Make a plan to pay for dental school
Dental school is an investment in your future. Using a 1-2-3 approach to paying for dental school can help you be more prepared to finance your degree.
- Find money you don’t need to pay back. Supplement your savings by applying for dental scholarships, grants, fellowships, and assistantship positions.
- Explore federal student aid. Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can help you find government loans and grants as well as state and school aid, if they are available.
- Consider a responsible private student loan. If you still have expenses, a private dental school loan can help you cover those outstanding costs.
1. Find money you don’t need to pay back
You can use your savings to help pay for dental school. Creating a budget can give you a sense of how much of your savings you want to contribute. A budget can show you what your monthly expenses are and how much money to put in an emergency fund. Talk to a financial advisor if you have any questions.
Dental school scholarships and grants
Some dental schools may offer scholarships, grants, or assistantships to their students. Grants are usually need-based while scholarships can be need-based or merit-based. Both types of aid don’t need to be paid back.
Assistantships are usually awarded on merit. These positions may offer tuition remission in exchange for 10 – 15 hours of work on-campus each week. Your school could offer teaching assistantships (TAs), research assistantships (RAs), or both. Check the websites of the schools you’re applying to and talk to their financial aid offices to find out more.
Some dental associations and for-profit companies offer scholarships, fellowships, and grants to dental students and/or are a resource to find funding opportunities. Here are some to consider:
You can search more scholarships using our free Scholarship Search tool. You can also reach out directly to the organizations for more information. Ask school department heads for recommendations on which scholarships, awards, or grants may be best for you.
Depending on your area of study, you could qualify for a program that covers your dental school tuition, books, and more in return for a set number of years of service for that organization.
- National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Scholarship: This Department of Health program will cover the cost of tuition, books, and living expenses for dental students for the course of their study. In exchange, you must work for one to two years in an approved high-need area, either in a city or rural town.
- Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP): This program is funded by the military—Army, Navy, and Air Force—for a health professions students, including dental students. You’ll get all your tuition and fees covered, plus a living stipend. In exchange, you’re required to serve in the military for one year.
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF): If you work at a nonprofit, teaching hospital, or government organization after you complete your degree, you may be eligible for this loan forgiveness program. This program only applies to any federal loans you took out, not private loans. Usually you must have already made 120 consecutive payments toward your federal loans to qualify.
Be sure to visit each program’s website to get the details on how you can apply and what that could mean for you.
2. Explore federal student aid
Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will give you access to federal, state, and school aid, including:
- Federal Direct Loans: You can borrow a set amount of these fixed-rate loans (previously called “Stafford Loans”), usually over $20,000. These loans are unsubsidized, meaning you’re responsible for paying all the interest on them.
- Direct Graduate PLUS Loan: If you need additional help covering expenses, you can take out Direct Graduate PLUS Loans. These can help cover any remaining balance you have.
- School-based aid: Your school may distribute additional aid based on the FAFSA. You could qualify for loans, scholarships, or a Federal Work-Study position, which allows you to work part-time on campus to earn money for your expenses.
- State aid:Like school-based aid, the availability of state grants and scholarships varies. You’ll find out what is available in your state when you file your FAFSA.
Learn more about applying for financial aid for graduate students.
3. Consider a responsible private student loan
After you’ve pursued your options for scholarships, savings, and federal loans, you can consider applying for a private student loan to help pay for dental school. Private student loans may be able to help pay for any gaps in your school tuition, fees, or living expenses.
Private student loans are available through a bank or credit union. They’re credit-based your credit score—the better your credit, the better your chance of being approved for a loan. Private student loans are available with fixed or variable interest rates.
For example, the Sallie Mae Dental and Medical School LoanSM is available with a fixed interest or variable interest rate. To help you focus on starting your dental career, it offers an extended repayment period of up to 20 years and the ability to defer repayment during your residency. It also gives you the option to make payments while you’re in school or defer until after you graduate. Making in-school interest payments could help you save an average of more than 10% of your total loan cost, compared to the deferred repayment option. As with federal student loans, you will have to pay back the money you borrowed, plus interest.
When it comes time to start your dental residency, you may also be eligible for a residency and relocation loan like the Sallie Mae Dental Residency and Relocation Loan®. This loan can help pay for interview and moving costs.
Deferring undergraduate student loans
If you have private or federal student loans from your undergraduate degree, you can consider deferring them while you’re in dental school so you have one less bill to pay. Contact your loan servicer to find out what options you have. Be aware that although you won’t have to make monthly payments on these loans while you’re studying, the loans will likely still accrue interest.
Learn more about graduate student loans.
How to borrow responsibly
Borrowing is often a necessary part of getting the education you need to become a dentist. But it’s important to borrow responsibly so you can pay back your loans on time after you earn your degree. Limit your borrowing to the amount you’ll need for the cost of tuition and related expenses. Evaluate what your anticipated monthly loan payments might be versus how much you expect to earn as a dental professional. You can research your potential salary through professional associations and the U.S. Department of Labor, which lists the median pay for many fields.