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How to pay for vet school

Veterinarian uses a stethoscope on a dog
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Studying to become a veterinarian isn’t cheap. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to get vet school financial aid through scholarships, grants, student loans and more.

If you’re considering a career in veterinary medicine, here’s what you need to know about how to pay for vet school, especially if you want to limit your reliance on student loans.

How much does vet school cost?

According to the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), the total four-year vet school cost for U.S. residents can vary from $170,742 to $289,597, depending on which school you choose to attend. That cost includes tuition and fees, supplies, equipment, transportation, room and board and other expenses that go into the total cost of attendance.

Ways to pay for vet school

If you’re looking for how to pay for vet school, there are plenty of options available. Here’s a quick summary of some of the top choices.

Scholarships and grants

Scholarships and grants are the best forms of vet school financial aid because you typically don’t need to repay that money.

Each veterinary college has scholarships that it can offer to students, but the exact amount of available financial aid depends on the school. For example, the AAVMC reports that only 2.6 percent of vet school students at Louisiana State University receive institutional financial aid, compared to 100 percent at the University of California, Davis.

Fortunately, there are also noninstitutional scholarships that you may be eligible to receive. For example, the AAVMC and Zoetis, the world’s largest producer of veterinarian drugs, offer hundreds of scholarships every year, each worth $2,000 for those who qualify.

You can also use scholarship search engines to look for other private scholarships and grants that may be available based on your eligibility.

Savings

If you or your parents have set aside money ahead of time, you may be able to pay for a good portion of your vet school tuition and other costs without needing outside sources.

Some of these funds could come from a high-yield savings account, but many grad students also use leftover funds from a 529 plan.

Work-study

Graduate students who fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) may qualify for federal work-study, which is a program that allows students with financial need to work a part-time job while enrolled. Jobs can be on or off campus, and they’re typically more flexible with student schedules.

Students who do work-study will earn at least the minimum wage, though you can’t earn more than your total work-study award determined by the Department of Education.

Student loans

While it’s not ideal to take out student loans, you’re far from alone if you end up relying on them to cover some or even most of your vet school expenses. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 83 percent of vet school graduates had student loan debt in 2020, with an average of $188,853 per borrower.

If you’re going down this path, start by filling out the FAFSA every year. This will qualify you for federal student loans, which offer more benefits than private student loans, like opportunities for student loan forgiveness or repayment assistance programs. What’s more, federal student loan interest rates are standardized for all who qualify, and you don’t have to have stellar credit to get approved.

If you’ve used up all of your federal loan money, you can also apply for private student loans. These use your credit score and income to determine your rate, so take your time to shop around and compare multiple interest rate offers before you commit.

Can you get a full ride to vet school?

It is possible to go to vet school for free in a few circumstances. For one, if you join the U.S. Army, the branch’s veterinary corps provides a full-tuition scholarship, plus a monthly allowance you can use for other costs in exchange for military training and reserve service.

Other federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and National Institutes of Health, offer loan repayment programs if you meet certain criteria, but those don’t kick in until after you’ve graduated with debt.

You should also check for specific opportunities at your school — many graduate programs offer large scholarships or other opportunities to reduce tuition. Reach out to your financial aid office to see what’s available.

Is vet school worth the debt?

As with any advanced degree, a vet degree has both advantages and disadvantages to consider. The average vet salary is $108,350, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which means that paying off your debt will take some time.

But being a veterinarian can be an incredibly rewarding career. In fact, the career compatibility CareerExplorer ranks vet satisfaction among the top 20 percent of all careers.

If you’re trying to decide if a vet degree is right for you, take some time to speak with people who have gone through vet school. You may also consider a job at a local veterinary clinic to get an idea of what the day-to-day job looks like.

In the end, only you know what the best career path is for you, so take the time to research your options, weigh the pros and the cons and move forward with confidence.

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Written by
Ben Luthi
Contributing writer
Ben Luthi is a personal finance and travel writer who loves helping people learn how to live life more fully. His work has appeared in several publications, including U.S. News & World Report, USA Today, Yahoo! Finance and more.
Edited by
Student loans editor