Paying for dental school

These tips can help you find the money you need for your dental degree.

Make a plan to pay for dental school

Dental school is an investment in your future. Using a 1-2-3 approach to paying for dental school can help you be more prepared to finance your degree.

1. Find money you don’t need to pay back. Supplement your savings by applying for dental scholarships, grants, fellowships, and assistantship positions.

2. Explore federal student aid. Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can help you find government loans and grants as well as state and school aid, if they are available.

3. Consider a responsible private student loan. If you still have expenses, a private dental school loan can help you cover those outstanding costs.

Compare the Sallie Mae® Dental School Loan to the Federal Direct Grad PLUS Loan. It can be a good alternative and, if you’re highly qualified, you may receive a lower interest rate.footnote 1

Learn about the Sallie Mae® Dental School Loan

1. Find money you don’t need to pay back

Personal savings
You can use your savings to help pay for dental school. Creating a budget can give you a sense of how much of your savings you want to contribute. A budget can show you what your monthly expenses are and how much money to put in an emergency fund. Talk to a financial advisor if you have any questions.

Dental school scholarships and grants
Some dental schools may offer scholarships, grants, or assistantships to their students. Grants are usually need-based while scholarships can be need-based or merit-based. Both types of aid don’t need to be paid back.

Assistantships are usually awarded on merit. These positions may offer tuition remission in exchange for 10 – 15 hours of work on-campus each week. Your school could offer teaching assistantships (TAs), research assistantships (RAs), or both. Check the websites of the schools you’re applying to and talk to their financial aid offices to find out more.

Other scholarships
Some dental associations and for-profit companies offer scholarships, fellowships, and grants to dental students and/or are a resource to find funding opportunities. Here are some to consider:

You can search more scholarships using our free Scholarship Search tool. You can also reach out directly to the organizations for more information. Ask school department heads for recommendations on which scholarships, awards, or grants may be best for you.

Service programs
Depending on your area of study, you could qualify for a program that covers your dental school tuition, books, and more in return for a set number of years of service for that organization.

  • National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Scholarship: This Department of Health program will cover the cost of tuition, books, and living expenses for dental students for the course of their study. In exchange, you must work for one to two years in an approved high-need area, either in a city or rural town.footnote 5 In return for scholarship awards, scholars commit to providing primary care health services in underserved communities. The program provides support to students who seek financial assistance to complete primary care health professions education. The NHSC SP pays for tuition and various other reasonable education-related expenses and also provides a monthly stipend to assist with living expenses in exchange for a minimum of two (2) years of full-time service.
  • Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP): This program is funded by the military—ArmyNavy, and Air Force—for a health professions students, including dental students. You can get all your tuition and fees covered, plus a living stipend.footnote 6
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF): If you work at a nonprofit, teaching hospital, or government organization after you complete your degree, you may be eligible for this loan forgiveness program. This program only applies to any federal loans you took out, not private loans. Usually you must have already made 120 consecutive payments toward your federal loans to qualify.footnote 7

Be sure to visit each program’s website to get the details on how you can apply and what that could mean for you.

2. Explore federal student aid

Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) will give you access to federal, state, and school aid, including:

  • Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans: You can borrow a set amount of these fixed-rate loans (sometimes called “Stafford Loans”). These loans are unsubsidized, meaning you’re responsible for paying all the interest on them.
  • Federal Direct Graduate PLUS Loan: If you need additional help covering expenses, you can take out Direct Graduate PLUS Loans. These can help cover any remaining balance you have.
  • School-based aid: Your school may distribute additional aid based on the FAFSA. You could qualify for loans, scholarships, or a Federal Work-Study position, which allows you to work part-time on campus to earn money for your expenses.
  • State aidLike school-based aid, the availability of state grants and scholarships varies. You’ll find out what is available in your state when you file your FAFSA.

Learn more about applying for financial aid for graduate students.

3. Consider a responsible private student loan

After you’ve pursued your options for scholarships, savings, and federal loans, you can consider applying for a private student loan to help pay for dental school. Private student loans may be able to help pay for any gaps in your school tuition, fees, or living expenses.

Private student loans are available through a bank or credit union. They’re credit-based—the better your credit, the better your chance of being approved for a loan. Private student loans are typically available with fixed or variable interest rates.

For example, the Sallie Mae® Dental School Loan is available with a fixed interest or variable interest rate. To help you focus on your dental career, it offers a repayment period of up to 20 yearsfootnote 8 and the ability to defer repayment during your residency.footnote 9 It also gives you the choice to make monthly interest payments or a $25 fixed payment each
monthfootnote 8 while in school or to defer payments until after school.footnote 10 As with federal student loans, you will have to pay back the money you borrowed, plus interest.

When it comes time to start your dental residency, you may also be eligible for a residency and relocation loan like the Sallie Mae® Dental Residency and Relocation Loan. This loan can help pay for interview and moving costs.

Deferring undergraduate student loans
If you have private or federal student loans from your undergraduate degree, you can consider deferring them while you’re in dental school. Contact your loan servicer to find out what options you have. Be aware that although you won’t have to make monthly payments on these loans while you’re studying, the loans will likely still accrue interest.

Learn more about graduate student loans.

How to borrow responsibly

Borrowing is often a necessary part of getting the education you need to become a dentist. But it’s important to borrow responsibly so you can pay back your loans on time after you earn your degree. Limit your borrowing to the amount you’ll need for the cost of tuition and related expenses. Evaluate what your anticipated monthly loan payments might be versus how much you expect to earn as a dental professional. You can research your potential salary through professional associations and the U.S. Department of Labor, which lists the median pay for many fields.

Related topics

footnote 1. Explore federal loans and compare to make sure you understand the terms and features. Sallie Mae Dental School loans that have variable rates can go up over the life of the loan. Federal student loans are required by law to provide a range of flexible repayment options, including, but not limited to, income-based repayment and income-contingent repayment plans, and loan forgiveness and deferment benefits, which other student loans are not required to provide. Federal loans generally have origination fees, but are available to students regardless of income.

footnote 2. This information was gathered on 04/14/23 from

footnote 3. This information was gathered on 04/14/23 from

footnote 4. This information was gathered on 04/14/23 from

footnote 5. This information was gathered on 04/14/23 from

footnote 6. This information was gathered on 04/14/23 from https://www.goarmy.com

footnote 7. This information was gathered on 7/10/23 from

footnote 8. Example of a typical transaction for a $10,000 Dental School Loan with the most common fixed rate, Fixed Repayment Option, and two disbursements. For borrowers with a 57-month in-school and separation period, it works out to 11.19% fixed APR, 57 payments of $25.00, 238 payments of $155.51 and one payment of $54.64, for a total loan cost of $38,491.02. Loans that are subject to a $50 minimum principal and interest payment amount may receive a loan term that is less than 20 years. A variable APR may increase over the life of the loan. A fixed APR will not.

footnote 9. To apply for this deferment, customers and an official from the internship, clerkship, fellowship, or residency program must complete and submit a deferment form  to us for consideration. If approved, deferment periods are issued in up to 12-month increments. Customers can apply for and receive a maximum of four 12-month deferment periods. Interest is charged during the deferment period and Unpaid Interest may be added to the Current Principal at the end of each deferment period, which will increase the Total Loan Cost.

footnote 10. Advertised APRs for Medical School Loan and Dental School Loan assume a $10,000 loan with a 4-year in-school period. Interest rates for variable rate loans may increase or decrease over the life of the loan based on changes to the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent.  Advertised variable rates are the starting range of rates and may vary outside of that range over the life of the loan. Interest is charged starting when funds are sent to the school. With the Fixed and Deferred Repayment Options, the interest rate is higher than with the Interest Repayment Option and Unpaid Interest is added to the loan’s Current Principal at the end of the grace/separation period. To receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate discount, the borrower or cosigner must enroll in auto debit through Sallie Mae. The discount applies only during active repayment for as long as the Current Amount Due or Designated Amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. It may be suspended during forbearance or deferment.

footnote Sallie Mae does not provide, and these materials are not meant to convey, financial, tax, or legal advice. Consult your own financial advisor, tax advisor, or attorney about your specific circumstances.

footnote Information advertised valid as of 5/31/2024.

footnote External links and third party references are provided for informational purposes only. Sallie Mae cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information provided by any third parties and assumes no responsibility for any errors or omissions contained therein. Any copyrights, trademarks and/or service marks used in these materials are the property of their respective owners.

footnote FAFSA® is a registered service mark of U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid.