Attending pharmacy school can lead to a lucrative career filled with many job options.   But the cost of pharmacy school is no joke. According to a 2022 report from the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP), student loans for pharmacists amount to an average of $170,444.

If you’re considering becoming a pharmacist and wondering if the debt is worth it, the good news is that the degree will open up many career paths, including being a clinical, community or institutional pharmacist. You’re also likely to be paid quite well, with the average pharmacist salary well over six figures.

Still, earning the degree required to access these career options and the top salaries comes with a steep price tag. Here’s what you need to know about financing a pharmacy school education and your options for repayment.

What is the average pharmacy school debt?

In its survey of pharmacy school graduates, the AACP found that roughly 83.8 percent of PharmD degree holders had to borrow money to get through school. In 2022, the average pharmacy school debt sits at $170,444.

It’s important to note, however, that private pharmacy colleges skew the average upward. While the average pharmacy school student loans for private institutions are $201,169, students attending public colleges averaged $141,296.

What goes into pharmacy school debt?

Attending pharmacy means paying for more than just tuition. While specific fees vary, costs for pharmacy school generally include:

  • Tuition: Tuition can vary substantially if you attend an in-state school versus an out-of-state school or a public school versus a private school. The tuition will be the most expensive component of your pharmacy school debt and will cover your classes and the cost of being a student at your school.
  • Fees: Most colleges have fees included in their cost of attendance. These fees, such as a lab fee, transportation fee or student services fee, are different at each school.
  • Books and supplies: Textbooks, computers and other class supplies can add up. However, you can cut down costs in this category by buying or renting used textbooks and looking for sales on your supplies.
  • Living costs: No matter where you decide to go to school, you will need to pay for food and somewhere to live. You can choose to live on campus, off-campus or at home.

What are the average interest rates on pharmacy school student loans?

The interest rates on your pharmacy school debt can vary depending on the type of student loans you have and when you applied for them. While federal student loan interest rates are standardized — everyone who qualifies gets the same terms — rates are updated yearly and vary based on loan type.

While interest rates decreased dramatically in the 2020-21 school year due to the coronavirus pandemic, that trend has started to change. As the Federal Reserve attempts to get inflation under control in the United States by raising benchmark interest rates, the interest on consumer borrowing has also increased.

If you borrow private student loans, your interest rate will depend on your chosen lender and your creditworthiness. As of December 2022, private student loan interest rates range from just about 2.96 percent to 14.96 percent. . With private student loans, you can usually choose between fixed and variable rates. Variable rates typically start lower, though you risk your rate climbing over time.

One thing to note with student loans is that most accrue interest while you’re in school, even if you’re not making payments — the only exception being Direct Subsidized Loans, which are available only to undergraduate students with financial need.

Once you start making payments, any interest accrued will be capitalized and added to your principal balance.

School Year Direct Loans for Undergraduate Students Direct Loans for Graduate and Professional Students Direct PLUS Loans for Parents and Graduate and Professional Students
2022-23 4.99% 6.54% 7.54%
2021-22 3.73% 5.28% 6.28%
2020-21 2.75% 4.3% 5.3%
2019-20 4.53% 6.08% 7.08%
2018-19 5.05% 6.6% 7.6%
2017-18 4.45% 6% 7%
2016-17 3.76% 5.31% 6.31%
2015-16 4.29% 5.84% 6.84%

How long does it take to repay pharmacy school student loans?

The standard repayment term for federal student loans is 10 years, and private student loan companies may offer repayment terms ranging from five to 20 years.

Since the average student loan debt for pharmacists is much higher than the average for all college graduates, you may need to opt for a repayment plan on the longer side to keep monthly payments low. If you have federal loans, you may be able to extend your schedule up to 30 years, depending on the program.

Repayment Plan Repayment Term
Consolidation Loan Up to 30 years
Extended 25 years
Pay as You Earn 20 years
Revised Pay as You Earn Up to 25 years
Income-Based Up to 25 years
Income-Contingent Up to 25 years

If you have private student loans, your repayment term will be what you chose when you first applied. If you can’t afford that, though, you can refinance your student loans to get a longer term.

Ultimately, though, the amount of time it’ll take you to pay off your pharmacy school debt will depend on how much you owe and your salary during the first stage of your career.

Tips for reducing pharmacy school debt

There are plenty of opportunities to pay down your pharmacy school student loans, some of which involve assistance from an outside source. Here are some options to consider.

Pharmacist student loan forgiveness programs

If you have federal student loans, the U.S. Department of Education may offer forgiveness of your debt if you work full-time for a government agency or eligible not-for-profit organization and meet other eligibility criteria.

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program requires you to make 120 qualifying monthly payments on an income-driven repayment plan. After you meet all the requirements — check the department’s website for the full details — your remaining balance will be forgiven.

You can also receive forgiveness if you’ve completed an income-driven repayment plan and still have a balance left over. Remember, though, that these plans extend your schedule by 20 or 25 years, which means you’ll be indebted for a long time until you qualify for relief.

Student loan repayment assistance programs

Only the Department of Education can offer pharmacist student loan forgiveness. But you may also qualify for student loan repayment assistance programs through a federal or state agency. In the medical field, many of these programs are limited to practicing physicians, nurses and workers in similar career paths.

For example, the National Institutes of Health and the Health Resources and Services Administration both offer programs with student loan repayment assistance. Speak with your school’s financial aid office to get an idea of all that’s available for pharmacy school graduates.

Student loan refinancing

Student loan refinancing may be an excellent alternative if you don’t qualify to get assistance with reducing your student loan debt.

With student loan refinancing, you’ll replace your existing loans with a new one through a private lender. Interest rates vary based on your creditworthiness, but depending on what you’re paying now, you may be able to get a lower interest rate and save money.

Student loan refinancing is also the only way to extend your repayment term on private student loans — or even shorten the schedule if you can afford it.

Remember that if you’re working toward student loan forgiveness or repayment assistance, or you want to take advantage of an income-driven repayment plan, refinancing may not be the best path for you. You’ll no longer qualify for those benefits once your federal loans become private loans.

Bottom line

So, is pharmacy school debt worth it? Ultimately, it’s up to each student to determine whether a career in pharmacy is worth the cost of attending pharmacy school.

Think hard about whether you’ll still want to be in the industry five, 10 or more years down the road — because pharmacy school debt can add up. You’ll likely be paying those debts for a decade or more.

There are steps you can take, however, to keep the cost of education lower. If you want to become a pharmacist but the high costs of school are intimidating, consider attending an in-state school and be sure to take the time to apply for scholarships. Yet another option may be living at home to save on room and board. Once you’ve finished school, look into federal student loan forgiveness programs or repayment assistance.