IS DENTAL SCHOOL WORTH THE DEBT?

is dental school worth the debt?

We recently shared a post on whether law school was worth the debt. Since dental school is where the majority of our student loan debt came from, we thought it was high time we shared our thoughts–is dental school worth the debt?

We spent more than $60,000 on getting into dental school alone. Applying to dental school is crazy competitive. We wanted to strengthen my application so that I would get in, so I chose to get a Master’s degree in Biomedical Science. It worked out for me– I was accepted almost immediately. But that meant we started dental school with $60,000 of debt. Not ideal.

Then, I attended a private dental school that cost about $55k per semester. I could have paid MUCH less by attending a public school, but we chose to live close to family, and in a state where Amber also was accepted to a good law school. There was no public dental school nearby, so that was really my only option given our circumstances. With interest rates as high as 7.9% on my student loans, the balance of our student loans quickly ballooned up to about $580,000 in student loan debt.

The crazy thing is we didn’t even really think much of our debt until we were about to graduate. Many of our friends were similarly situated. With options like student loan forgiveness, I think we all thought our debt would just be forgiven after 10-25 years under one of the forgiveness plans or we’d make amazing salaries to knock it out somehow.

But once we started discussing our options with financial advisers and student loan experts, we started feeling really worried. With our combined debt, we were well over $600k in debt. Think of all the things you can buy with $600k! A sweet lamborghini. A big house. 600,000 items of McDonald’s value menu. $600,000 worth of travel. We probably could have seen the whole world. Consider the fact that if we had just taken $600,000 and invested it in some business or in the stock market. We’d probably have made more money that way than what our salaries get us today. So it really is crazy to think that we paid that much for school.

So all of this begs the question, is dental school worth the debt?

One of the first financial advisers we spoke with when we were deciding how to tackle our student loan debt, literally said “dental school is one of the worst financial decisions you can make.”

Let that sink in for a minute.

Really? One of the worst financial decisions you can make? Worse than going into thousands of dollars in credit card debt? Worse than trying to pay a mortgage you can’t afford? Worse than making a sketchy investment? Worse than not investing at all? Worse than not saving for retirement?

While the adviser may have overstated what he intended to convey, the truth of the matter is that dental school is not necessarily a good financial decision, that is for sure.  The average cost of dental school is well over $200k. For us, it was double that. The internet says that the average income for a starting dentist is around $153k. That seems like a conservative estimation to me, but its one that we’ll use.

One general rule of thumb is that the total of your debts should not exceed 36% of your income. So, take $153,000 x 36% (.36) which = $55,080. Divide $55,080 by 12 and that =$4590. So, assuming you have no other debt (which is probably not a fair thing to assume) your student loan payments shouldn’t be more than $4590 to follow this general rule. (Fun fact, we pay almost three times that amount every month). If you are bringing in $12,750 a month, ($153k divided by 12 for the 12 months of the year) which is more like $8500 after taxes, do you really want $4590– more than half of your pay check– to go to student loans? That means you will be living off of about $4000 a month. While that is doable, (we’re doing it) you could certainly have earned that much money without going to dental school.

So with that being said, here are a few financial factors to consider: 

FINANCIAL FACTORS

  • Return on investment (ROI). Before you invest in most anything, you should consider your return on investment. A ROI is the gain from the investment minus the cost of the investment divided by the cost of investment.
  • Salary. There are plenty of jobs that can earn you a salary of $150k that don’t require +$200k of student loan debt.
  • Taxes. We underestimated taxes before we started working. We now totally understand why republicans are whining all the time about them 😉
  • Student loan debt burden. Take it from us– paying off half a million dollars in student loan debt really sucks. If you don’t get accepted into an inexpensive public school, it might be worth considering a different career path.
  • The cost of owning a dental practice if you are interested in ownership (and the benefits of ownership, such as increased salary and some tax benefits)
  • Scholarships and or military repayment. If you can get dental school paid for or partially paid for, that should weigh in to your decision

NON FINANCIAL FACTORS 

  • Work life balance. One of the biggest benefits of being a dentist is the pleasant work hours. In many offices, dentists enjoy flexible schedules, averaging between 3-5 days of work per week and usually working less than eight hours per shift.
  • Not having to go through residency. Immediately after graduation (and passing boards!) you can start earning six figures and doing real dentistry.
  • Being called “doctor” is cool. you're a dentist
  • Helping people/being in a service related industry
  • Job satisfaction– do you actually want to be a dentist? Are you OK with being in people’s mouths everyday? Are you OK with listening to people complain? Are you good at problem solving? Do you generally want to make people feel better? 

Dental school may or may not be right for you. The important thing is that you carefully weigh out the above factors, especially the financial factors. It would be a shame to invest so much time and money into something that you end up not enjoying. For us, it was the right decision. Dentistry was my dream. It has paid off financially (so far) and it is a job that I am happy to wake up in the morning to go and do.

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