How to Pay for Dental SchoolFebruary 8, 2021
Updated: March 3, 2023
Dentistry can be a lucrative career. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for dentists was $163,220 as of 2021. However, it takes a significant amount of education to become a dentist, and many people leave dental school with a substantial amount of student loan debt. In fact, the average student loan balance for indebted dental school graduates was $293,900.
If you’re wondering about dental school cost and how to pay for it, here’s what you need to know.
How Much Does Dental School Cost?
When it comes to paying for dental school, be prepared for sticker shock. The American Dental Association reported that the average first-year dental school cost was $56,698 for residents and $74,866 for non-residents. Most dental school students take four years to get their degree, and that’s after they complete their four-year undergraduate degrees.
With such a large expense, few people can afford to pay for dental school tuition and fees out of their savings, leading them to turn to different forms of financial aid.
3 Ways to Pay for Dental School
Since your dental school education can cost well into the six-figures, you’re probably trying to figure out how to pay for dental school without ending up over your head in debt. To cover your tuition, fees, and room and board, consider these financial aid options.
1. Grants and Scholarships
If you’re trying to learn how to pay for dental school without loans, gift aid is the first place to start. Grants and scholarships are forms of gift aid, which don’t have to be repaid. Trained dentists are high in demand, so some federal and state government agencies offer grants and scholarships, and you may be able to get aid from private organizations as well. For example, the following scholarships and grants are available to dental school students:
- American Dental Education Association/GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare Preventative Dentistry Scholarships: Full-time dental school students that intend to practice preventative dentistry may qualify for a $2,500 scholarship.
- Hispanic Dental Association Scholarship Program: Dental school students who are members of the Hispanic Dental Association or Hispanic Student Dental Association may qualify for various scholarships to pay for their education.
- National Health Service Corps Scholarship Program: Through this scholarship program, award recipients can receive money for their tuition and fees, an annual payment for other education costs and monthly stipends to cover living expenses. In exchange, you must make a two-year service commitment and agree to work in designated high-need areas.
You can find other potential opportunities through the American Student Dental Association and Scholarships.com.
2. Federal Student Loans
Federal loans can be a good financing option because they offer relatively low interest rates. After graduation, you can also take advantage of alternative repayment plans and benefits that make managing your loans easier.
As a dental school student, there are two federal loans available to you:
- Direct Unsubsidized Loans: With Direct Unsubsidized Loans, you can borrow up to $20,500 per year ($65,500 aggregate limit). As of the 2021-2022 academic year, the interest rate on Direct Unsubsidized Loans is 4.99%.
- Grad PLUS Loans: Unlike Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Grad PLUS Loans do not have a maximum borrowing limit. You can borrow up to the total cost of attendance of your dental school program. For the 2021-2022 academic year, the interest rate on PLUS Loans is 6.54%.
3. Private Student Loans
If you reach the borrowing limit for federal loans or are looking for more competitive interest rates, private student loans can be a useful option. With private loans, you can borrow up to the total cost of attendance.
Unlike federal loans, which only have fixed interest rates, private lenders typically offer both variable and fixed-rate loans, allowing you to choose an interest rate type that works best for you.
While private loans aren’t eligible for federal repayment plans or forgiveness, they often have longer repayment terms, giving you a lower monthly payment. For example, ELFI offers loan terms as long as 15 years.
How to Repay Dental School Loans
If you need to take out student loans for dental school, you may be worried about affording your monthly payments. However, there are some options available to make your repayment more manageable:
1. Income-Driven Repayment Plans
Federal loan borrowers can apply for income-driven repayment (IDR) plans. With IDR plans, your monthly payment is based on your discretionary income and family size, so you may be eligible for a much lower monthly payment.
2. Public Service Loan Forgiveness
If you have federal student loans and work for the government or a non-profit organization, such as dental clinics or charities, you may be eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). Through PSLF, you can qualify for loan forgiveness after working for an eligible employer for 10 years and making 120 qualifying monthly payments.
3. State Loan Repayment Assistance Programs
To encourage dentists to work in high-need or low-income areas, some states offer student loan repayment assistance.
- Maine: Dentists in Maine who work in underserved areas can receive up to $25,000 per year — up to a maximum of $100,000 — for signing a two-year contract through the Maine Dental Education Loan Repayment Program.
- Delaware: Dentists can receive up to $100,000 in loan repayment assistance through the Delaware Student Loan Repayment Program. In exchange, award recipients must work for at least two years in a shortage area within the state.
To find out if your state has a similar program, visit the American Dental Association’s database of dental school loan repayment programs.
4. Student Loan Refinancing
If you have high-interest student loans and aren’t eligible for forgiveness or repayment assistance programs, another option is student loan refinancing. Creditworthy individuals who refinance their dental school loans may qualify for lower interest rates, allowing them to save a significant amount of money. Refinancing can also help you reduce your monthly payment and pay off your loans faster.
Paying for Dental School
Now that you’ve learned about dental school cost, you can come up with a plan for how to pay for dental school. By using scholarships and grants, you can reduce your education expenses and limit the need for student loans. Federal and private student loans can help cover the rest of your costs, and you can take advantage of different repayment plans and programs to make your student loans easier to handle after graduation.
If you decide to take out private student loans or refinance existing loans, use ELFI’s Find My Rate tool to get loan rate quotes. You can get personalized rates within minutes, without affecting your credit score.