going on an income-driven plan that requires 20 to 25 years of loan repayment.
If you run the calculation and it looks like the numbers between the accelerated pharmacy program and the four-year pharmacy school are equal, choose the three-year option. Why? Because you’ll enter the workforce a year early and be a year closer to being student debt-free. Also, life happens — so get in and get out as fast as you can to avoid any unexpected changes.
In summary, three-year accelerated pharmacy programs are almost always the better financial choice unless you there’s a really inexpensive in-state school you can get into.
When a pharmacist needs a student loan plan
Whether you’re looking to get your Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) and are weighing your school options or you’ve have already graduated and are trying to figure out the best way to pay back your loans, it’s important to make a sound financial decision. There’s a lot of money at stake here.
It can get confusing when a PharmD owes or is projected to owe more than 1.5 times their income in student loans because they have many different options to paying back their debt. There’s no one-size-fits-all, but there is the best plan for a particular circumstance.
Marital status and job selection are a huge factor for people with student loans. What if they’re married to someone without student loans? Or their spouse has student loans? What if they’re single? Should they take a job at a larger retail store — or perhaps take a lower-paying job and be eligible for PSLF? What should you do if you’re offered only part-time work?
All of these factors have a huge impact on loan repayment, and that’s what our consultants are here to help with. If you feel like you don’t have a clear path or if your student debt is stressing you out, learn more about our consult process here.
If you’re contemplating a three-year accelerated program versus a four-year program, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your question. I’m happy to help!