For most aspiring physician assistants, loans are just a part of the bargain toward a booming career. About 86% of students end up taking out education loans for their graduate programs, according to the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA).
But just because you might need to borrow for PA school doesn’t mean that you have to borrow a lot. Consider these five steps to lessen your reliance on loans.
1. Choose among cheaper physician assistant programs
There are nearly 240 accredited physician assistant programs, and they weren’t created equal.
Once you’ve narrowed your school list to programs catering to your specialty and preferences like class size, consider two ways to save money: staying close to home and going public.
Nine of 10 public physician assistant schools offer discounted tuition rates for in-state residents, according to the PAEA. The association reported that in 2017 the median tuition of for in-state students ($47,886) was dwarfed by that of their out-of-state classmates ($85,401).
Private school students pay even more on average, a whopping $87,160 for their three-year program. These costs don’t include a litany of secondary fees, such as those for books and lab or clinical work.
Choosing a cheaper physician assistant school means you’ll have an easier time coming up with the cash to pay for it.
2. Seek government scholarships — if you’re OK with the service requirement
With federal loans, you could cover every last cent of most physician assistant programs. The Department of Education allows you to borrow up to $20,500 per year in direct unsubsidized loans, and you could cover the difference — your tuition shortfall — using PLUS loans.
But if you’d rather leave school with less or, ideally, no debt, you’re better off prioritizing gift aid.
As long as you’re zeroing in on the federal government’s aid options, keep these three scholarship programs top of mind. Each offers to cover your tuition and other academic fees in exchange for work service upon your graduation.
- National Health Service Corps Scholarship: Practice in a rural, urban or frontier community, receiving aid for each year of service.
- Health Professional Scholarship Program: Work for at least two years at a healthcare facility run by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, which opened this program to physician assistant students in 2017.
- Indian Health Service Scholarship Program: Qualified students of American Indian or Alaska Native heritage can receive funding for serving for at least two years at health facilities in these communities.
Your (prospective) schools’ financial aid office can help you navigate your eligibility and applications for these government-funded scholarship programs.
3. Seek private scholarships for your physician assistant school
Even if you score aid from a government-funded scholarship, you will probably still face a hefty cost of attendance.
Now’s the time to investigate your private scholarship options, which usually don’t come with service or other requirements beyond basic eligibility rules. You typically must be an admitted or enrolled physician assistant student, for example, and you may need to meet some academic benchmarks.
The Physician Assistant Foundation, for one, awards nearly 40 scholarships of $1,000 to $2,000 in value to enrolled students.
As you seek gift aid, also consider local professional associations. If you live on the West Coast, for example, the California Academy of PAs offers three student scholarships worth $2,000 each.
4. Investigate your federal and private student loan options
As a last resort, federal and private student loans are an option to fund your physician assistant program. Remember, however, that loans — unlike scholarships or grants — need to be repaid with interest over time, potentially hampering your other long-term financial goals.
Federal loans are generally preferable to private loans because they come with more room for error. You could switch your repayment plan, temporarily pause your repayment and apply for loan forgiveness, for example.
Private loans, on the other hand, come with more limited options for loan deferment and forbearance if your repayment goes south. Still, if you have a strong credit history, or a cosigner who does, you could score a lower interest rate from a private lender than the government can offer. Either way, make sure to shop around when looking for private student loans to get the best terms and options.
Compare all the details of federal and private loans before choosing to go down either or both paths. Borrowing as little as possible — and securing the lowest possible interest rate — could help you avoid additional debt down the line.
5. Plan for your student loan repayment
If you decide to borrow student loans, plan your eventual repayment while you’re still in school. You might not have time to start a money-making side hustle, but you could still budget your in-school expenses to carve out some spare change for early or extra payments.
Also, consider the many loan repayment assistance and forgiveness options for physician assistants. If you plan to work for the government or a nonprofit, for example, you could qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness after a decade of timely payments.
There are also plenty of state-funded assistance programs for physician assistant graduates. Find your state contact via the Department of Health and Human Services.
Finally, you might consider refinancing your student loan debt once you’re off-campus and earning a salary. And if you do, know that the American Academy of Physician Assistants says its members can get refinancing discounts or perks at lenders such as SoFi and Laurel Road. Certain terms and limitations may apply.
Fortunately for you, PAs earn very healthy salaries, with a median mark of $104,860 in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Using the strategies above, you can keep more of your pay, instead of kissing it goodbye to pay student loan principal and interest payments
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|2.84% – 10.97%1||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
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|2.80% – 11.37%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|3.52% – 9.50%4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|2.80% – 11.06%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|