After finishing up your undergraduate degree with a nice little chunk of debt, you may be asking yourself, "How am I going to pay for dental school?!" It can be quite daunting when you look at the tuition and fees at your average dental school. Tack on room and board and then you consider the debt you may already have accumulated from college and you might start wondering if it's worth financing your dental school education. Unfortunately the debt comes with the job. However, the average general dentist makes between $150,000 - $200,000 a year (specialists, even more) making your rather large investment in earning your DDS/DMD degree well worth the financial difficulties (and hopefully professionally rewarding as well).
How much does it cost to go to dental school? Well, that all depends. Dental school tuition and fees can range from just over $10,000 to well over $60,000 per year, plus you could be paying an additional $10,000 to $25,000 for living expenses. The costs vary widely depending on if the school is public or private and the location (living in New York City is going to cost a whole lot more than living in West Virginia). If you are an in-state resident you will be paying considerably less for dental school than your out of state friends or those students who choose to go to a private dental school. You may be fortunate enough to go to an inexpensive dental school and pay something along the lines of the 2008 tuition, supplies and living expense of about $20,000 at WVU, or you may end up at a school like USC and pay over $61,000 per year in tuition alone (not including living expenses). Some dental students may be fortunate enough to have a nice investment portfolio or some generous parents to help foot the bill, but the majority of students require some financial aid - in 2006 the average dental student graduated with over $145,000 of debt (source: ADEA) and the average debt has continued to increase as tuition has grown rapidly. It's a tough pill to swallow, but if dentistry is your career goal, than accept the cost as an investment in your future and start the process of loans, scholarships, and financial aid for dental school.
The first step is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application becomes available on January first, and must be filled out each year for dental school. Even if you have not yet been accepted or you don't know where you are going to attend dental school in the fall, you need to fill the FAFSA out if you want federally backed financial aid for the coming school year. Just because you fill out the FAFSA application does not mean you need to take their loans - when the school year starts you can choose to accept any or all of the financial aid offered to you from the government. The application needs to be completed before June 30th, however, most dental schools require the application to be completed several months before this deadline - often by March or April. Check with the individual schools you are applying to/accepted at.
Based on the information you enter into your FAFSA including your previous year's income, your current savings and investments, and your parent's income (if you are dependant on them), the government comes up with your Estimated Financial Contribution or EFC. Depending on your financial situation and eligibility, you are offered a number of different federal loans and financial aid for dental school. The basic loan that everyone is eligible no matter what your financial situation is is the Federal Stafford unsubsidized loan, which as of the 2008-2009 school year is $32,000 per year for dental students. This is a low interest loan from the government that accrues interest while you are in school. You may also be eligible for up to $8,500 in subsidized Federal Stafford Loans, meaning, there is no interest on that amount until after your graduate - you definitely want to take this loan if you are eligible. You may also be eligible for the Federal Perkins Loan, which is another low interest loan (5%) which can be taken out up to $6,000.
In addition, you may be eligible for the Health Professions Loan which requires you to provide your parent's tax information, in addition to your own when completing your FAFSA whether you are dependant on them or not. The Health Profession's Loan is another good loan, if you are eligible, as it allows you to take the loan with a low 5% interest rate. The amount available for the health profession's loan varies depending on your situation.
The GradPLUS loan is a new loan offered through the federal government which allows you to borrow up to the full cost of your education after other loans/grants/scholarships are taken into consideration. This type of financial aid is a fixed 8.5% loan -- you will want to use the other types of federal loans before accepting any GradPLUS loan money because you will be paying this higher interest rate.
For those students who will need additionally financial aid, you will need to take out a private loan. This should be your last option because it will be a higher interest loan and will likely have other fees attached. It is suggested that you take out any additional private loans from the same lender that you select to get your Federal Stafford Loan.
Grants, Scholarships & the Military Option
With all the expenses, you may be wondering "are there any grants or scholarships for dental school?" Yes, there are. Schools offer scholarships to top students, there are also several state sponsored and privately sponsored small scholarships, and there are also the Military scholarships. The best scholarships are offered directly by the school to the top applicants in each class. If you have top grades and great DAT scores schools will offer you significant scholarship amounts. It pays to get the top grades as an undergrad! Most of the state or privately funded scholarships are fairly small - in the range of $500 to $2,500 per year. There are also scholarships for minority students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds. You should be able to find information on these scholarships through your financial aid office at your dental school. My best advice is to apply to any you find and as early as possible - hopefully you'll land one or more to help reduce the loans you need to take.
If you don't want to have to deal with the hassle of paying for dental school with huge amounts of financial aid, a Military dental scholarship through the Health Professions Scholarship Program is a great option. It's a fantastic deal if you are willing to serve your country for four years following graduation. The military will pay your entire tuition plus living expenses and an additional stipend in exchanged for four years of service as a dentist in the military. You can also choose to join the military dental program after your first year of dental school in exchange for three years of military service. Each branch of the military (Army, Navy, and Air Force) offers a dental scholarship program, so look into each carefully to find what fits your interests best. Not only do you benefit from the amount of money you save, but you will get decent salary as an officer and dentist in the military and you get great dental experience that will prepare you for a successful career in private practice assuming you choose to leave the military following your four year commitment. Plus, if you are interested in specializing, the military has several great specialty programs that are available to you. You can find out more information by searching online for the military dental scholarships. Recruiters will also likely visit your school during the first month or two to provide additional information, but if you want all four years paid for, you will have to sign up with the military before school starts.