To get a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, you need a plan to pay for vet school — ideally, one that doesn’t leave you buried in debt.
With the cost for four years of vet school typically exceeding $200,000 on average, you’ll want to think about that bill long before you enroll. By taking steps like choosing an affordable school and earning scholarships, you can minimize how much of your D.V.M. degree you’ll need to finance.
Plan during your undergraduate years
If a postgraduate veterinary school degree is in your future, aim to choose an affordable school when you’re an undergraduate. Get as much free aid as possible for your bachelor’s degree and borrow only what you need to in student loans.
Budget while you’re in school and look for ways to save or earn money, like working part time. You’ll likely find it easier to have a job in college than during vet school, though working during the latter is possible. Plan to set aside some of your earnings for vet school costs, if you can.
Keep in mind future vets often start school right after their undergraduate program. If you do that, then opt for a year-long internship and three-year residency, it could be 12 years before you’re making a good income. In other words, start living like a student early so you’re accustomed to saving and scrimping later.
Choose the most affordable vet school for you
There’s no “Harvard effect” with veterinary schools, says Dr. Tony Bartels, a board member of the VIN Foundation, a nonprofit that offers education and resources for veterinarians. That means vets don’t make more money by graduating from a more prestigious school.
Veterinary programs offer in-state students the best deal. Based on data from the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, in-state residents paid roughly $65,000 less on average for vet school tuition and living expenses than their out-of-state counterparts in the class of 2019.
If your home state doesn’t have a school with an accredited veterinary program, or you didn’t get into it, see if you can establish residency in the state where you plan to enroll. Ask your vet school about its residency requirements to determine if you can qualify.
It’s possible an out-of-state program could cost the least if it offers the most scholarships and grants. The extra amount non-residents pay will likely be tough to overcome, though.
Earn free money
Money you don’t have to repay, such as scholarships, fellowships and grants, is the best way to pay for vet school. Your veterinary school is likely your best bet for this aid. But some schools offer free aid to a larger percentage of vet students than others.
For example, Midwestern University in Glendale, Arizona, provides only 1% of students in its vet program with institutional scholarships, fellowships and grants, according to the AAVMC. At Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, more than 98% of students receive this kind of assistance.
Of course, it’s the amount of free aid you receive that matters most, and that will vary by student and school. Ask your school about its scholarship and grants process. Some may automatically award this aid upon admission, while others may require additional applications.
You should also apply for scholarships for veterinary students from private sources. Local kennel clubs, state organizations and professional associations, such as the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, may offer this funding.
» MORE: How to get a scholarship
Take out student loans
After exhausting work earnings, savings and free aid, student loans can cover your remaining vet school costs. Roughly 83% of students in the class of 2019 financed all or part of their D.V.M., according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, and those students graduated with an average vet school debt of $183,302.
Because that debt level is more than double the average veterinarian salary of $76,633 for new grads, vet students must borrow wisely. Generally, it makes sense to take out student loans in this order:
Federal loans for health professions students. These subsidized loans have lower interest rates and longer grace periods than other federal options. Health professions student loans are available only at participating vet schools, and you must be financially needy or from a disadvantaged background to qualify.
Federal unsubsidized and graduate PLUS loans. These federal loans are available to all eligible graduate students. Max out unsubsidized loans first because they have a lower interest rate and smaller fees. You can then use PLUS loans to cover any remaining tuition gap.
Private student loans. Private lenders may offer better terms than federal loans, depending on your credit or a co-signer’s. But for most vet students, going with a federal student loan — and getting options like income-driven repayment that can keep monthly payments manageable — will be the best choice. Some states have forgivable loan programs for veterinarians, but you'll typically need to commit to practicing in a rural area or with large animals to qualify.
Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to receive federal student loans. You must provide your parents’ financial information on the FAFSA to receive loans for health professions students, but you should complete this form without that information for other federal student loans.
If only some of the vet schools you apply to offer loans for health professions students, provide the FAFSA with parent information to just those schools. Then, remove your parents’ information and submit that version of the FAFSA to the remaining schools.
You can apply for private student loans directly with lenders. Compare vet school loan offers to get the best deal possible.
» MORE: How to pay off vet school loans