15 Best Dental Schools to Avoid Six-Figure Student Debt

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$1.28 billion — that’s the combined student debt of 2016 dental school graduates, according to numbers reported in the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) Survey of Dental School Seniors.

Because many aspiring dentists must take out student loans for dental school, debt is a huge financial burden for dental school graduates. This is true even on a median salary of $159,770, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But dental school candidates might be more focused on getting through the competitive admissions process than limiting their student debt. Dental schools fielded nearly 80,000 applications in 2016-17 but enrolled just 6,165 students, according to the American Dental Association (ADA) Health Policy Institute in its annual Surveys of Dental Education.

Still, dental school candidates would do well to consider if dental school is worth the cost before jumping in. By attending dental schools with low costs and low levels of graduate debt, applicants are more likely to avoid six-figure student loan debt after graduating.

15 best dental schools to avoid student debt

Using data from the annual Surveys of Dental Education conducted by the ADA Health Policy Institute, Student Loan Hero identified the 15 best dental schools in the U.S. for students on a budget.

Student Loan Hero ranked 54 U.S. dental schools based on factors that might affect students’ costs and debt, including:

  • Average student loan balance per student (projected over four years), which was the highest-weighted factor in our rankings
  • Tuition costs for the entire four-year program, which was the second-highest-weighted factor in our rankings
  • How many students at each school are granted student loans
  • How many students receive aid in the form of federal grants or scholarships

The top dental schools on this list have some of the lowest tuition costs and fees — and dental school debt. Typical student loan debt at these top 15 dental schools is well under the $262,119 average for 2016 dental school graduates, according to the ADEA.

Based on our analysis and rankings, here are 15 dental schools that are perfect for cost-conscious applicants, starting with the best at No.1.

1. East Carolina University

  • Average student debt: $17,400
  • Program tuition: $98,454
  • Students granted student loans: 0.5 percent
  • Students receiving aid: 100 percent

2. Texas A&M University

  • Average student debt: $166,244
  • Program in-state tuition: $73,152
  • Students granted student loans: 72.8 percent
  • Students receiving aid: 84.1 percent

3. LECOM School of Dental Medicine

  • Average student debt: $71,111
  • Program tuition: $198,800
  • Students granted student loans: 2.2 percent
  • Students receiving aid: 57.4 percent

4. UT Health Science Center at San Antonio

  • Average student debt: $183,032
  • Program in-state tuition: $84,600
  • Students granted student loans: 74.2 percent
  • Students receiving aid: 80 percent

5. University of Connecticut

  • Average student debt: $47,518
  • Program in-state tuition: $122,668
  • Students granted student loans: 39.3 percent
  • Students receiving aid: 37.6 percent

6. UT Health Science Center at Houston

  • Average student debt: $172,098
  • Program in-state tuition: $89,528
  • Students granted student loans: 72.6 percent
  • Students receiving aid: 44.6 percent

7. Meharry Medical College

  • Average student debt: $120,860
  • Program tuition: $200,973
  • Students granted student loans: 2.5 percent
  • Students receiving aid: 38.4 percent

8. Oregon Health & Science University

  • Average student debt: $137,194
  • Program in-state tuition: $170,551
  • Students granted student loans: 2 percent
  • Students receiving aid: 23.8 percent

9. University of Mississippi

  • Average student debt: $153,085
  • Program in-state tuition: $107,200
  • Students granted student loans: 75.5 percent
  • Students receiving aid: 47.7 percent

10. University of California, San Francisco

  • Average student debt: $187,456
  • Program in-state tuition: $171,512
  • Students granted student loans: 75.9 percent
  • Students receiving aid: 96.5 percent

11. University of North Carolina

  • Average student debt: $208,482
  • Program in-state tuition: $137,908
  • Students granted student loans: 78.1 percent
  • Students receiving aid: 100 percent

12. Columbia University

  • Average student debt: $71,951
  • Program tuition: $281,218
  • Students granted student loans: 4.4 percent
  • Students receiving aid: 58.9 percent

13. Rutgers School of Dental Medicine

  • Average student debt: $187,202
  • Program in-state tuition: $158,644
  • Students granted student loans: 4.7 percent
  • Students receiving aid: 17.1 percent

14. Tufts University

  • Average student debt: $62,860
  • Program tuition: $282,848
  • Students granted student loans: 11.3 percent
  • Students receiving aid: 51 percent

15. Augusta University

  • Average student debt: $201,540
  • Program tuition (in-state): $102,300
  • Students granted student loans: 85 percent
  • Students receiving aid: 45.6 percent

Cheap dental schools can lead to huge savings

Choosing an affordable college, whether it’s an undergraduate program or a dental school, is one of the best ways to limit student debt.

Total program costs surveyed in these dental school rankings ranged from $36,600 to $321,900. That’s a massive difference in costs for the same D.D.S.

These dental school rankings also highlight other ways students can save money by attending the schools listed.

In-state tuition saves an average of $108,000

For dentistry candidates who live in a state with a public dental college, in-state tuition can save students about 42.9 percent on average, according to these rankings, which equates to $108,600 in savings for in-state students.

Even if you can’t get in-state tuition right away, work toward getting residency status. Some students can get residency status for their last two or three years in dental school and save tens of thousands of dollars in tuition.

Include private dental schools in your search

If you won’t be able to swing in-state tuition, consider private dental schools. Although private dental schools will be more expensive overall, the average total cost for out-of-state tuition is $249,000. Private dental schools average $263,000.

Several private colleges earned spots in these dental school rankings, including East Carolina University, LECOM School of Dental Medicine, and Meharry Medical College.

Also, there are numerous ways to claim student loan forgiveness and assistance for dentists. For people who are planning ahead, however, limiting dental school debt now is a smart move with big rewards.

Methodology: Student Loan Hero evaluated 54 dental schools across three factors to identify those programs least likely to burden graduates with significant dental school debt. These rankings relied on dental school data provided by the American Dental Association (ADA) Health Policy Institute in its annual Dental Education Surveys.

Dental schools were ranked on the following factors:

  1. The average student loan balance per borrowing student, multiplied by the average four-year length of a dental program (weighted at 37.5 percent)
  2. The total dental program tuition prices for in-state students (weighted at 25 percent)
  3. The total dental program tuition prices for out-of-state students (12.5 percent)
  4. The portion of students with student loans in the 2015-16 school year (weighted at 12.5 percent)
  5. The portion of students receiving need-based federal grants and scholarships (weighted at 12.5 percent)

All data was reported by dental schools and collected by the ADA Health Policy Institute. Financial aid data is based on student loans and aid requested, not necessarily granted, through student aid applications. Some dental schools were excluded from these rankings because of a lack of reporting on the factors above.

RankDental schoolIndebtedness after 4 yearsProgram in-state tuitionStudents receiving need-based aidStudents borrowing student loans
1East Carolina University$17,400$98,454100.00%0.49%
2Texas A&M University$166,244$73,15284.10%72.79%
3LECOM School of Dental Medicine$71,111$198,80057.41%2.24%
4UT Health Science Center at San Antonio$183,032$84,60079.95%74.16%
5University of Connecticut$47,518$122,66837.59%39.29%
6UT Health Science Center at Houston$172,098$89,52844.57%72.64%
7Meharry Medical College$120,860$200,97338.43%2.48%
8Oregon Health & Science University$137,194$170,55123.75%2.01%
9University of Mississippi$153,085$107,20047.66%75.52%
10University of California, San Francisco$187,456$171,51296.49%75.87%
11University of North Carolina$208,482$137,908100.00%78.09%
12Columbia University$71,951$281,21858.89%4.40%
13Rutgers School of Dental Medicine$187,202$158,64417.11%4.69%
14Tufts University$62,860$282,84850.99%11.33%
15Augusta University$201,540$102,30045.58%84.98%
16University of Kentucky$249,346$122,17678.01%83.00%
17LSU New Orleans$204,005$113,67240.34%81.47%
18University of Nebraska Medical Center$208,800$113,71255.26%87.37%
19University of Maryland$248,091$141,45275.80%75.38%
20Boston University$66,718$288,00026.13%14.52%
21University of Florida$243,366$150,25671.70%78.61%
22University of Michigan$248,673$144,33756.93%75.84%
23Ohio State University$46,964$168,51122.11%84.01%
24University of Oklahoma$258,625$91,66430.05%85.28%
25University of Pennsylvania$158,032$286,80051.22%1.31%
26University of Alabama$202,997$109,28028.65%93.75%
27University of Iowa$231,608$171,25267.72%75.16%
28University of Tennessee Health Science Center$253,813$116,06451.17%84.53%
29West Virginia University$226,078$120,31227.93%72.15%
30University of Colorado$251,337$138,32025.08%66.58%

Need a student loan?

Here are our top student loan lenders of 2021!
LenderVariable APREligibility 
1.04% – 11.98%1Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents

Visit College Ave

1.13% – 11.23%*,2Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents

Visit SallieMae

3.84% – 9.40%3Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit CommonBond

1.05% – 11.44%4Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit Earnest

1.22% – 11.66%5Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit SoFi

2.76% – 7.14%6Undergraduate and Graduate

VISIT CITIZENS

1.24% – 11.99%7Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit Discover

* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.

1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.

CollegeAve Disclosures

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.

Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
 
This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a first year graduate student borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 7.10% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $141.66 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $16,699.21. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

Information advertised valid as of 4/22/2021. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Lowest advertised rates require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.


2 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.

3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown.  If you choose to complete an application, we will conduct a hard credit pull, which may affect your credit score. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.


4 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

  1. Rates include 0.25% Auto Pay Discount
     
  2. Explanation of Rates “With Autopay” (APD)
    Rates shown include 0.25% APR discount when client agrees to make monthly principal and interest payments by automatic electronic payment. Use of autopay is not required to receive an Earnest loan.

    Available Terms
    For Cosigned loans – 5, 7, 10, 12, 15 years. 
    Primary Only – 10, 12, 15 years

    In school deferred payment is not available in AL, AZ, CA, FL, MA, MD, MI, ND, NY, PA, and WA).


5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

sofiDisclosures

UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 11.26% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.22% to 11.66% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 11.37% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.12% to 11.73% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.30% to 11.52% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.29% to 11.89% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.60% to 10.76% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.22% to 11.16% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 4/1/2021. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org)..


6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.76% – 7.14% (2.76% – 7.14% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 3.01% – 7.50% (3.01% – 7.50% APR).

Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.19% – 6.73% (2.19% – 6.73% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 2.89% – 7.09% (2.89%-7.09% APR).

Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.36% – 9.54% (1.36% – 8.82% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.13% – 9.84% (4.13% – 9.12% APR).

Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.36% – 8.34% (1.36% – 8.04% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.03% – 8.64% (4.03% – 8.34% APR).

Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.10% – 7.41% (2.10%-7.41% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.69% – 7.83% (4.69% – 7.83% APR).

Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.45% – 9.60% (4.45% – 9.53% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.38% – 12.81% APR).

Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.55% – 7.05% (3.55% – 6.77% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.97% – 10.07% APR).

Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable Rates are based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of March 1, 2021, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.11%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable rate is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%. 

Fixed Rate Disclosure: Fixed rate ranges are based on applicable terms, level of degree, and presence of a co-signer.

Lowest Rate Disclosure: Lowest rates require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate degree (where applicable), and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.

Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer.  Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision on our website including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.

Eligibility Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. Citizens Bank private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/Promissory Note, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens Bank participating school.

Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.

Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.


7 Important Disclosures for Discover.

Discover Disclosures

  1. Aggregate loan limits apply.
  2. Get a cash reward on each new Discover undergraduate and graduate student loan when you earn at least a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent) in any academic period covered by the loan. Limitations Apply. Visit DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Reward for terms and conditions.
  3. Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for undergraduate loans, and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments. The interest rate ranges represent the lowest and highest interest rates offered on Discover student loans, including undergraduate, graduate, health professions, law and MBA Loans. The fixed interest rate is set at the time of application and does not change during the life of the loan. The variable interest rate is calculated based on the 3-Month LIBOR index plus the applicable margin percentage. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 0.250% as of April 1, 2021. Discover Student Loans may adjust the rate quarterly on each January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 (the “interest rate change date”), based on the 3-Month LIBOR Index, published in the Money Rates section of the Wall Street Journal 15 days prior to the interest rate change date, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent (0.125% or 0.00125). This may cause the monthly payments to increase, the number of payments to increase or both. Your APR will be determined after you apply. Learn more about Discover Student Loans interest rates at DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Rates.
  4. Lowest APRs shown for Discover Private Consolidation Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants who are approved and choose a shorter repayment term, and include a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments. The fixed interest rate is set at the time of application and does not change during the life of the loan. The variable interest rate is calculated based on the 3-Month LIBOR index plus the applicable margin percentage. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 0.250% as of April 1, 2021. Discover Student Loans may adjust the rate quarterly on each January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 (the “interest rate change date”), based on the 3-Month LIBOR Index, published in the Money Rates section of the Wall Street Journal 15 days prior to the interest rate change date, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent (0.125% or 0.00125). This may cause the monthly payments to increase, the number of payments to increase or both. Your APR will be determined after you apply. Visit Discover.com/student-loans/consolidation.html for more information, including up-to-date interest rates and APRs.
Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for undergraduate loans, and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.