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How To Pay For Vet School

Last updated 03/15/2024 by

Lacey Stark

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If you want to become a doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM), be aware that veterinary school doesn’t come cheap. So naturally, you might be wondering how to pay for vet school without ending up with an enormous amount of student loan debt. While most veterinary students take on some federal and/or private student loans, there are other options to minimize that debt such as savings plans, grants, scholarships, and other forms of financial aid. Students may utilize loan repayment or forgiveness programs as well.
If you dreamed of becoming a veterinarian when you were growing up, chances are the costs of veterinary school probably never entered your mind. But between tuition costs and other college expenses, vet school can cost more than $200,000 for a four-year veterinary degree program. So it’s important to plan ahead.
Read on to learn more about ways to pay for vet school, including grants, scholarships, and student loans. We’ll also discuss options to pay for vet school debt after you’ve graduated. First, here’s a quick look at how to minimize expenses at veterinary colleges before you apply.

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Start saving money early

The best way to avoid mountains of student loan debts after college is to not take any out in the first place. Obviously, that’s not always possible, but every little bit helps. Many people save money for college by stashing some in a high-yield savings account or buying certificates of deposit (CDs).
Another option is to open up a 529 plan. Anyone over the age of 18 can start a 529 plan, which is an investment account similar to a retirement account except the money is meant for education expenses. A 529 plan also has tax advantages, and friends and family can contribute to it instead of buying other gifts, says Patricia Roberts, COO at Gift of College, Inc.
“Most plans allow friends, extended family, and even employers to contribute to these accounts for the benefit of current or future students,” she says. “Students (or parents of younger account beneficiaries) can invite contributions for birthdays and holidays in lieu of more traditional gifts. Oftentimes loved ones welcome the opportunity to give a meaningful gift like this versus shopping for something that may not be as valuable in the long run.”

Choose an affordable school

There are only 32 accredited veterinary schools in the United States, according to the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC). That means you may not have one in the state where you live or where you prefer to attend. If you do have an in-state school where you live, that’s going to be the most affordable vet school option you can find. You may also be able to establish residency in another state to meet eligibility requirements for in-state tuition.
For example, if you go to vet school at the University of Arizona, non-residents will pay about $218,000 for four years of vet school expenses. By comparison, Arizona residents will pay only $141,000. Still not cheap, but obviously resident vet students get a huge break on tuition.
Still, if you do have to choose an out-of-state school, some are more affordable than others. The University of Illinois, for instance, will cost you around $212,000 for four years as a non-resident, versus the University of California, Davis at $181,000 for non-residents. That’s a savings of about $31,000.

Factor in scholarships

It’s also important to consider scholarship options at the school you choose. The AAVMC has information on its website, but you can also talk to the school’s financial aid office to find out more.
Using the above example, UC Davis offers scholarships to 100% of its first-year vet school students with an average of $7,200 per student. The University of Illinois first-year students could get an average of $8,900 per student, but scholarships are only awarded to 6.9% of first-year students. If money is a concern, it’s best to talk to your top school choices about what you can expect for scholarship money.

How to pay for vet school

Prospective students in need of vet school financial aid should first fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible and submit it before the deadline. Though financial aid is awarded based on need, the sooner you know what kind of offer you’re getting, the sooner you can decide what other steps you need to take.
Federal aid packages can include a combination of grants, scholarships, work-study funds, and student loans. But while you wait to see what federal funding you can get, consider other options where you can apply for “free money.”

Apply for grants and scholarships

Grants and scholarships — usually awarded directly by vet schools — generally give free money to help you pay for college. They may be awarded based on academic excellence, leadership, financial hardship, or other reasons. These types of funding opportunities are ideal ways to pay for vet school because as long as you maintain the eligibility criteria (which can vary), you never need to pay the money back.
Students can also look to outside sources for many scholarships and grant opportunities. For example, the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF) has scholarship opportunities for students. The AAVMC also has guidance on free funding to pay for veterinary school.
You may also want to look at organizations and businesses in your area, such as your state’s veterinarian association, vet offices, kennel clubs, or other professional organizations. Keep in mind that many grants and scholarships are not necessarily dependent on the degree you’re pursuing, so it’s important to explore all options.

Federal student loans

There are two types of federal student loans provided by the U.S. Department of Education for graduate students, including Direct unsubsidized loans and Direct PLUS loans. The Department of Health and Human Services also offers federal loan options for those seeking a variety of health professions, including veterinary medicine.
  • Direct unsubsidized loans. A Direct unsubsidized loan is a federal student loan meant for undergraduate, graduate, or professional students. Students with these loans can borrow up to $20,500 per year and do not need to demonstrate a need for financial support to be eligible for the loans. Unlike a Direct subsidized loan, which is only available for your undergraduate years, a Direct unsubsidized loan begins accumulating interest immediately, which adds to the overall cost of the loan.
  • Direct PLUS loans. Direct PLUS loans are available to graduate or professional students (and parents of dependent undergraduate students) to help pay for tuition and living expenses not covered by other institutional financial aid. Students must be enrolled at least half-time at an eligible school in a program leading to a graduate or professional degree or certificate. Eligibility isn’t based on financial need, but a credit check is required. If you have bad credit, you may still be able to get a Direct PLUS loan if you meet other requirements. The maximum PLUS loan amount you can receive is the cost of attendance minus any other aid received.
  • Health Professional Student Loans (HPSL). The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is another government organization that offers loans to vet school students in need of financial assistance. These loans generally have more competitive rates than other loans for graduate students, and they’re subsidized, meaning you don’t start accruing interest until after you graduate.

Private student loans

Interest rates from private lenders tend to be higher than for federal loans. However, private loans can help to pay for vet school tuition and living expenses when money from grants, scholarships, and federal student aid falls short of your needs.
Because private loans don’t have as many benefits and protections as federal loans — like repayment assistance programs, hardship options, and public service loan forgiveness programs — you may want to think of private lending sources as a last resort.

Pro Tip

When considering private student loans, be sure to compare multiple offers and keep a close eye on interest rates, loan fees, and repayment terms. Sometimes a competitive interest rate can cause borrowers to overlook excessively high lending fees.

SuperMoney may receive compensation from some or all of the companies featured, and the order of results are influenced by advertising bids, with exception for mortgage and home lending related products. Learn more

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How to pay for vet school after you’ve graduated

According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median pay for veterinarians is $100,370 a year, or $48.26 an hour. But it’s unlikely that a recent graduate can expect to make that much right from the start.
Fortunately, there are multiple loan repayment programs or student loan forgiveness opportunities that veterinarians might qualify for.

Student loan forgiveness programs

According to the AVMF, veterinarians who work in public service (such as for a tax-exempt charitable organization) may be eligible for public service loan forgiveness after 10 years. This loan forgiveness may also apply to those who work in government jobs or for the military.

Faculty loan repayment program

If you’re a faculty member at an eligible health professional school and meet other requirements, you may be able to receive a reward of up to $40,000 in loan repayment assistance. The program is offered by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and is available for many health-related professions. Veterinary medicine qualifies under those guidelines.
The loan repayment program has the following requirements:
  • You are a U.S. citizen (born or naturalized), U.S. national, or lawful permanent resident.
  • You come from a disadvantaged background (based on environmental and economic factors).
  • You have an eligible health professions degree or certificate.
  • You are a faculty member at an approved health professions school.
  • You agree to a two-year commitment.
IMPORTANT! Remember that the money you receive to repay your student debt is normally considered taxable income, which means you’ll have to claim the money on your tax return and pay income taxes. However, the HRSA also provides funding to help offset the tax burden.

The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP)

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awards up to $25,000 towards the qualified student loans of eligible veterinarians who agree to serve in a designated veterinary shortage area for three years. It’s a great way to knock out a chunk of your student loans, but you should be aware that you may have to serve in a rural area.
“If you’re interested in rural, large-animal, or public practice, this is a great opportunity,” says the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

Pro Tip

As a result of legislation during the pandemic, student loans that are forgiven, discharged, or canceled may no longer be considered taxable income through 2025. Check with a tax professional if you’re unsure how to handle forgiven loans (or loans paid on your behalf by an organization) on your tax return.


How long does it take to become a veterinarian?

On average, it takes about eight years to become a veterinarian. This includes first earning a bachelor’s degree with an emphasis on science and then attending a veterinary school for a four-year advanced degree program. Some students also do internships or residency training after graduating from vet school, which could mean up to 12 years of training before going into practice.

What are work-study programs?

As part of federal aid packages provided by the U. S. Department of Education, students may receive work-study jobs. While these guaranteed jobs don’t technically pay for tuition, they do give students the opportunity to work part-time to earn money that can be used towards college needs like books or other expenses — even pizza.
Students in work-study positions will make at least minimum wage but they can only earn up to what is allotted in their work-study award by the Department of Education. For example, if your award is $2,000 for the year, you can’t earn more than that in your work-study position.

Is it possible to get a full ride to veterinary school?

While it’s not common to get a full ride to vet school you may qualify for a full-tuition scholarship to a veterinary college if you join the U.S. Army. Using this scholarship, the government pays you a monthly stipend in exchange for military training and reserve service.

Key Takeaways

  • Many veterinary students pay for vet school with financial assistance like grants, scholarships, and loans — either private or federal student loans.
  • Choosing a more affordable school, such as one located in the state where you live, can help reduce the number of veterinary school loans you need to take out.
  • Private student loans tend to have higher interest rates and don’t come with the benefits and protections of federal loans.
  • Vet school loans can be a financial burden after veterinary school. However, loan forgiveness programs or repayment assistance programs can help to ease some of the student loan debt.

SuperMoney may receive compensation from some or all of the companies featured, and the order of results are influenced by advertising bids, with exception for mortgage and home lending related products. Learn more

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