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VIN Foundation | Supporting veterinarians to cultivate a healthy animal community | Blog | Aspiring Veterinarians Apply Smarter

For the Aspiring Veterinarian – Apply Smarter!

Veterinary medicine is experiencing a student debt crisis. Yes, many higher education graduates experience loan repayment hardship; however the magnitude affecting recent veterinary graduates is unique.  Every day I counsel pending and recent graduates through the Veterinary Information Network (VIN) and via VIN Foundation who report student debt balances in excess of $200,000, $300,000, $400,000, and $500,000 with incomes between $70,000 and $90,000 depending on where they choose to live and what type of veterinary medicine they are pursuing.
While we can help veterinarians navigate these repayment challenges, the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is a significant part of the solution. A key driver of the crisis is the decreasing availability of discounted tuition seats for veterinary school; those seats that allow you to pay an in-state or otherwise discounted tuition rate.
We’re close to completing another veterinary school application cycle this September.  The Veterinary Medical College Application Service (VMCAS) for the veterinary class starting in Fall 2021 closes on September 15, 2020.  As you apply for veterinary school this year or beyond, Apply Smarter!
Visit the Apply Smarter page on the VIN Foundation Vet School Bound website for the webinar recording and additional Apply Smarter resources.


VIN Foundation’s Apply Smarter initiative encourages you to consider the financial implications at every step towards earning your veterinary degree.
a. Applying to veterinary school:  I know how exciting and nerve-racking applying to veterinary school can be: Where should I apply? Do I have all my prerequisites? Which test do I need to take? Did I get a high enough score on my test? Is my GPA high enough?  In all of the excitement, we tend to ignore one of the most important questions — what will each of the schools I apply to cost me when I get in?

No matter where you attend veterinary school or how much it will cost you to obtain your veterinary degree, you stand to earn the same range of income as your peers those first few years after graduation.  A smarter way to approach application is to choose schools that will result in the least amount borrowed for your situation. You can use the VIN Foundation Cost of Education Map to help with your research. Don’t pay more than you have to for your veterinary education.  In many cases, the least expensive school is also the easier one for you to get into — just look at the application statistics for each school you’re considering.  Many state veterinary schools admit more than 30% of their in-state applicants each year. Non-resident applicants have about a 3-5% chance of getting in. If the schools you are considering do not publish those statistics, then ask your admissions counselor when you meet with her/him prior to applying.

b. Attending veterinary school: Student loans are much easier to obtain for a graduate school program like veterinary school. In fact, the amount you can borrow is determined by the school. No matter how much they charge, you can borrow up to the cost of attendance. This is how we see a spectrum of reported veterinary student debt between $0 and more than $400,000 from recent graduate veterinarians. If you are planning to use student loans to fund your veterinary education, borrow as little as possible and limit your borrowing to federal student loans: Direct Loans, Health Professions Student Loans, and Loans for Disadvantaged Students. The less you borrow during school, the less you’ll have to manage after school. To borrow less, you’ll need to be a smarter participant in the borrowing process.
After you’ve narrowed your application list to those veterinary schools where you can obtain a discounted tuition rate, build a budget.  Look at how much it will cost you to live during veterinary school, compare those numbers against what you’ll be offered in loans and see where there are opportunities for you to reduce your expenses.  Finding a job, having roommates, sharing cars, making your meals, are examples of ways to reduce your expenses. However, when you do those things, you also need to reduce your financial aid awards or return some of the funds you’re offered to maximize your impact.  You have 120 days from when you receive your student loans to return excess award amounts. After that, you are responsible for the interest and fees on those loans. The veterinary student who applies smarter also reduces or returns the awarded student loan funds rather than paying the interest and fees on their student loans while they’re in school.  You can examine the impact of your veterinary school borrowing by using the new VIN Foundation In-School Loan Estimator.
c. Repaying student loans: Don’t pay more towards your student loans than your income requires. Many parents and mentors are going to tell you to pay as much as you can as fast as you can towards your student loans. Generally, this is true for all other types of debt. But I’m sorry mom and dad, it’s not true for this generation of federal student debt. No matter how much you end up borrowing, if you’re paying more than 10% of your income towards your student debt, you’re probably paying too much and sacrificing other areas of your financial plan. The smarter way to pay your student loans involves income-driven repayment plans and planning for the tax due on forgiven amounts. These extremely flexible repayment options are only available for federal student loans. You can learn more about student loans and repayment options in the VIN Foundation Student Debt Center.
The future of the veterinary profession depends on you to Apply Smarter! The veterinary schools will keep increasing tuition and adding more and more expensive seats if you keep filling them at all costs (literally). Help yourself and help the profession by breaking this student debt cycle. As always, if you have any feedback on the resources provided by VIN Foundation or questions about the Apply Smarter initiative — we’re here to help!
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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.

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