Anthony S. Johnson, D.V.M., Looks at 4 Ways to Make Veterinary Education More Affordable
According to the VIN Foundation, the average cost of four years of veterinary school in the U.S. is around $200,000 for in-state students, and $275,000 for out-of-state students. Not surprisingly, most new veterinarians start their career saddled with severe debt that can take decades to eliminate. Research by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA) has found that the median amount of student debt for graduates of U.S. veterinary colleges reached $143,111 in 2018, which was 7.5 percent higher than 2017.
The bad news is that there is no expectation that these costs will fall in the near future. On the contrary, they will invariably rise given that the supply of available accredited programs far outstrips demand. Indeed, the average acceptance rate for U.S. veterinary schools is a mere 11.7 percent (and for some highly acclaimed institutions such as Purdue University, the University of Wisconsin and Kansas State University, the acceptance rate is even lower than 10 percent). However, according to Anthony S. Johnson, D.V.M., who for more than a decade has served as Medical Director of the Veterinary Information Network headquartered in Davis, CA, there are some effective ways that aspiring veterinarians can deal with manageable debt instead of struggle with mountainous debt:
1) Apply to In-State vs. Out-of-State Programs
As noted above, the total cost of veterinary education for in-state students is around $75,000 less than for out-of-state students (and for some out-of-state students the gap is even bigger depending on where they live and apply). As such, prospective veterinarians should carefully weigh the overall financial incentives of living and studying in-state vs. packing their bags and heading across state lines; especially when considering the lower cost-of-living and potential tax credit advantages.
“Students who do not live in a state with an accredited veterinary program, or who want to study at a specific out-of-state institution, should explore the possibility of establishing residency in the respective state,” commented Anthony S. Johnson, who is Board Certified in Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care (ACVECC). “This is a complex process and students are obliged to demonstrate that they have a physical presence in the state, have a legitimate desire to live in the state beyond just attending college, and are financially independent.”
2) Apply for Scholarships and Grants
Virtually all veterinary schools offer scholarships and grants. However, the amount of money available and the proportion of students who receive funding varies. For example, according to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), Midwestern University in Glendale, Arizona offers one percent of veterinary students scholarships and grants, while Indiana’s Purdue University — where Anthony S. Johnson has taught both undergraduate and professional courses while living in nearby Carmel, Indiana — offers more than 98% of veterinary students some form of free financial aid.
Students can also research financial support offered by non-institutional private sources. For example, the American Kennel Club offers a Veterinary Student Scholarship Program that supports aspiring veterinary practitioners based on their respective academic achievement, activities with purebred dogs or related research, and financial need.
3) Make Financial Literacy a Top Priority
Would-be veterinarians can expect to spend many hours studying neuroanatomy, cell biology and genetics, function and dysfunction, general pathology, animal health and disease, parasitology, and much more. However, they should not neglect another piece of the educational puzzle that will not be part of their formal curriculum, but is nevertheless vital to their professional success, and possibly their long-term professional survival as well: financial literacy.
“Graduates who face significant debt loads need to make personal and professional financial management a top priority,” commented Anthony S. Johnson. “They need to understand concepts like the total cost of borrowing, the advantages and disadvantages of consolidating loans, and how to make sure they are making their income go as far as possible, while they focus as much as possible on reducing debt. For many people — and certainly not just veterinarians — this is a challenge, and may require help from an expert. But there really is no option. Either you manage debt, or it manages you. There is no middle ground.”
4) Supplement Income with a Side Gig
Admittedly, veterinarians-in-training do not have an abundance of free time. In fact, they are lucky if they can squeeze in five or six hours of sleep at night. However, those with particularly good time management skills can carve out capacity to supplement their income with a flexible side gig related to their passion for animal care, such as writing articles or consulting for companies in the pet product or wellness space (especially startups).
“While earning some extra money through a side gig is rewarding, it is vital to make sure that the income is being allocated to essential expenses such as tuition and paying for basic costs-of-living,” commented Anthony S. Johnson. “That means delaying vacations, saying no to nice-to-have perks, and trying to get yet another year out of an old car. Veterinary students who are hard working, disciplined and focused will find themselves in much better financial shape during their studies and after graduation.”