$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%|
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2022!
|2.49% – 13.85%1||Undergraduate|
|2.55% – 11.44%2||Undergraduate|
|3.25% – 13.59%3||Undergraduate|
|0.00% – 23.00%4||Undergraduate|
|3.25% – 9.69%6||Undergraduate|
|* 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.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through Firstrust Bank, member FDIC, First Citizens Community 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.
Information advertised valid as of 9/15/2022. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Approved interest rate will depend on the creditworthiness of the applicant(s), lowest advertised rates only available to the most creditworthy applicants and require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.
2 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.
Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 3.47% APR to 13.03% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 2.80% APR to 11.69% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Earnest variable interest rate student loan refinance loans are based on a publicly available index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The variable rate is based on the rate published on the 25th day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month, rounded to the nearest hundredth of a percent. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Although the rate will vary after you are approved, it will never exceed 36% (the maximum allowable for this loan). Please note, Earnest Private Student Loans are not available in Nevada. Our lowest rates are only available for our most credit qualified borrowers and contain our .25% auto pay discount from a checking or savings account. It is important to note that the 0.25% Auto Pay discount is not available while loan payments are deferred.
3 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
4 Important Disclosures for Edly.
1. Loan Example:
About this example
The initial payment schedule is set upon receiving final terms and upon confirmation by your school of the loan amount. You may repay this loan at any time by paying an effective APR of 23%. The maximum amount you will pay is $22,500 (not including Late Fees and Returned Check Fees, if any). The maximum number of regularly scheduled payments you will make is 60. You will not pay more than 23% APR. No payment is required if your gross earned income is below $30,000 annually or if you lose your job and cannot find employment.
2. Edly Student IBR Loans are unsecured personal student loans issued by FinWise Bank, a Utah chartered commercial bank, member FDIC. All loans are subject to eligibility criteria and review of creditworthiness and history. Terms and conditions apply.
5 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
6 Important Disclosures for Funding U.
Funding U Disclosures
Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are made by Funding University which is a for-profit enterprise. Funding University is not affiliated with the school you are attending or any other learning institution. None of the information contained in Funding University’s website constitutes a recommendation, solicitation or offer by Funding University or its affiliates to buy or sell any securities or other financial instruments or other assets or provide any investment advice or service.