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How to Pay for Dental School

There are many reasons to aspire to be a dentist: a flexible work-life balance, running your own practice, and of course, helping people to be healthier and happier.

But the path to becoming a dentist is expensive, and figuring out how to pay for dental school is something each aspiring dentist must do. In fact, the full cost of attending a private dental school for a four-year degree can be more than $400,000 for tuition along with room, board, medical instruments, and other items.

However, the return on investment may be well worth it. According to Earnest data, the median debt for a DDS or DMD degree is $220,000 and the median annual salary is $155,000.

how to pay for dental school

While the first few years out of school may be financially tight, students loans don’t need to hold any aspiring dentist from doing things like opening a private dental practice.

And the future is bright for dentists. There is now a huge growth in the need for dentists around the country, possibly because of the fact that aging baby boomers are beginning to need more dental work.

Now that you’re considering dentistry as a future career, how will you pay for dental school?

How much does it cost to attend dental school?

First, think about whether you will be able to go to an in-state dental school or if you’ll be a non-resident student in another state. The cost of one year of dental school varies widely depending on these factors. Here are some data points about the first-year cost of attendance:

For an in-state student at the Indiana University the cost is $51,000 and for an out-of-state student, it’s more than $91,000. At the University of Kentucky, the full cost of attendance is $65,000 for a resident and more than $98,000 for a non-resident. At the private Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry at the University of Southern California, the cost of attendance is more than $102,000 for the first year of school.

Now, multiply these numbers by four to see the approximate cost to obtain your dental school degree.

How to pay for your Graduate education

Want more info on how to pay for your graduate education?

Download our new guide to get the information you need.

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Financial aid

How will you pay for your dental school education?

Your first step is to visit the financial aid office of the dental school you’re planning to attend. You’ll be able to find out if the school of your choice offers scholarships or grants and how to apply for them.

Next, be sure to fill out the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). When you have applied for aid and after your have been accepted into the school, you’ll often be automatically considered for grants offered by the school.

Federal loans

Federal loans are offered through the financial aid office of a dental school and the majority of dental school students take them out in order to fund their education.

Below you can find the types of federal loans that are available for graduate dental students. Typically, repayment on federal loans begins six months after you graduate. To find the exact interest rates for federal loans, visit the Department of Education.

Type of loan Rates and costs (through 7/1/16) Maximum borrowing per year
Federal Stafford Loan Fixed 5.84%, with a loan fee of more than 1%. Interest accrues with loan origination. $20,500
Graduate PLUS Loan Fixed 6.84%, with a loan fee of more than 4%. Interest accrues with loan origination. Amount up to the school’s Cost of Attendance minus the amount of all other financial aid you are receiving (including other loans).
Federal Perkins Loan Fixed 5%; no loan fees. Interest accrues with the start of the repayment period. $8,000
Health Professions Student Loan (HPSL) Fixed 5% interest; no loan fees. Interest accrues with the start of the repayment period. Varies according to eligibility and available funds.

Private loans

Private loans may be used in addition to federal loans.These are not offered through the financial aid office of a school, but through private companies.

In contrast to federal loans, rates will vary based on the financial profile of the borrower. Learn more about private student loans here.

Scholarships, grants, and fellowships

Scholarships are typically based on merit and are offered by many schools; recipients are typically chosen according to admissions applications and DAT scores. Grants are based on financial need and do not require repayment, so they are a another way to fund your dental education.

You will want to spend some time researching all your options, whether scholarships offered by the school or by outside organizations. The American Student Dental Association offers this list of scholarship resources.

Some of the offerings available to dental students: The American Dental Education Association offers multiple scholarships up to $5,500. Eligibility requirements vary per scholarship, and you must be an ADEA Individual Member to receive many of these scholarships.

The Hispanic Dental Association (HDA) offers a variety of scholarships every year to students that range from $1,000 to $10,000.

Each year, the TYLENOL Future Care Scholarship awards 30 scholarships of $5,000 each and 10 scholarships of $10,000 each to students who are pursuing a degree in medicine. Awards are based on academic merit, community involvement, and other factors.

The U.S. Army Health Professions Scholarship Program awards full tuition and a monthly stipend of more than $2,000 to students who quality and are pursuing a career in health care or are currently enrolled in a graduate health care program. In addition, sign-on bonuses of $20,000 are given to dental students some cases. In return, you must serve one-year active duty in the U.S. Army for every year you receive the scholarship.

The International Association for Dental Research (IADR) Prosthodontics Group Student Research Fellowship awards a $3,000 cash prize and funds up to $1,500 to support the traveling costs to present the results of the research at an annual IADR General Session Exhibition. The fellowship was designed to encourage dental students to consider careers in oral health research related to prosthodontics.

These are just a few of aid offerings available for dental students and it’s worth investigating all options that can help you defray the costs of dental school.

Your loans after dental school

Finding ways to pay for dental school is the first step. Your next step is to manage your education debt while you’re settling into your new dental career.

There are many federal and state loan repayment programs and resources that are available to newly practicing dentists. However, these programs often include loan repayment assistance in exchange for work and service in certain states. If you’re sure you want to establish a private practice right away or don’t want to be locked into a service commitment, these programs may not be for you.

Another option is refinancing your loans into a lower rate. Once you’ve secured a position in the dental field, you’ll be in a more favorable position to consider refinancing your loans – an option that saves many dentists thousands of dollars in interest payments. Learn more about the pros and cons of refinancing here, and how to know if it’s the right time for you to refinance here.


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