$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:
- The average student loan balance per borrowing student, multiplied by the average four-year length of a dental program (weighted at 37.5 percent)
- The total dental program tuition prices for in-state students (weighted at 25 percent)
- The total dental program tuition prices for out-of-state students (12.5 percent)
- The portion of students with student loans in the 2015-16 school year (weighted at 12.5 percent)
- 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.
|Rank||Dental school||Indebtedness after 4 years||Program in-state tuition||Students receiving need-based aid||Students borrowing student loans|
|1||East Carolina University||$17,400||$98,454||100.00%||0.49%|
|2||Texas A&M University||$166,244||$73,152||84.10%||72.79%|
|3||LECOM School of Dental Medicine||$71,111||$198,800||57.41%||2.24%|
|4||UT Health Science Center at San Antonio||$183,032||$84,600||79.95%||74.16%|
|5||University of Connecticut||$47,518||$122,668||37.59%||39.29%|
|6||UT Health Science Center at Houston||$172,098||$89,528||44.57%||72.64%|
|7||Meharry Medical College||$120,860||$200,973||38.43%||2.48%|
|8||Oregon Health & Science University||$137,194||$170,551||23.75%||2.01%|
|9||University of Mississippi||$153,085||$107,200||47.66%||75.52%|
|10||University of California, San Francisco||$187,456||$171,512||96.49%||75.87%|
|11||University of North Carolina||$208,482||$137,908||100.00%||78.09%|
|13||Rutgers School of Dental Medicine||$187,202||$158,644||17.11%||4.69%|
|16||University of Kentucky||$249,346||$122,176||78.01%||83.00%|
|17||LSU New Orleans||$204,005||$113,672||40.34%||81.47%|
|18||University of Nebraska Medical Center||$208,800||$113,712||55.26%||87.37%|
|19||University of Maryland||$248,091||$141,452||75.80%||75.38%|
|21||University of Florida||$243,366||$150,256||71.70%||78.61%|
|22||University of Michigan||$248,673||$144,337||56.93%||75.84%|
|23||Ohio State University||$46,964||$168,511||22.11%||84.01%|
|24||University of Oklahoma||$258,625||$91,664||30.05%||85.28%|
|25||University of Pennsylvania||$158,032||$286,800||51.22%||1.31%|
|26||University of Alabama||$202,997||$109,280||28.65%||93.75%|
|27||University of Iowa||$231,608||$171,252||67.72%||75.16%|
|28||University of Tennessee Health Science Center||$253,813||$116,064||51.17%||84.53%|
|29||West Virginia University||$226,078||$120,312||27.93%||72.15%|
|30||University of Colorado||$251,337||$138,320||25.08%||66.58%|
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|1 Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB). Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions, and certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of Turnstile Capital Management (TCM) and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.
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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.
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Before applying for a private student loan, SunTrust recommends comparing all financial aid alternatives including grants, scholarships, and both federal and private student loans. To view and compare the available features of SunTrust private student loans, visit https://www.suntrust.com/loans/student-loans/private.
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7 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
A government loan is made according to rules set by the U.S. Department of Education. Government loans have fixed interest rates, meaning that the interest rate on a government loan will never go up or down.
Government loans also permit borrowers in financial trouble to use certain options, such as income-based repayment, which may help some borrowers. Depending on the type of loan that you have, the government may discharge your loan if you die or become permanently disabled.
Depending on what type of government loan that you have, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness in exchange for performing certain types of public service. If you are an active-duty service member and you obtained your government loan before you were called to active duty, you are entitled to interest rate and repayment benefits for your loan.
A private student loan is not a government loan and is not regulated by the Department of Education. A private student loan is instead regulated like other consumer loans under both state and federal law and by the terms of the promissory note with your lender.
If your private student loan has a fixed interest rate, then that rate will never go up or down. If your private student loan has a variable interest rate, then that rate will vary depending on an index rate disclosed in your application. If the interest rate on the new private student loan is less than the interest rate on your government loans, your payments will be less if you refinance.
If you don’t pay a private student loan as agreed, the lender can refer your loan to a collection agency or sue you for the unpaid amount.
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|4.23% – 13.23%1||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.20% – 11.44%2||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.84% – 13.49%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.50% – 10.11%*,4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.25% – 13.25%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|5.85% – 6.99%6||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|3.95% – 9.81%7||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.45% – 12.42%8||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|