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Survey Shows Vet Students Incur Massive Debt

Can you afford to pay for vet school?  You probably can’t cover the cost unless you take out high dollar student loans.  If you are planning to pursue veterinary medicine you need to be prepared for this financial reality.

Nearly ninety percent of 2015 veterinary graduates reported in a new survey that they had to take on significant debt to pay for their veterinary education.  In fact, the mean debt incurred over four years of vet school was a staggering $142,394.  More than two thirds of students surveyed had debt ranging from $50,000 to $221,000, while the top 5 percent of borrowers reported debt in excess of $300,000.

In most areas of the country, the average vet student’s loans could cover the purchase of a fairly nice home—a purchase that many young veterinarians must delay as they struggle to pay off their educational debt.

What are the Causes of Vet Student Debt?

The survey of 2015 veterinary graduates, published in the August 2016 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAMVA), found that the significant debt incurred by U.S. vet students was chiefly due to the high cost of tuition and not due to any particular extravagance in terms of living expenses.  In fact, the living expenses of veterinary students were actually below the standard cost of living as reported by the Economic Policy Institute.

Tuition and fees accounted for the bulk of veterinary student debt in the survey, coming in at a strong 68.1 percent.  This amount was followed by lesser expenses such as 19.5 percent for living expenses (room/board), 4.4 percent for transportation, 3.3 percent for books and materials, 2 percent for veterinary equipment, and 2.5 percent for other incidentals.

How Much Does Vet School Actually Cost?

In case you were wondering, the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges reports that the average annual cost of tuition is $22,448 for in-state veterinary students and $46,352 for out of state veterinary students.  You should be aware that tuition amounts can vary wildly from one school to the next.

It may be possible for vet students to defray educational costs slightly through veterinary scholarships.  Students may also significantly reduce or even eliminate educational costs completely if they are willing to work for the government after graduation (two of the best known programs in this area are offered by the U.S. Army and the USDA).

 Why the Debt to Income Ratio Matters

The mean educational debt of $142,394 is made even more problematic by the unbalanced debt to income ratio that new veterinary graduates face in the current economy.  The average starting salary for a new veterinarian is approximately $70,000 according to data from the AVMA, putting the debt to income ratio at 2:1.

This debt to income ratio puts new veterinarians at a significant financial disadvantage compared to their peers in the human medical field, where the disparity between starting salary and debt is much lower.  It takes much longer for veterinary students to pay off their loans, which in turn makes it difficult to start a veterinary practice, purchase a home, or support a family.

Is It Worth the Cost?

Most veterinarians would agree that vet school is worth the cost in the long run, and veterinary medicine continues to be one of the most popular animal related career paths.  In fact, “veterinarian” is the most commonly referenced dream job for animal career seekers by a landslide.

If you want to attend vet school you should go into the experience having a clear understanding of the costs and the length of time it will take to pay back your loans.  Veterinary medicine is a career that requires a serious financial commitment.

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