Everyone has their own reasons for becoming a dentist. For some, it is financial security. For others, it is the desire to help others and give back. No matter the reason, aspiring dentists must make sacrifices to make their career goals a reality. One of these sacrifices, perhaps the biggest, is going into debt. To prepare for this obstacle, educate yourself about average dental school debt.
Keep in mind that average dental school debt refers to the total educational debt owed by dental school graduates. The number includes money borrowed for a four-year bachelor’s degree plus four years of dental school.
An Overview of Rising Dental School Debt
Dentists are not exempt from the growing burden of student loan debt. In fact, 80% of 2016 dental school graduates left college with over $100,000 in debt and 30% with over $300,000. According to the American Student Dental Association (ASDA), 2017 dental students graduated with an average dental school debt of $287,331—an increase from years prior. If historical trends continue, it is likely the debt load will grow in 2018 and beyond. Dental school is not the only school debt that’s rising as the overall average cost of college continues to rise as well, as well as the average medical school debt.
Private Dental Schools vs. Public Dental Schools
The amount of debt dental students endure depends greatly on where they choose to attend school. As with any other form of higher education, public schools offer cheaper tuition rates (on average) than private schools. With cheaper tuition comes a lesser debt load. Before choosing which type of school is right for you, take some time to compare the financial differences.
Tuition Costs at Public Dental Schools
Since they receive state and federal funding, public dental schools offer lower tuition costs than private schools. For the 2016-2017 school year, public school students paid $35,917. This price includes tuition and mandatory fees, but it does not account for living expenses or supplies. The four-year cost of tuition nears $145,000.
Debt Load for Public School Graduates
Even though they chose the cheaper option, graduates of public dental schools still owe a large amount of debt post-graduation. The average dental school debt for 2017 public school graduates was $239,895.This is up around $1,300 from the year prior.
Tuition Costs at Private Dental Schools
Since they lack state and federal funding, private dental schools tend to charge more for tuition. Tuition costs vary greatly between schools, but on average, private institutions charge $67,399 per year. The four-year cost totals $265,596. Other additional expenses include lab fees, preclinical supplies, books, dental kits, scrubs, and exam costs.
Average Dental School Debt at Private Colleges
It should come as no surprise that students paying over $260,000 for dental school have a massive debt load. At private dental schools, the average student debt for 2016 graduates was $291,668. is $53,086 more than the average debt for public dental school graduates during the same year.
Changes in the Dental School Graduate Debt Load over Time
The amount of debt dental students graduate with is on the rise. In 1996, dental school graduates owed an average of $129,927 when accounting for inflation. Twenty years later, that amount doubled to $262,119. From 2006 to 2016, the debt load for public and private school graduates increased by 44% and 24% respectively. When comparing 2015 numbers to 2016 numbers, private dental school debt actually decreases by $13,097. During the same time, public dental school debt increased by nearly $18,000.
Measures are Being Taken to Reduce Dental School Debt
Despite the cost, dental school enrollment is at an all-time high. Students enrolled in pre-doctoral dental education programs totaled 24,677 during the 2016-2017 academic year. This was a 2% increase from the previous year. To help these students out, the American Student Dental Association (ASDA) advocates for sustainable long-term solutions to the growing student debt crisis. Right now, the ASDA is asking Congress and state legislatures to create new legislation that:
- Increases tax deductions for student loan interest, student scholarships, and loan repayments
- Reduces federal student loan interest rates
- Forgives the loans of dentists practicing in underserved areas
- Creates tax deductions and rebates for dentists working in underserved areas
- Protects private student loan borrowers
Along with supporting legislation, the ASDA also encourages state dental societies to increase funding to dental schools and create scholarships for dental students. They have found some success in the latter. Many dental scholarships exist for current dental students enrolled in U.S. dental schools.
Tips for Paying Back Dental School Debt
If you are passionate about dentistry, do not let the average dental school debt load scare you. The numbers may seem high, but paying your debt is doable. Here are a few tips on how to pay back your dental school loans or limit your debt load.
This NHSC program helps qualified health professionals pay back their student loans. Any general or pediatric dentist can apply but must first land a job at an NHSC-approved site in a medically underserved area (MUA). Dentists can receive up to $50,000 to repay their dental school loans in exchange for a two-year commitment. On average, 41% of applicants are accepted to the program.
- Apply for the National Health Service Corps Scholarship
During any year in dental school, you can apply for this full-ride scholarship. The NHSC Scholarship covers tuition and fees, associated educational costs, and a living stipend. In exchange, dental students must commit to working for a minimum of two years in a high-need area. Students can apply each year for a maximum award amount equivalent to four years of schooling.
- Make Payments on Your Loans during School
Go into dental school with a plan to start paying off your loans right away. Even if it is just $30 here or there, it will make a difference. This might include working a part-time job, using savings, or asking your parents to help pay down your loans. Pay off unsubsidized loans first to reduce the accruing interest.
- Plan to Refinance Your Loans
Refinancing will replace your student loans with one new loan. Doing this could land you a lower interest rate, a different repayment term, or simply better customer service. For access to the best refinancing options, you need a good credit score. Take measures during school to raise your credit score so that you can refinance right away.
Deciding If The Debt is Worth It
Knowing that upon graduation you will be saddled with such a debt burden can be unnerving. There are ways to determine whether or not the debt is too much, or if its worth it. Continue to take a look at all the facts, and after educating yourself you can make a decision whether going to dental school is worth the debt that you may end up with.