For most aspiring physician assistants, PA school loans are a reality. Over 80% of students end up taking out education loans for their graduate programs, according to the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA).
But there are ways for you to cut down on your PA loan debt. Consider these steps to pay for PA school, as well as your federal and private PA loan options.
Choose among cheaper physician assistant programs
Seek government scholarships with a service requirement
Seek private scholarships for physician assistant school
Investigate your federal and private student loan options
Plan for your student loan repayment
So where should you start in figuring out how to pay for PA school?
There are around 250 accredited physician assistant programs from which to choose, depending on your area of focus and other factors. Once you’ve narrowed your school list to programs catering to your specialty and other preferences, such as class size, consider two ways to save money: Staying close to home and choosing a public college or university.
Many public physician assistant schools offer discounted tuition rates for in-state residents, according to the PAEA. The association reported that in 2018 the median tuition for in-state students ($50,289) was dwarfed by that of their out-of-state classmates ($88,677).
Private school students pay even more on average, a whopping $91,603. 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.
If you’d like to leave school with essentially zero debt, you should prioritize gift aid.
As long as you’re zeroing in on the federal government’s aid options, here are three out of many scholarship and forgiveness programs you can consider.
- National Health Service Corps Scholarship: You will commit to practicing in a rural, urban or frontier community with limited access to care, receiving aid for each year of service. There is a two-year minimum and four-year maximum service commitment.
- Health Professional Scholarship Program: You will commit to working for at least two years at a healthcare facility run by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to receive this scholarship. In return, you will receive tuition, authorized required fees and an annual education expense payment.
- Indian Health Service Scholarship Program: Qualified students of American Indian or Alaska Native heritage can receive funding for tuition, required fees and living expenses 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.
For a list of additional options, see our guide to student loan repayment and forgiveness for physician assistants.
You may also want to look into 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 multiple scholarships of $1,000 to $2,500 in value to enrolled students.
You may also find opportunities according to your interests or specialty. For instance, PAs for Latino Health offers a $1,000 scholarship, and PAs in Orthopedic Surgery offers two $5,000 scholarships. For this one, the top five candidates must write a publish-worthy orthopaedic case study, review article or clinical pearl.
If you do need federal and private student loans, they are always 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.
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.
Federal loans are also generally preferable to private loans because they come with more room for error. You may switch your repayment plan, temporarily pause your repayment and apply for loan forgiveness, for example.
Private loans, on the other hand, come with fewer 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.
Be sure to shop around when looking for private student loans to get your best terms and options. And compare all the details of federal versus private loans before choosing to go down either or both paths. Borrowing as little as possible — and securing your lowest possible interest rate — could help you avoid additional debt down the line.
If you decide to borrow for PA school, plan your eventual repayment while you’re still in school. Along with the aforementioned service and forgiveness programs, there are state-funded assistance programs for physician assistant graduates. Find your state contact via the Department of Health and Human Services to inquire about the possibilities.
You also might consider refinancing your student loan debt once you’re off-campus and earning a salary. American Academy of Physician Assistants members may be able to get refinancing discounts or perks at lenders such as SoFi and Laurel Road.
Use Student Loan Hero’s refinancing calculator to get an idea of what your savings might be.
Rebecca Stropoli contributed to this report.
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1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.
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3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
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.
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5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
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)..
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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%.
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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.
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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.