If the idea of helping animals is something you’re passionate about then you might be thinking about going to veterinary school and becoming a veterinarian. A life of working with four-legged (or two-legged or no-legged) creatures can be very fulfilling, but becoming a veterinarian has some unique challenges.
According to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), there are only 3,000 seats available in the U.S. each year with a 2:1 acceptance rate, so getting in is competitive. And veterinary schools can be expensive. According to the AAVMC, average annual veterinary school tuition can cost $50,123 for out-of-state students and $23,664 for in-state students. With most students going to veterinary school for four years, those costs can add up.
So, let’s look at some of the ways you can manage paying for veterinary school, including how to lower your tuition, finding specific grants, scholarships, student loans, and loan repayment programs.
Take Undergraduate Courses for Veterinarians
Start by taking the right undergraduate classes so you don’t spend money (and time) taking pre-requisite credits once you find a veterinary school. Check out pre-requisites for the schools you are looking to attend and try to cover this coursework while you are an undergrad. Some schools provide pre-vet studies, while others offer the traditional study options that focus on required coursework, including subjects like animal science, biology, chemistry, microbiology, zoology, anatomy, and physiology.
Veterinary School and Residency: What You Need to Know
With only 30 accredited veterinary school programs in the U.S., not all states have a school. If you live in one of the states that do not, the first thing to think about is how you can afford out-of-state tuition.
That could mean trying to gain access as an in-state student. Because not all states have programs, there are systems in place to help reduce the costs of being an out-of-state student.
You can contact nearby out-of-state programs to see if they offer any regional college tuition discounts. Two programs you can use to find states that provide discounts to regional out-of-state students are the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education and The Southern Regional Education Board’s Regional Contract Program.
Individual states may have their agreements with out-of-state veterinary schools. For example, New Jersey, which has no accredited veterinary schools, has agreements with New York State College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University, Iowa State University, Kansas State University, Oklahoma State University, and Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine.
You might try to establish residency in a state where your program is based. If your circumstances permit, it may make economic sense to prolong admissions for you to establish residency. However, some schools, such as North Carolina State, UC-Davis, and Washington State allow you to switch state residency in your second year, which can save you thousands.
Veterinary School Scholarships and Grants
There are many scholarships and grants available specifically for vet school students. You can begin by looking at the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, the charitable arm of the American Veterinary Medical Association, which offers several scholarships to students attending AVMA-accredited schools in the U.S.
Specific AVMF scholarship opportunities include:
- Merck Animal Health Veterinary Student Scholarship Program, which provides $5,000 scholarships to 2nd and 3rd-year veterinary school students.
- Auxiliary to the AVMA Legacy Endowed Scholarship Program, which provides various scholarships to each of the accredited veterinary schools in the U.S. (and some abroad, as well).
- Harold Wetterberg Foundation Scholarship Program, which awards up to $10,000 to 2nd or 3rd-year students who attended a New Jersey high school.
- 2nd Opportunity Research Scholarship, which awards up to $6,000 to veterinary students who are looking to conduct their second summer of research.
- AVMA/AVMF Scholarship for Veterans, which provides $1,000 scholarships to 1st, 2nd, or 3rd-year military veterans pursuing an education in veterinary medicine.
- AVMF/Winn Feline Foundation Scholarships, which awards $2,500 to students who demonstrate an interest in animal welfare.
- Elinor McGrath Scholarship, which awards $500 to 1st, 2nd, or 3rd-year veterinary school students.
The AVMF also maintains a list of school-run and independent scholarships and grants for veterinary students. You may also use regular scholarship search engines, such as scholarships.com, to look for specific veterinarian scholarships and apply for other free aid.
Veterinary School Loans: Federal Student Loans
There are several federal loan options available to help veterinary school students, but be sure to explore free aid, such as scholarships and grants, before you go the loan route.
First, see if you qualify for federal Health Professions Student Loans, run by the Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. These “HPSL Loans” are available to full-time veterinary students who demonstrate financial need. These loans offer some benefits over traditional federal loans. HPSLs offer a low fixed interest rate (as of 2020, it is 5%), a 12-month post-school grace period (the typical grace period is 6 months), and they are subsidized so you don’t pay interest until after the grace period. However, not all vet schools participate in this program so be sure to ask. Fill out the FAFSA to apply, but also check with your school to see if they require additional information.
Next, explore the traditional federal loans for graduate schools, which you can apply for through the FAFSA. Federal unsubsidized loans (also called unsubsidized Stafford Loans) are open to graduate students no matter the financial need but have annual and aggregate loan limits. Then, look into Grad Plus Loans, which are only available to graduate students, have higher interests rate than Stafford Loans, and require a credit check.
Use our student loan calculator to estimate what a student loan could cost.
Veterinary School Loans: Private Student Loans
Another route to help you pay for vet school is through private student loans, which can fill any gaps after seeking out gift aid and federal loans.
Interest rates for Grad Plus Loans can sometimes be higher than interest rates for some private student loans. And, if you have a good credit score or can secure a cosigner that does, you may qualify for a lower rate than federal PLUS loans.
If you do take out a student loan to pay for veterinary school, keep a few things in mind.
- Pay what you can while in school. While you are not responsible for paying back the loan until 6 months after you graduate, making small monthly payments can ease the burden of repaying the loan once the grace period ends.
- Set up autopay. College Ave offers a 0.25% reduction in interest rate if you use autopay. Other lenders may offer similar incentives to help you pay back your loans on time.
- Pay attention to your terms. Choosing a longer term can mean lower monthly payments but paying more overall. Choosing a shorter term can mean higher monthly payments but lowering the total cost of your loan.
Learn more about how private student loans work.
Loan Repayment and Service Programs for Veterinary School
There are several initiatives in place for veterinarian students to have their student loans forgiven, or to accept scholarships in return for service. Here are a few programs.
- Individual School Programs: Once you’ve created your top vet school list, consider which universities offer loan repayment and scholarship programs. Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine accepts five first-year students into a loan repayment program offering $20,000 per year for up to four years. In exchange, you agree to practice in rural Kansas. Purdue University offers several research and international initiatives that are up for grabs and the Lincoln Memorial University has various scholarship options including the Food Animal CVM Scholarship and the Kentucky 5thDistrict Gateway Annual Scholarship, among many others. The American Veterinary Medical Foundation has a complete list of schools with available scholastic opportunities.
- Future Faculty. If you are interested in work as a faculty member at a veterinary school consider the Federal Faculty Loan Repayment Program (administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). The program will repay up to $40,000 of student loans for those who agree to serve on the faculty of an accredited health professions college or university for two years, including veterinary schools.
- Armed Forces. The U.S. Army offers several options worth exploring should you like to serve your country after you graduate from vet school. The U.S. Army Veterinary Corps has a full-tuition scholarship, which includes a monthly allowance. The Armed Forces F. Edward Hébert Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) is another option. Students can receive full tuition at any accredited veterinary, medical, dental, psychology or optometry program, plus a generous monthly stipend of more than $2,000. To qualify, you must sign up for an active duty service obligation to the Army for one year of service for every year you receive the scholarship. Additionally, the Army Active Duty Health Professions Loan Repayment Program (ADHPLRP) will repay up to $120,000 in student loans over three years ($40,000 per year.
- High-need areas. If you are interested in working in an area that has a high need for veterinarians, explore the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) – the only federal program established exclusively for veterinary loan repayment. Those who are selected for the program must practice for three years in a designated shortage area in exchange for $25,000 in loan repayment for each year of service.
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness. If you put your veterinarian studies to work full-time for the government or eligible tax-exempt charitable organization, you may have a portion of your federal student loans forgiven. You’ll need to make 120 on-time payments and be enrolled in an income-based repayment plan.
Pursuing a career with animals can be rewarding, but make sure you research all your financing options before you start veterinary school.
Learn more about private graduate student loans from College Ave.