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How to Attend Pharmacy School with little to no debt?

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Oct 13, 2014
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Note: TLDR at the end:

This has been discussed with a high constant flow of "it cant be done" to "sign up for loan forgiveness and pay minimum for 20+ years." I'd like to open this discussion up with my own experience as to how I'm getting pharmacy school and cost of living covered at no cost to myself. Keep in mind, this is not a debate as to whether pharmacy school is worth it or not rather a discussion as to how to get the education you want at the lowest price. I will not ignore saturation as it does exist, to that I say "caveat emptor."

Upon my acceptance to Pharmacy School in the Midwest a few years ago (yes, non-trad with wife and kids;)) I made the move and found myself with a bachelors carrying 16K in student loans. I soon realized that with cost of tuition plus housing and basic family needs, I was about to double my student loans with just one semester of schooling! Being successful in my studies while working as an intern at Wags, I could not shake the burden of how to alleviate my debt. The scholarships I was promised did not go through (no surprise), and pulling out additional loans vs my take home expected pay later in life did not add up to digging myself out of a hole. I did my own research and did what no one in my family has done: Talked to a recruiter in the army, qualified to be a pharmacy tech and awaited my departure....

Truth be told i was depressed at first leaving my family, but once I saw the benefits of healthcare, housing payments, a food stipend with my basic pay things actually took a turn for the better. This is not a recruiting page just merely a way i found to cover my debt and still move forward in my career path with my family.

Now lets get to the benefits to the present day and break down what I'm getting covered for: I qualify for what is known as a Post 9-11 GI Bill (Chapter 33) that will pay 36 months of being a full-time student. Lets crunch some numbers to the program I'll be attending:

1) Applied to Pacific University Oregon (SOP). Here's a link of the cost being a private institution:

Tuition & Financial Aid | Pharmacy

Total Cost based on their chart with tuition-books/lab-cost of living: $68,424 per year (x3 years) = $205,272 which I'll add is false: Decent apartments in the area go from 1200 - 2200 a month so realistically: ~$225,000 to $250,000+

2) Use GI Bill benefits: Now, lets observe the power of the GI Bill: Being a private school, I also qualify for what is called the Yellow Ribbon Program which means the school will match any debt my gi bill cant cover. Based on housing allowance and zip code, here's what is covered by my benefits:

GI Bill Comparison Tool: VA.gov

Lets calculate the cost: My entitlement will cover $225,000 to $250,000 of my education with a guarantee tax free monthly income of $2,262 hitting my checking account. On this, I also receive a $1000 book stipend annually that hits my account. Should i live in a zip code thats lower pay than what i receive, i pocket the remaining money for anything else.

My pay on active duty went up every year i was in, I easily contributed 5-15% to my TSP (401k) along with an additional 15% towards my Roth IRA (mutual fund) and emergency savings that have put my family at around $35,000 on an online savings account gathering 2.2% interest for myself. By the time i leave active service, my rough annual income (with all pay) puts me around $55,000 (not including healthcare benefits that are worth an easy $15,000 a year for my family). My colleagues are borrowing ~ $50,000 a year with no contributions nor steady income (some no income while in school).


PharmD graduate (not including undergrad) debt : $225,000 after 3 years
a) majority of income from students: next to $0.00 to $6,000 annually = $18,000 in this program

Min. enlistment contract in military toward Active Service with a degree: 5 years (pharm tech) = NO DEBT
a) average total income over 5 years = ~ $250,000 plus no debt plus investments in portfolio's

PharmD graduate after 5 years of work (assuming 2080 hours a year) = ~ $600,000 (120K x 5 ) not realistic but lets go with the best situation for new grads.

Veteran after 3 years of school (identifying the tuition / COL as earned money paid to the school) = $225,000 plus NO DEBT plus experience with networking with the VA - DOD pharmacy jobs.

pharmD grad after 8 years (expedited 3 year program + 5 years of work assuming 100% of 3 year intern salary went to cost of school) =[ ($18,000*3) + ($120,000*5) ] - [$225,000 tuition cost] = $429,000

Vet grad after 8 years (5 years active duty + 3 year expedited program)
= [ ($50,000 * 5 yr earnings) ] + [$225,000 student costs paid for] = $475,000

I did not include annual % APR of the student loans nor the difference of student health insurance

PacificSource | Pacific University

Some think that the ~$50,000 difference isnt worth the trouble to do what I did. Along with this differential, I have many networking and preference locations when it comes to applications as a veteran ( I get priority vs many other new applicants). That is priceless for me and my family.....Also, I can afford the part time and enjoy life while still contributing to my retirement portfolio all along the way without the worry of debt. I can better enjoy my hobbies and focus on family more than "looking for an escape out of debt" or "try to act like a baller" by paying minimum on my debt and going out buying a brand new vehicle and flying first class internationally 3 days after landing a prn job.

Not to mention, I'm collecting a pension every month tax free due to my own stupidity in the service that I wont factor in to any of this.....Point is, opportunities await for those who crunch numbers and enjoy the freedoms of no debt early in life. Military is not for everyone, but look into other avenues such as Indian Health Care services or gov jobs in the VA that give a pension and PSLF forgiveness if you really dont want to own up to your debt.

Definitely a TLDR; Opportunities exist to avoid extreme debt like myself. joined uniformed services, got paid, saved money, went to school for free and still coming out ahead of old peers. There is a difference between "can't" get out of debt quickly vs "wont" get out of debt. I'm thankful for my opportunity to serve and the networking skills I have. Should I graduate and work part time, that's the dream....Focus on hobbies that i enjoy while still performing my job with no yoke of loans weighing me down.

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