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Student Loans

Average Student Loan Debt for Veterinarians

Updated Apr 21, 2021   |   7 mins read

Veterinary student loan debt is common and can be stifling for some graduates. 

The average student loan debt for veterinarians graduating in 2016 was $143,757, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. That average goes up to $167,534 when graduates who have zero debt are taken out of the equation.

More than 20% of veterinary graduates owe more than $200,000 in student debt, creating a pressing need to plan for repayment over the long term. 

This guide explains how much you can expect to pay for veterinary school, average veterinarian salaries, how to pay back veterinary school debt, and ways to pay for veterinary school with less debt. 

On this page:

Cost of veterinary school

A veterinary education typically includes earning a bachelor’s degree and attending a four-year veterinary program to earn a doctorate of veterinary medicine (D.V.M.).

Among Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges member institutions, resident tuition, fees, and living expenses for four years for 2019 graduates ranged from $168,087 to $282,656, AAVMC reports.

Add that to the $25,290 annual cost of attendance for a public in-state institution, as noted in our cost of college statistics, and you’ll spend around $300,000 to get through vet school.

Veterinarian salaries

Is becoming a vet worth the cost? 

The median salary for veterinarians in the U.S. for 2018 was $93,830 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That’s well above the national median of $38,640 and the median full-time income for young adults with a bachelor’s degree only, which the National Center for Educational Statistics reports is $50,500.

Still, you may have trouble managing your massive vet school debt early in your career, so look for opportunities for repayment assistance or other debt relief.

Paying back student loan debt for veterinarians

In addition to standard repayment options, veterinarians may have access to these repayment and loan forgiveness programs:

Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program

Under this program by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, veterinary student loan borrowers may receive up to $25,000 per year for up to three years to repay student loans. 

To be eligible for this program, graduates with a D.V.M. degree must agree to work at least three years in an area where there is a vet shortage.

Army Active Duty Health Professions Loan Repayment Program

Under this program, the U.S. Army assists servicemembers in health professions with student loan debt. Active duty veterinarians can receive up to $120,000 over three years, while reservists can receive up to $50,000 over the same period.

Faculty Loan Repayment Program

Under this program, veterinary graduates who agree to teach at an accredited health professions college or university may be eligible for up to $40,000 of veterinary debt repayment. 

Borrowers qualify if they come from a disadvantaged background and have earned an eligible degree, including a D.V.M.

Veterinary Student Loan Repayment Programs Offered by State

There are several state-focused repayment programs offered to veterinary graduates based on resident status, the college or university attended, and the location of your job after graduation. 

Amounts and qualification requirements vary greatly across state-specific programs, so check with your school’s financial aid office for information specific to your state.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

The federal government offers Public Service Loan Forgiveness to eligible borrowers who have made 120 qualifying payments under a qualifying repayment plan.

To be eligible for PSLF, borrowers must work for a qualifying government, nonprofit, or public service organization while making payments.

Income-driven repayment plans

Veterinary student loan borrowers with federal student loan debt may also qualify for an income-driven repayment plan

These plans align your monthly payment with your income and extend your repayment period to 20 or 25 years. The remaining balance is forgiven after the repayment term.

Refinancing options

To simplify repayment save money in interest payments, you can restructure your veterinary student loan debt through student loan refinancing.

Creditworthy borrowers can reduce their monthly payment and interest rate by refinancing federal or private loans with a private lender. This could save you money over time, but would eliminate any borrower benefits offered on federal loans, including income-driven repayment and forgiveness.

How to reduce veterinary school debt

Reducing your veterinary school debt starts with limiting your education costs and being smart about what kind of debt you take on. Here are a few ways to do that:

  • Apply for scholarships and grants. These offer funds to pay for school that you don’t have to pay back.
  • Become an in-state resident. Public schools typically offer lower tuition for in-state students. Keep your tuition down by attending college in your state, or moving to your college’s state and establishing residency (usually after one or two years) before attending.
  • Pay out of pocket. Work part-time during college to reduce the amount of financial aid you need.
  • Use federal loans first. Cover as many costs as you can with federal student loans before applying for private loans. This can save you in interest and keep your options open for repayment assistance and forgiveness.
  • Compare loan options. Before you apply for private student loans, compare the best companies to find the best rates and terms.

>> Read More: Student loan debt statistics

Student loan options for veterinary students

Student loans for veterinary students come in many forms. Here is a brief breakdown of the loan types for vet students:

Federal Direct Loans

Federal Direct Loans, are guaranteed loan funds available to any veterinary student, regardless of financial need. Graduate students can borrow up to $20,500 per year up to a total of $138,500 over the course of a degree program.

These loans are funded through the U.S. Department of Education (ED), and you’ll apply through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Federal Direct Grad PLUS Loans

Another ED loan option for vet students is the Grad PLUS loan. Unlike Direct Loans, these loans take your credit history into account. However, qualifying requirements are more flexible than for private loans, so you may qualify even with bad credit.

Grad PLUS loans are available up to the total cost of attendance, less any other financial aid received.

Health professional loans

You may be eligible for health professional loans through your school. These loans are need-based and highly competitive, and they may have more favorable loan repayment terms and interest rates for students who commit to working in an underserved area after graduation.

Private student loans

When federal loans are not enough to cover the full cost of attendance, veterinary students may also apply for private student loans. These loans are offered by private lenders like banks, credit unions, and online lenders.

Qualification for private loans is based on your creditworthiness and other factors. If you have a bad credit or no credit, you could still qualify for a loan with a cosigner.