How to Get a Health Professions Student Loan

You must demonstrate financial need and attend a participating school to receive a health professions student loan.
Ryan Lane
By Ryan Lane 
Edited by Des Toups

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A health professions student loan is a government loan for students at participating schools who demonstrate financial need. There are four kinds of health profession loans:

  • Health Professions Student Loans (HPSL).

  • Loans for Disadvantaged Students (LDS).

  • Primary Care Loans (PCL).

  • Nursing School Loans (NSL).

Before taking on any loans, make sure to exhaust free aid like grants and fellowships. If your school offers health professions loans and you're eligible, take these out before other student loans for medical school because of their low interest rates, long grace periods and generous interest subsidies.

Who’s eligible for a health professions student loan?

You must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to qualify for the loans. You must also demonstrate financial need; your school will determine this based on its cost of attendance and your available financial resources.

Each loan has its own requirements as well, such as which academic programs qualify.

HPSL are available to full-time students getting a doctorate in one of the following:

  • Dentistry.

  • Pharmacy (bachelor’s degree also eligible).

  • Podiatric medicine.

  • Optometry.

  • Veterinary medicine.

LDS are available to full-time students getting a doctorate in one of the following:

  • Allopathic medicine.

  • Osteopathic medicine.

  • Dentistry.

  • Pharmacy (bachelor’s degree also eligible).

  • Podiatric medicine.

  • Optometry.

  • Veterinary medicine.

You must also come from a disadvantaged background to qualify for an LDS. This typically refers to students whose families qualify as low-income based on governmental poverty guidelines, though the school’s financial aid office ultimately determines eligibility.

NSL are available to half- and full-time students in nursing programs of any length that lead to a diploma, associate degree, baccalaureate degree or graduate degree.

PCL are available to full-time students getting a doctorate in allopathic medicine or osteopathic medicine.

If you take out a PCL, you must agree to:

  • Start and finish your residency within four years after graduating.

  • Practice primary care for 10 years or until you pay off the loan, whichever happens first.

What’s different about health professions student loans?

Funds for health professions student loans are provided by the Health Resources and Services Administration, not the Department of Education.

Because of this, health professions loans differ from other federal loans for medical degrees, such as unsubsidized direct loans and graduate PLUS loans.

  • Competitive interest rates. Health professions student loans have fixed interest rates of 5%. Interest rates for graduate unsubsidized loans are currently set at 6.54%, while PLUS loans are 7.54%.

  • Longer grace periods. Payments on the loans aren’t due until 12 months after you graduate — twice as long as other federal student loan options.

  • Subsidized interest. Health professions loans are subsidized, meaning you don’t pay interest until your grace period ends. You’re always responsible for the interest that accrues on unsubsidized loans and PLUS loans.

  • Not all schools participate. Schools administer the loans. Schools must apply with the federal government and meet specific criteria, like having a default rate on existing loans that doesn’t exceed 5%, to receive funds.

  • No set borrowing amounts. How much you’ll receive is up to your school, and funding for the loans may be limited. You typically can’t borrow more than your school’s cost of attendance.

  • Fewer repayment programs. These loans aren’t eligible for income-driven repayment or Public Service Loan Forgiveness. However, all of the loans, except for Primary Care Loans, can be consolidated into direct loans to qualify for these programs.

How do you get a health professions student loan?

You’ll typically apply for a loan by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. But a school may use its own form for these loans instead; check with the financial aid office to understand the application process.

Even if you’re considered an independent student, you must provide your parents’ financial information to receive a health professions student loan unless they’ve died. Schools cannot waive this requirement.

If your school offers these loans and you’re eligible, the loan will be listed on your financial aid award letter, along with any other financial aid you’re offered. Again, accept all free aid before taking out any student loans.

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