Isn’t it amazing how you can have two veterinarians that went to different schools and one might owe $150,000 while the other owes $400,000? Vet schools have wildly varying costs, and they don’t do a good job of explaining how much debt you could leave with once you graduate.
From my experience, there are 5 major categories of vet schools ranked by how much they destroy your finances post-graduation. These are low-cost in-state public, moderate cost in-state public, out of state public, private, and for-profit colleges. Can you afford to be a veterinarian?
While there is some difference in educational quality across institutions, I think we can agree it’s not hundreds of thousands of dollars worth.
The Best Value: In-State, Low-Cost Veterinary Schools
If you wanted to know who comes out of vet school the most financially secure, it’s DVMs who are lucky enough to get into a low-cost public university and pay in-state tuition.
Despite the narrative of runaway debt, there are some spots out there that either has great financial support from their state legislatures, have done a fantastic job at controlling costs, or both.
This collection of veterinary schools gives you a low enough debt load to have a hope of paying everything back one day based on a typical $70,000 to $80,000 veterinary salary.
Cost of Attendance
Estimate for 4 Years
University of Georgia
North Carolina University
Oklahoma State University
Schools like the University of Georgia charge relatively low tuition compared to their peers AND they’re located in low-cost areas. That helps a lot since most vet students borrow for living expenses too.
If you happened to live with roommates and watch your food budget like a hawk, then you could come out owing even less than some of the numbers above.
With a 10-year refinancing, you’d be paying about $1,500 a month for 10 years. If you wanted to get out of debt in 5 years or less, you’d pay around $3,000 a month. While those numbers are certainly not pleasant, they also represent something that’s possible for a young veterinarian.
If a prospective applicant asked me if it was financially responsible to go to an in-state school that charged less than $25,000 a year in tuition, I’d reply with an emphatic yes.
Tolerable: In-State, Modest Cost Veterinary Schools
These schools will most likely leave you pursuing a student loan forgiveness path, especially if you stay single or marry someone with a low income or high student debt.
The reason is when financing your veterinary medical education, you’ll leave school with a burden more than two times your starting salary if you borrow for the entire cost vs reward of veterinary school. That balance will continue to grow when you’re a disillusioned veterinary school graduate. Even if you gain substantial bonus income from doing procedures, you will probably not have your veterinarian debt to income ratio drop below two.
That means using Pay As You Earn (PAYE) or Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) is probably your best option.
Cost of Attendance
Estimate for 4 Years
University of Florida
University of Minnesota
Ohio State University
University of California, Davis
This category of vet school is the last that leaves you with options to get out of debt if you really want to badly enough. If you owe $250,000, then your 10-year monthly payment would be around $2,500.
While that’s a lot, it’s possible. Five-year repayment options begin to look impractical in this category because you’d have to pick up a bunch of relief work or get some awesome quarterly bonuses in order to have something left over to live on.
Once your yearly tuition goes above $25,000 a year, I would begin to tell someone that you better love veterinary medicine because the financial part of the decision is more challenging with the higher debt.
Same Education, More Money: Out of State Public College of Veterinary Medicine Schools
Unless your passion for veterinary medicine is so great that you can’t imagine doing anything else (or you’re expecting a monster inheritance from grandma), this is where the math really starts getting tough.
Colleges of Veterinary Medicine love taking out of state students because the profit margin is so high. While it’s true that in-state students have some support coming from their state legislature that offsets their tuition, that support is not equal to the difference in the price for in state and out of state.
Consider the University of Illinois. I estimate about $202,000 for four years if you go in-state. If you’re out of state, that estimate jumps to about $286,000 because of their $21,000 annual surcharge.
Another example would be Kansas State University. My estimate for in state debt burden is about $169,000. If you came from out of state? It jumps to $283,000.
With the debt load that you’ll leave with as an out of state veterinary student, you will almost certainly need to orient your finances on optimizing the federal student loan programs. That’s something we specialize in, so feel free to contact us if that’s you.
How Can Private Veterinary Schools Charge This?
Nobody is questioning the quality of the education at private vet schools. In fact, some of the research that’s being done at places like Penn Vet Med is mind-blowingly important.
The problem is that lack of a state body like a legislature providing support (or political pressure) to keep prices reasonable causes tuition to soar.
It’s my suspicion that private colleges of vet med have more of a focus on their research mission than on their educational mission. Hence, if you can get away with charging more tuition because of a federal system that gives a blank check to universities (no federal caps on graduate lending), why not do it and subsidize your research?
Unless your family is rich, there is almost zero chance you will be able to get out of debt without using a federal program to manage your loans for 20+ years.
Private CVM tuition is mostly financed with Grad Plus loans, which carry an origination fee of over 4%. The loans continue to grow while you’re still in school, so the numbers I’m showing you as an example are almost certainly lower than what you’d actually leave with.
From my experience with clients, this is also the case. The median Penn vet I work with has about $380,000 of vet school debt for example.
What’s challenging about private vet schools is that they often carry higher living expenses due to their location.
Tufts College of Veterinary Medicine is in the Boston metro area. Penn College of Veterinary Medicine is in Philly. Western University of Health Sciences Vet Med is in Southern California.
Not only do you get hit with the higher tuition, you also pay up on the higher rent, food costs, entertainment, transportation (in the form of higher car insurance), and more.
Regardless of your balance after leaving a private vet school, you still have hope for a solid financial future using the income-driven repayment programs appropriately.
Cost of Attendance
Estimate for 4 Years
Western University of Health Sciences
University of Pennsylvania
Out for Profit: Caribbean Veterinary Schools
If you don’t get into a low-cost in-state program, and you don’t want to wait until next cycle, many students apply to St. George’s University and Ross University in the Caribbean.
Some St. George’s grads let me know that one reason they went there is that it looked to be cheaper than the comparable cost at an out of state program.
The sticker prices that I could find on their websites would suggest this as well, with about $271,000 for St. George’s and $325,000 for Ross University.
For some reason though, when I run into clients from these schools in my consulting business, the balances always seem to be way higher than they’re “supposed to be.” Veterinarians are smothered in debt.
The big distinction between these schools and those in the earlier 4 categories is that Caribbean schools are for profit. Someone not located in the Caribbean islands these schools are located in is making a killing off charging the students high prices for their education.
I’ve seen multiple cases of Ross grads who owe over $500,000 for a veterinary degree. Many of the St. George’s grads that I’ve spoken with have owed over $400,000.
In my opinion, if your only option to be a veterinarian is one of these schools, make sure there’s nothing in the world you could do that would make you happy. Because of the for-profit nature of the institution, I wouldn’t be shocked if there were massive tuition increases each year you attend.
The faculty and professors still care and want you to have a good education, but the conflict of interest created by the ownership structure would make me wary of attending one of these schools.
What Was Your Experience in Vet School?
Did you come out owing what you thought you would? What advice would you give to current applicants to vet school on what to look out for when trying to make a decision on where to go?
If you have over $100,000 of vet school debt and want a plan for it, just reach out and we can tell you how our service works to see if it’s a good fit for you. Wondering how to reduce vet school debt?
The good news is no matter how much debt you have, there’s a way to manage your money wisely where you can afford retirement, owning a home, taking nice vacations, etc. The path is just narrower the more debt you have.
If you’re serious about regaining control of your debt and paying it off sooner, please click here to schedule a consult with me.