There’s no question about it, veterinary school is expensive. The average veterinary student in the United States graduates with around $150,000 dollars of debt. The average starting salary of a veterinarian in 2019 was only around $80,000. This is a 1.9:1 student loan debt to starting salary ratio!
It is recommended to keep your total student loan debt to less than your first year starting salary. But with costs of tuition continuing to rise, you may have to get creative to find ways to pay for or save on your veterinary school tuition.
Below are my top tips for findings ways to afford veterinary school that don’t involve taking out more than $100,000 in student loans.
1. Apply to your in-state veterinary school
The best way to save on your veterinary school education is to attend a school that costs less to begin with. And an easy way to do that is to consider attending your in-state veterinary school.
This isn’t an option for some prospective veterinary students, but if you do have an in-state veterinary school – apply to it. In-state tuition is often significatly less than out-of-state tuition. By attending a school with lower tution, you can spend significantly less for an equivalent level of education.
For example, at the University of Minnesota total tuition costs for 2020 graduates were as follows:
- Resident: $143,503
- Non-Resident : $250,893
That means that in order to attend the University of Minnesota for your veterinary education, you would save $107,390 by establishing residency before you start veterinary school! That’s a huge saving.
Interested in comparing the tuition costs for resident vs. non-resident students at the school you are most interested in, check out the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC)’s amazing cost comparison tool.
If you do not have an in-state school, it is worth doing some additional research to determine which veterinary schools will allow you to establish residency during veterinary school. Some schools will allow you to switch to resident status after your first year if certain criteria are met.
2. Don’t Forget to Include Cost of Living in Your Expense Estimate
When you are considering the expense of veterinary school, don’t forget to factor in the cost of living. If you have looked at the AAVMC’s cost comparison tool, you will see that they helpfully include a cost of living estimate for that school.
And costs of living can vary significantly between different locations in the United States. Take for example the estimated cost of living around the University of California vs. Iowa State University.
- University of California- Davis: ~ $120,000
- Iowa State University: ~ $58,000
It cost nearly twice as much to live near and attend the University of California – Davis than it does to live in the much more rural Ames, Iowa to attend Iowa State University.
As you can see, choosing to attend a school in a state with a lower cost of living can significantly reduce the amount of student loans that you need to take out during veterinary school.
And while the AAVMC cost of living estimates are the most accurate for the areas right around the veterinary schools, I did check to see which states have the lowest cost of living overall and if they had a veterinary school. Per World Population Review, these are the 10 states with the lowest cost of living:
- Mississippi – Vet School: University of Mississippi
Arkansas – no veterinary school
- Oklahoma – Vet School: Oklahoma State University
- Missouri – Vet School: University of Missouri
New Mexico – no veterinary school
- Tennessee – Vet School: University of Tennessee
- Michigan – Vet School: Michigan State University
- Kansas – Vet School: Kansas State University
- Georgia – Vet School: University of Georgia
Wyoming – no veterinary school
Okay, so maybe you have already been accepted to veterinary school and can’t do anything about your tuition costs or where you are living now. In that case, it is time to start applying for scholarships.
Many veterinary schools offer scholarships to their students, but you can also think outside the box and find less common/competitive ones.
Here is a short list of some common scholarships that veterinary students can apply to:
- Zoetis/AAVMC Veterinary Student Scholarship Program – $2000. For 2nd/3rd year veterinary students.
- Merck Animal Health Veterinary Student Scholarship Program – $5,000. For 2nd/3rd year veterinary students.
- AVMA/AVMF 2nd Opportunity Summer Research Scholarship – $6,000. For currently enrolled veterinary students who have previously conducted a summer research project.
You can find more complete lists of scholarship opportunities just for veterinary students at the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF)’s scholarship information page.
But just because you are a veterinary student, don’t forget to go looking for some of the more unique scholarship opporunities. Check out these lists for some fun ideas. From scholarships for pumpkin carving to creating a great greeting card, there are opportunities for everyone.
- 60 of the Weirdest College Scholarships (by collegexpress.com)
- Unique Scholarships for College Students (by affordablecollegesonline.org)
4. Plan Ahead and Save as Much as You Can Prior to Veterinary School
For those of you reading this blog post several years before applying to veterinary school, kudos to you. Thinking about the financial ramifications of the price tag of attending professional school is an important step in deciding that you want to become a veterinarian.
While many aspiring veterinarians start collecting veterinary experience hours while in high school, not all students plan as well for the financial side of veterinary school.
Here are some tips to help you make the most of your money so you can build-up your savings before you enter veterinary school.
- Try not to work for free while you gain veterinary experience: While it is very important to get a significant amount of veterinary experience prior to veterinary school (in orderto help make your veterinary school application competitive), try to find paid experiences whenever you can. Find a paid job in a veterinary clinic or get paid to work as a summer research assistant with a veterinarian’s research project.
- Work During High School and Undergraduate: Even if you can’t find a job related to veterinary medicine, make sure that you have a part-time job during high-school and your 4 years of undergraduate. You may not make a lot of money with a part-time job, but every dollar earned has the potential to become more if invested/used well.
- Open Checking and Savings Accounts with Good Interest Rates: Checking and savings accounts can vary significantly in how much interest you can earn on the money in that account. Per an article by ValuePenguin, the average bank interest rate for accounts in the U.S. in 2019 were as follows:
- Interest Checking: 0.06%
- Savings: 0.09%
- You can easily find accounts with much higher rates than this average, so don’t let your money sit in a low-interest account. I personally use two online banks, Ally and Vio, to store some of my money that I don’t want to tie up in long-term investments. When I opened the accounts, Ally savings was at 2%. Right now, it is only at 0.5%. Vio savings was over 2% when I opened it and is currently at 0.57%. But they are still both significantly better than the national average.
- Invest Your Money: Depending on how early you start saving, investing some of your money in the stock market can be a great way to grow your dollars. When it comes to investing, I recommend working with a financial professional. Personally, I like investing in mutual and index funds (like the S&P 500) as these don’t require me to have enough knowledge to pick individual bonds and stocks. I also have a small amount of money invested in cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency is more volatile than the general stock market, but if you are interested in investing in cryptocurrency feel free to use my referral link to Coinbase. If you make an account and purchase $100 or more of cryptocurrency, we will both receive a bonus of $10.
- Listen to Financial Podcasts to Help You Develop Financial Literacy: I wish I could say that I learned all of these tips before I entered veterinary school, but unfortunately, I gained most of my financial knowledge after graduating as I scrimped and saved to help pay back my average student loan debt of ~$150,000. My parents had taught me a lot about saving and not spending frivolously, but I still had a lot to learn about investing and making money. To this date, my favorite way to learn more about being smart with money is listening to podcasts. Right now, my favorite money podcast is The Money Guy. They offer great, easy to understand, financial advice.
5. Make Money During Veterinary School
Okay, so maybe you didn’t make much money before veterinary school. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make more now. Even though veterinary school is a full-time job, many veterinary students still maintain part-time jobs during their first 3 years of veterinary school (before starting clinical rotations).
Since the hours you can work are likely to be minimal it is important to choose a job that understands that your veterinary education comes first. An easy way to do this is to accept a job position at your veterinary school.
For example, during my first 3 years of veterinary school, I worked after-hours in the lab running bloodwork for the veterinary hospital. Since this job was created to be staffed by students, the hours were perfect.
Other students worked cleaning surgical suites or after-hours in the call center answering incoming phone calls.
There were also a few local veterinary clinics that hired students to work weekend hours. These jobs can be nice because you also get some additional veterinary experience while you are working.
But beyond veterinary-related jobs, I would also urge you to think past traditional jobs to side-hustles that can be even more flexible. Don’t forget things like pet-sitting or blogging about your journey to veterinary school.
Personally, I am partial to blogging and that is why this blog was started. I also write for PawsitivelyIntrepid.com and have written a full overview how-to guide for “How to Make Money Blogging about Your Dog or Cat.”
Just remember that it can take several years to really start making money from blogging, so if you are interested in a long-term goal side hustle, start as early as possible. But you can blog about anything that interests you from sharing helpful tips for fellow aspiring veterinarians to blogging about travel, a hobby, or even your pet.
Interested in more ways to make money outside of a traditional job? The Penny Hoarder has lots of great lists to look over. These two posts have some good ideas:
- 31 Legitimate Ways to Earn Money Online, From the Convenience of Home
- How to Make Money Fast – 32 Ways to Add Money to Your Bank Account ASAP
Now get out there and start working towards finding a way to afford veterinary school!
With some planning, a few sacrifices, and some hustle, you can keep your student loans much lower than average. Hopefully after reading the tips above you feel better equipped to make a plan to afford veterinary school without $150,000 of student loan debt.