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Programs and strategies to pay off six-figure veterinary school debt

Could one of these repayment assistance programs help you with your $160K debt load?

There may be only 30 veterinary schools in the US, but that doesn’t make the debt you accrue while studying any less real. While there are three repayment assistance programs designed specifically for veterinary school graduates, you’ll need to meet very unique criteria in order to qualify.

Average veterinary school debt

Veterinary school students graduated with an average debt load $167,500 in 2016, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

And of those students, over 20% had at least $200,000 in debt. This is due in part to the rising cost of tuition as well as the high cost of living in areas where veterinary programs are located.

What’s the average cost of veterinary school?

The average cost of attending a four-year veterinary school as an out-of-state resident was $313,196 in 2018, according to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.

The most affordable school on the list was North Carolina State University at $232,000. The most expensive? Midwestern University, which clocked in at a whopping $419,631.

Repayment assistance programs for veterinary school

Looking for help paying off your veterinary school loans? You might want to consider one of these three repayment assistance programs.

Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP)

Amounts: Up to $25,000 per year

The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) was established by the USDA to encourage veterinarians to practice in a high-priority veterinary shortage situation.

To qualify, you must agree to a three-year veterinary service commitment in an underserved area. Loan repayments through this program are limited to authorized educational debt incurred during veterinary school.

VMLRP eligibility requirements

To qualify for the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree or its equivalent from an accredited AVMA program
  • Offer of employment or establish a practice in a veterinary shortage situation
  • Provide proper certifications and verifications
  • Agree to three-year service contract
  • More than $15,000 in qualifying student debt
  • No existing obligations for veterinary service with the federal or state government or another entity
  • No liens against your property due to federal debt
  • US citizen or permanent resident

Faculty Loan Repayment Program (FLRP)

Amounts: Up to $40,000 as well as funding to offset taxes

The Faculty Loan Repayment Program was established by the Health and Human Services Administration to encourage veterinary professionals from disadvantaged backgrounds to pursue teaching.

Although geared toward general health professionals, it’s one of the few loan repayment programs that includes doctors of veterinary medicine.

FLRP eligibility requirements

To qualify for this program, you need to meet the following criteria:

  • Veterinary medicine degree or certificate
  • Employment commitment to work as a faculty member at an approved institution for at least two years
  • Written agreement from the school to match forgiveness offered through this program
  • US citizen, national or permanent resident
  • From an economically or environmentally disadvantaged background

Army Health Professions Loan Repayment Program (AHPLRP)

Amounts: Depend on whether you’re an active-duty member of the Army Veterinary Corps or part of the Army Reserve

  • Active-duty service member: Up to $120,000 over three years
  • Reservist: Up to $50,000 over three years

Veterinarians committed to active-duty service will also receive an annual salary of $2,000 to $5,000.

AHPLRP eligibility requirements

To qualify for this program, you need to meet the following criteria:

  • Meet the professional, physical and ethical standard for appointment as an Army officer
  • Graduate or in the final year of an accredited program for veterinary medicine
  • Agree to a three-year service commitment
  • Between the ages of 21 and 42
  • US citizen

If you agree to serve as an officer in the Army Veterinary Corps or as a reservist, you may qualify for its competitive student loan repayment assistance program.

Although actual pay is limited, you may build skills during your work that can help you succeed once your service commitment is complete.

4 tips to pay back veterinary school debt

Debt from your veterinary program can be staggering, but here are four ways to keep it more manageable.

  • Return funds you didn’t use. Get a student loan refund check? Instead of using those funds to buy things you probably don’t need, consider returning them. This will reduce your loan principal, meaning there’s less to repay once you graduate.
  • Apply for an income-driven repayment plan. If some of your student loans are federal, you may want to consider an income-driven repayment plan when you’re first starting out. This can help make repayments more affordable until you get a few years of experience under your belt and qualify for a higher salary.
  • Dedicate 10% to 15% of your income to repayments. Finally have a job with a decent salary? Try to put at least 10% of your income toward your student loan repayments each month — even if it’s more than what’s required. You’ll repay your debt faster and reduce the amount of interest you pay overall, which can save you thousands in the long run.
  • Refinance your student loans. If the majority of your loans are private — or you don’t need the repayment plans offered by federal loans — you may want to consider refinancing your student loans. You might qualify for a lower interest rate or better terms — especially if you have a high-paying job or your credit score’s improved.

Compare student loan refinancing offers

Explore your options by APR, minimum credit score, loan amount and loan term. Select the Get started button to start an application with a particular lender.

Name Product APR Min. Credit Score Loan amount Loan Term
Purefy Student Loan Refinancing (Variable Rate)
1.88% to 5.54%
$5,000 - $300,000
5 to 20 years
Refinance all types of student loans — including federal and parent PLUS loans.
Credible Student Loan Refinancing
1.80% to 8.90%
Good to excellent credit
Starting at $5,000
5 to 20 years
Get prequalified offers from top student loan refinancing providers in one place.
SoFi Student Loan Refinancing Variable Rate (with Autopay)
2.25% to 6.59%
Starting at $5,000
5 to 20 years
A leader in student loan refinancing, SoFi can help you refinance your loans and pay them off sooner.
Splash Financial Student Loan Refinancing
1.89% to 6.66%
Starting at $7,500
5 to 25 years
Save on your student loans with this market-leading newcomer.
Education Loan Finance Student Loan Refinancing
2.39% to 6.01%
Starting at $15,000
5 to 20 years
Lower your student debt costs with manageable payments, affordable rates and flexible terms.
Earnest Student Loan Refinancing
1.88% to 5.64% APR with autopay
$5,000 - $500,000
5 to 20 years
Get a tailored interest rate and repayment plan with no hidden fees.
Supermoney student loan refinancing
Starting at 1.9%
No minimum credit score
$5,000 - $300,000
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Compare options to combine both private and federal debts into one monthly payment.

Compare up to 4 providers

How long does it take to pay back veterinary school debt?

Students who graduated from veterinary school between 2000 and 2009 took just over eight years on average to pay off their student loans, according to data from the 2016 AVMA Census of Veterinarians.

This number is bound to increase, though. So far, only 30% of students who graduated between 2010 and 2014 have paid off all of their veterinary school debt.

How long it takes you depends on the type of student loans you have, your loan term and your salary after graduating. Federal student loans come with standard repayment terms of 10 years, though this can get as high as 30 years if you choose to consolidate your debt.

And private student loan providers and refinancing companies tend to offer terms as high as 25 years.9 strategies to pay off 100K+ in student loans

Is vet school worth the debt?

It depends on your personal, financial and career goals. Veterinarians might not be on the list of best-paying jobs, but if you have a passion for animals, the debt you incur might not matter as much if you’re doing what you love.

That’s not to say veterinarians make pennies. Even on the lower end, you can expect to take home at least $70,000 annually. And some US cities see veterinarians making upwards of $200,000 a year — making that $167,000 debt load a bit easier to manage.

Top 5 states for highest veterinary salaries

Based on data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, these were the five states that had the highest average salary for veterinarians in 2017.

StateAverage annual salary in 2017
Washington, DC$125,100
New Jersey$124,870
New York$122,500

Bottom line

If you’re saddled with debt from veterinary school, there are three repayment assistance programs that might be able to help ease the burden. But they’re not easy to qualify for — and they all require a service commitment.

Considering applying to veterinary school? Read our guide to student loans to explore what financing options are available.

Frequently asked questions

Are there any other repayment assistance programs veterinarians are eligible for?

Yes, you may qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) depending on the type of field you decide to work in. However, you’ll likely need to do some digging to find a qualifying employer. And this only helps with federal student loan debt.

You can learn more about PSLF and other programs available with our guide to student loan forgiveness.

Are veterinarians in high demand?

Yes, job employment for veterinarians is slated to increase by 19% from 2016 to 2026, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. And in 2017, only 1.6% of veterinarians reported they were unemployed.

Will I have to pay more for out-of-state tuition for veterinary school?

Probably — most schools charge more for residents of other states, and very few states allow students to become residents while pursuing a degree.

For example, Indiana residents paid just $146,636 to attend Purdue University’s four-year veterinary school in 2018. However, the cost of attendance rose to $260,389 for out-of-state students.

Picture: Getty Images

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