How to Reduce Vet School Debt

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The cost of veterinary education has nearly doubled over the past decade, increasing to levels that few veterinary students can afford without incurring significant debt.  In fact, the American Veterinary Medical Association reports that 90 percent of vet students must borrow to fund their education.  Half of all vet students report that they have a loan debt in excess of $150,000 at the time of graduation.

  The situation is exacerbated by relatively low starting salaries for new vets (and the even lower salaries for those seeking additional training as interns and residents).

This high debt to income ratio is certainly a major issue for veterinary students, but there are several strategies that can help minimize educational debt.  Here are some of the best ways to reduce veterinary debt:

1.  Seek admission to vet schools with a lower cost of attendance

It is important to realize that the cost of tuition can vary significantly from one vet school to the next.  For example, out of state tuition (in 2015) was $64,578 at the University of Ohio, but just $25,906 at the University of Wisconsin.  There are also major variations between in-state and out of state tuition at each institution, with out of state tuition often being double the in-state cost. 

You should also consider the cost of living in the area where you plan to attend vet school.

  Some schools are located in extremely affordable metropolitan areas, which others are located in expensive locales that might force you to make a long commute from the housing you are actually able to afford. 

2.  Apply for scholarships, grants, and awards

You should be sure to pursue any scholarships, grants, or other awards that could provide additional debt relief.

  There are many sources of scholarship funding for veterinary students including programs offered by national foundations, professional associations, state groups, breed organizations, veterinary pharmaceutical corporations, and the military.  It does take the time to gather application materials and essays, but it is well worth the effort.

3.  Establish in-state residency

Most veterinary programs offer significantly discounted tuition rates when you are a state resident.  For example, Cornell University charges $32,750 for resident students and $48,050 for non-residents.  Requirements for establishing residency can vary, so this is something you should look into carefully to be sure that you will qualify.

4.  Consider loan repayment programs

There are several loan repayment programs that may be of interest.  The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, the best-known option, offsets up to $75,000 of the cost of veterinary education for vets willing to practice for 3 years in a designated under-served area.  The U.S. Army also offers full tuition reimbursement and monthly stipends for veterinarians willing to commit to 3 years of active military duty.

5.  Consider international vet school options

There are top notch veterinary programs in many countries, so be sure to consider programs such as those in Europe or the Caribbean.  Some international programs require just 2 to 3 years of undergraduate work, reducing the total time and financial investment.  Tuition costs may also be lower in certain areas.  Be sure to convert tuition costs into your local currency so that you can make accurate comparisons (there are many online currency converters available at no cost).

6.  Don’t borrow more than you need

It is tempting to borrow additional funds if they are readily accessible, but it is important that you only borrow the minimum amount you need.  Remember, interest will accrue and every dollar you borrow now will cost incrementally more to pay back.

7.  Pursue a higher paying type of practice

As with any career path, some veterinary practice types pay more than others.  Be conscious of the fact that food animal exclusive and companion animal exclusive practitioners tend to make the highest salaries.  Mixed practice and equine veterinarians tend to make less.  Salary can also vary from one part of the country to another, so that is worth some careful investigation before committing to a location.

You can also pursue board certification, which will cost more in the short-term (both financially and time-wise), but will yield a salary that is nearly double what a general practitioner could expect to earn.