15 Best Dental Schools to Avoid Six-Figure Student Debt

 March 15, 2018
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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.

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%
12 Columbia University $71,951 $281,218 58.89% 4.40%
13 Rutgers School of Dental Medicine $187,202 $158,644 17.11% 4.69%
14 Tufts University $62,860 $282,848 50.99% 11.33%
15 Augusta University $201,540 $102,300 45.58% 84.98%
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%
20 Boston University $66,718 $288,000 26.13% 14.52%
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 College Ave.

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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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5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

Sofi Disclosures

UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 10.66% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.12% to 11.23% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 10.90% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.10% to 11.34% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.08% to 10.86% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.05% to 11.29% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 10.66% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.20% to 11.23% 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.

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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.