VIN Foundation | Supporting veterinarians to cultivate a healthy animal community | Blog | Apply Smarter Q&A: Veterinary School Student Loan Financial Aid

Apply Smarter Q&A: Student Loans and Financial Aid

Here are some questions and detailed answers about Student Loans and Financial Aid asked during Apply Smarter webinars. We also covered questions and answers about veterinary school application and veterinary income.

“What is a “standard” amount of financial aid offered by vet schools? I know it varies a lot, but would you say it’s easy to get some aid?”

“Can Dept of Education Stafford loans cover the entire veterinary program? Are there options for anyone unable to secure a co-signer?”

The “standard” amount of financial aid offered for your veterinary education is defined by the Cost of Attendance (COA) published by each school. The COA includes Tuition & Fees as well as living expenses.
Veterinary School is a graduate/professional program. When you apply for financial aid for a graduate/professional program, you are considered independent from your parents. Using only your assets for financial aid consideration means your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is quite often low or zero and you are usually awarded a financial aid package up to the COA.
If you’re married when you apply for financial aid or have children, or you significant assets (congrats!), your financial aid award can be higher or lower than the published COA for your veterinary school. If you fit the complicated case category, arrange to meet with the financial aid offices of the veterinary schools you want to attend.
You won’t likely need a co-signer (endorser), particularly if you stick with federal student loans.  However, private or non-federal student loans may require a co-signer.  Please note that you should not need to pursue private or non-federal student loans for veterinary school as you will almost certainly be offered the COA in Federal Direct Loan types.
Generally, the limit for Direct Unsubsidized Loans is $40,500 for a 9-month academic term at a U.S. accredited veterinary program. The Direct Unsubsidized limit for students attending a foreign accredited veterinary program is $20,500 for a 9-month academic term. Any amount you need above the Direct Unsubsidized limit will require a Direct PLUS application for graduate/professional students. As long as you do not have an adverse credit history, amounts above the Direct Unsubsidized limit are covered by Direct PLUS Graduate Loans up to the COA.

“You mentioned financial aid awards from FAFSA during the webinar. Do you have to accept all of the money FAFSA offers you?”

No. The FAFSA award represents the maximum that you’re allowed to borrow for a given academic year. You can choose to accept as much of that award as you need. Generally, FAFSA makes it easier to borrow the maximum award than it does to return or reduce your award. However, if know you do not need all that you are awarded, you can (and should) choose to reduce your award.
If you reduce your award and discover that you need more, you can always go back during that academic year to request up to the amount initially awarded to you.
Interest accrues from the moment you receive your Federal Direct Loans. It’s less expensive to reduce your awards, borrow less, and request later if need be than to accrue interest on the higher amount at the beginning of each semester. Borrow less and reduce your stress!

“I heard savings count against you for FAFSA but the cap is different for graduate schools. Savings above $15,000 are considered. However, I had trouble finding this on FAFSA website. Do you have any resources on this?“

Review the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) formula on the Student Aid website. It will depend on your marital status, taxable income, age, state, and other assets, number of dependents, etc. Generally, a fraction of your savings are considered in your EFC, but depending simply having savings does not mean that you will not receive the Cost of Attendance.
Visit with the financial aid office for the schools you’re considering or review the EFC formula guide to see how your financial aid might be impacted by your financial circumstances.

“Financially, how do international vet schools differ from domestic vet schools?”

Some international veterinary schools are accredited by the AVMA COE.  Accreditation is required for U.S. students to receive federal student loans.

U.S. veterinary students attending foreign accredited veterinary programs are eligible for Federal Direct Loans to finance their education. However, foreign veterinary schools have lower Direct Unsubsidized Loan limits. You are only allowed to borrow $20,500 per academic year in Direct Unsubsidized Loans at a foreign accredited veterinary program (compared to $40,500 at a U.S. accredited veterinary program). The remainder will be covered by Direct PLUS Loans up to the Cost of Attendance.
Generally, foreign accredited veterinary programs have costs similar to private or non-resident U.S. school costs. With more of the cost covered by higher-priced Direct PLUS loans, the interest and fees can add more to your total educational costs. Furthermore, exchange rates in some countries can add to borrowed amounts, which contribute to more interest and fees. Consider your costs carefully when attending a foreign veterinary program — particularly if you’re using student loans to finance your education.

“The VIN Foundation Cost of Education map estimates seem deceiving since some schools offer grants and scholarships which might significantly lower the cost?”

The VIN Foundation Cost of Education (COE) Map displays costs without any grants, scholarships, or outside funding. Scholarships, grants, and outside funding are not guaranteed by the schools. You will have to work to identify, apply, earn, and/or receive all funds to offset the cost of your education. The COE map also includes projections for increases to tuition and fees as well as interest on student loans. You can turn off projected tuition increases or student loan interest estimates in the COE map if you want to look at total costs without anticipated tuition increases or including student loan interest accrual.

“Are there any scholarships for minority students attending veterinary school?”

There are numerous scholarships available inside and outside of veterinary schools. For specific scholarship types, ask the financial aid and dean’s offices for a list. I would also search organizational websites like AVMA, AAVMC and any other national veterinary organizations.

“How do internships/residencies after veterinary school factor into addressing debt?”

It depends on how much student debt you have, the type of student debt you have, and what you anticipate your income to be after you complete your internship(s) and/or residency.  We do know that veterinary interns and residents earn significantly less during their advanced training periods.  We also know that some residencies that lead to board-certified specialization can also lead to above-average veterinary incomes.  If you have federal student loans, there are some beneficial options such as income-driven repayment that can help you manage your debt during your internship and residency years. When you reach that point, you choose the most beneficial repayment plan for your situation, and your payment will be a percentage of your taxable income This assures that you won’t owe more than you can afford.  THEN — when your income increases after the internship/residency, your monthly student loan payment will increase as well…
While this may seem to imply that it doesn’t matter how much student debt you have, keep in mind that it is ALWAYS easier to manage less student debt than it is to manage more.
Have more questions? Post a comment below or email
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VIN Foundation | Supporting veterinarians to cultivate a healthy animal community | Our Team | Student Debt Consultant | Tony Bartels, DVM, MBA
Tony Bartels, DVM, MBA

Dr. Tony Bartels graduated in 2012 from the Colorado State University combined MBA/DVM program and is an employee of the Veterinary Information Network (VIN) and a VIN Foundation Board member. He and his wife have more than $400,000 in veterinary-school debt that they manage using federal income-driven repayment plans. By necessity (and now obsession), his professional activities include researching and speaking on veterinary-student debt, providing guidance to colleagues on loan-repayment strategies and contributing to VIN Foundation initiatives.

6 thoughts on “Apply Smarter Q&A: Student Loans and Financial Aid”

  1. If you’re getting a useful degree AND you are committed to working hard after school regardless of anything then you will be OK. I drove a $3000 car for 3 years after graduating into an engineering job and didn’t spend money on big things until the debt was paid off. As a minimum you should double your minimum payments; this greatly reduces interest from accruing.

  2. Your post has really rubbed me the wrong way- blaming DVM grads for being in debt because you were able to pay off your student loans, in a completely different profession that involves completing totally different degrees and training in a shorter time period, one that has an excellent debt to income ratio? The “regardless of anything you will be OK” as long as you get a useful degree and work hard statement is complete hogwash; comparing veterinary medicine with engineering is like comparing apples to oranges. The debt-to-income ratio is very high for veterinary medicine, unlike engineering (and incomparable to any other healthcare field!). New DVM grads are graduating with an average over $180,000 in debt, and some over $400,000, and they are making on average $93,000, $76,000 starting out. Entry level MD and DO grads have a starting salary that is nearly three times the starting salary for veterinarians. The entire reason an organization like the VIN Foundation has to exist is because of this problem.

    The issue of student debt in this field have nothing to do with grads living too frivolously to be able to pay off their debt, as you suggest. To become a vet, typically you have debt from 3-4 years of undergrad plus the 4-year DVM program. Students cannot work a part-time job during veterinary school, other than maybe 5-10 hours a week max but it’s not typically recommended. They have to borrow enough to cover the entire cost of attendance, not just tuition but also any living expenses. I work directly with a lot of vet students and grads, the debt can be crippling especially with out-of-state, private, or international tuition. I’m working with a student right now with financial aid and budgeting who is matriculating this fall into a DVM program; her total cost of attendance for the program will be $330,000. This does not include her undergraduate studies or the interest that will begin accruing as soon as it’s disbursed and throughout her time in the program, as the only options for federal loans are unsubsidized, other than very small HPSL and LDS that are only available to a few.

    This kind of debt prevents vets from starting a family, purchasing a home, starting their own business/clinic, and saving for retirement. With very few seats at a small number of vet schools, admission is extremely competitive and a lot of students take a seat wherever they can get one, even if it’s going to be a lot more expensive than what their in-state institution’s tuition would’ve been; if there even is a vet school in their state! My institution can accept 85 students into each class, once a year. We are the only vet school in the state, as most states have 0-1, and half of those seats are for in-state and half are for out-of-state students. So roughly 42 students will get to study to become a DVM each year with in-state tuition for my state. There are currently 33 accredited veterinary schools in the United States, some with more seats than ours and some with less. Luckily this number has increased from 28 in the past decade, but you can do the math as an engineer.

    A lot of vets have to depend on income-driven repayment plans because they struggle to make payments on a standard 10-year loan term. They can’t afford the minimum payment let alone double like you suggest! These plans make the payments more affordable, but will also stretch out the term to 20-25 years, meaning the interest is going to more than double. Sometimes the only reason it then gets paid off at this point is because the remainder is forgiven at the end of the term. If there’s enough of a balance left over, the vet is going to trade their student loan payment plan for one with the IRS because they are going to get hit with a tax bomb on the amount that is forgiven. There are some grads who have high enough debt (particularly those studying at non-US institutions or private US institutions) and low enough income that their income-based payment does not cover just the interest accrued that month, meaning their total borrowing cost and balance owed continues to GROW despite making payments. The best option would be for graduates to utilize a federal forgiveness program like Public Service Loan Forgiveness, but this involves working for a non-profit or government entity for 10 years and making income-driven payments during this time. Not all disciplines or fields in vet med allow for this kind of work or align with professional goals. The whole goal of this program is to get more vets into certain shortage fields, like with the USDA and food safety, meaning there’s not a lot of vets already working in these areas. But at least with this program the amount forgiven after 10 years will not be taxed.

    Some vets knew what they were getting into and think it is worth it to get to live their dream. But for a lot of students, these are all just numbers and they don’t realize how this debt is going to affect their lives later. The average age when traditional students apply to vet school is 21-23. Veterinarians don’t just keep our companions healthy, they play critical roles in environmental protection, research, food safety, and public health. Your own safety and health is owed to veterinarians as animal, human, and environmental health are all interconnected, including the prevention and control of existing and potential epidemics and pandemics originating from zoonotic disease. Vet school is extremely rigorous and not something just any individual can succeed at, and the same can be said for the profession- mentally, physically, and emotionally. We can’t just say you shouldn’t have become a vet if you couldn’t afford it (which also brings about existing issues with diversity within the field, but I’m not going into that).

  3. And what I originally came down here to the comments section to add but I was triggered by the above comment… I wanted to make a correction regarding this statement in the Q&A on this page: “You are only allowed to borrow $20,500 per academic year in Direct Unsubsidized Loans. The remainder will be covered by Direct PLUS Loans up to the Cost of Attendance.”

    This is incorrect, DVM students can borrow up to $40,500 each year in Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans. The $20,500 is the annual limit for other graduate programs, DVM programs have a higher maximum because the cost of attendance is so much higher.

    1. Tony Bartels, DVM, MBA

      Hi DVM Advisor,

      Thanks for taking the time to post a reply. I agree — paying back a veterinary school-sized student debt balance is not as simple as choosing to drive a really cheap car for a few years. Thankfully, the income-driven repayment plans CAN allow recent graduate veterinarians to start a family, purchase a home, start/purchase their own business/clinic, and save for retirement. However, the income-driven plans are confusing and stressful to navigate and VIN Foundation spends a lot of time and energy helping our colleagues understand the various repayment options and choose the best one for their circumstances. When it comes to applying to veterinary school, APPLY SMARTER! It’s always easier to manage less student loan balance than to manage more 🙂

      Finally, thank you for pointing out the annual loan limit. I’ll update this page to make that section more clear for the circumstance we’re referring to in that question. While the limit DVM students can borrow for Direct Unsubsidized Loans for U.S. veterinary schools is $40,500 for a 9-month academic year, the limit is lower for U.S. students who attend a foreign accredited veterinary program. The Direct Unsubsidized limit for foreign accredited schools is $20,500 per 9-month academic year.

  4. How can our daughter take out loans to attend an international non-accredited vet school; I.e. St. Matthew’s on Grand Cayman?

    1. Tony Bartels, DVM, MBA

      Hi Cindy, Thanks for the question. Since St. Matthew’s is a non-accredited international veterinary school, your daughter would not be able to apply for U.S. federal student loans to cover her tuition, fees, and living expenses. That leaves private loan funding through banks or other lenders to help cover those costs. There is quite a bit of risk financing something like a veterinary education with all private loans since private loans do not have the same protections or repayment benefits that U.S. federal student loans provide. So unless you can keep those loan balances to an amount that would not exceed what your daughter expects to earn in her first year after graduation, I would encourage you to look more closely at available accredited veterinary school options that will allow you to obtain U.S. federal student loans. Hope that helps!

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