Veterinary Is the debt manageable? Will this be worth it?

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Admissions advisor
Lifetime Donor
7+ Year Member
Oct 13, 2011
Academic Administration
I was accepted to my dream vet school (UPenn) and am still waiting on a few others. Coming from NJ, I am OOS everywhere. Penn is ideal for me for many reasons. Like everyone who pursues vet, this has been my life goal for as long as I can remember and every single decision I have made until this point was made for vet school. I went to a college where I knew I could graduate debt free, I gave up paid job opportunities to get vet experience, etc. Now here I am, finally accepted, so close to my dream, and I’m not sure I can actually attend. How do people manage with this debt? I value independence, financial stability and saving and can envision myself stressed about every purchase I’ll ever make if I’m loaded in debt. I like to travel also. But again, this is the one job I can see myself being happy to do every day for the rest of my life. I know people must pay for vet school entirely with loans (I should have about 25k paid for each year by parents), but realistically how do people manage and how is your quality of life because I am starting to have a lot of doubts. However, it is also very upsetting to consider passing up my dream. (and of course I always knew it was expensive, I just figured I would manage like it seems everyone else has.)
Congrats! Does Penn discuss managing your debts to set you up for practice? They and other schools should be able to answer that question.

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Lifetime Donor
5+ Year Member
Oct 13, 2014
Pharmacy Student
First, congrats on the acceptance. Second, there is such a thing as investing wisely rather than foolishly.

After contacting the universities financial aid office and advisors (with a school like UPenn you definitely have some advisors) I would focus on making a budget plan on an excel sheet so as to know how much you will need while "investing" in your career. Count in the 25k per year your parents are chipping in and you will find you may not have as much "Debt" as your peers. The majority of those pursuing higher education in the health field will have to pull out loans to some extent. That doesn't mean you pull the max you can each year and be "student broke."

With an advisor, look at the housing cost, student insurance, tuition, program fees (if any for equipment or labs) and really crunch the numbers on your computer down to the penny. Look at what subsidized and un-subsidized loans mean and what APR looks like. Compare this with your potential income (average or a bit below average so as to properly assess your budget) and look at what time frame you'll need to be debt free. You may choose to live like a broke college student for 2-3 years and pay everything off quickly or live modestly and invest your income in other avenues while still paying off some debt. It's a balancing act and not a one-glove-fits-all scenario.

If you really want to graduate debt free, some options to consider is commissioning over to military service within your specialty (met one person doing this as a vet graduate) as an exchange for no student loans. Specific jobs and rural locations may pay incentives for 2 - year contracts within your specialty. It's all going to require some sacrifice but doable. As long as your intentions are to form a budget plan and stick to the numbers, you'll graduate with more financial autonomy than most.

Good luck.


Staff member
5+ Year Member
Oct 27, 2013
It's manageable, otherwise people wouldn't go. It's a lot. It's scary. Having parents who will be helping with 25k/year is much more help than even others say. It's understandable that purchases will be more stressful with overhead debt than if you were debt free - but regardless of where you go or in what field, that's what you'd end up with except for maybe a funded PhD. The debt will get paid off, and you will have all of the things you listed. IF you do any other job, from how you word things here, you may not be happy. Unfortunately, we live in a society where work is the majority of our lives, but arguably required because it gives us direction and sustains us. While you may still have the other things you wish to have sooner than if you go to Penn/vet, you will lose the opportunity to become what you dreamed of, likely working in a job with less happiness, and with some amount of regret for not going while you had the opportunity. Going will certainly delay a few things, but I guarantee you that you will be happier overall, and will not miss out on all that much except during the years youre in school studying.

Congrats on PENN!!!! And good luck in what you decided to pursue.
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Moderator Emeritus
15+ Year Member
Feb 20, 2002
Pharmacist, Academic Administration
Will this be worth it is more a subjective question. The debt to income ratio is going to be very high, I expect you to owe something on the order of 300% of your take-home income when you're done, so that basically is a house mortgage before a house mortgage. Depending on the public service forgiveness is a gamble as is going into uniform right now.

You can expect a lower middle-class lifestyle for the first decade as not only are you paying off loans, you will be getting your practice started (or being an employee). That is no better or worse than physicians and others (I exclude dentists as they have a much higher burden than the rest of us). Your salary is much lower though, and as such, your expectations for the good life have to match what you get out of being a vet, both on the pecuniary and nonpecuniary side. If you do not want to do small-animal vet work, that is not easy at all.

Debt management is actually not as easy as people make it out to be, because you're talking with people in survivors bias, we made it work. The way I usually test my own staff on the matter is to not draw a salary for three paychecks (put it completely into a 401k), and then ask how that worked out for them. If they can manage that, then they'll usually be fine. Otherwise, you have to evaluate your expectations otherwise. Health care providers of all stripes complain about the debt to income ratio, and you may be no different.

Penn is on the more expensive side, and you're going to have to re-evaluate your values. You will not be financially independent, you will be forced to work, and you will probably have to work under non-ideal circumstances because everyone else has figured out that you have debt and will negotiate accordingly. If you say that every decision you've made has been toward vet, then this is manageable. But, you cannot have all of those values simultaneously, you are going to have to give something up. Will those values be worth it if you get to practice as a vet, that is an answer you can only answer for yourself. Are the opportunity costs high with the debt you incur, yes, because you will not be independent for at least a decade afterwards, you will have to work to come back to even. But, you get the practice and being a vet. Hope that will be good enough, because that is what you will have.

I can say in @MusicDOc124 's case that the thought of the value proposition has crossed his/her mind as it has for me. There are certainly days when you regret it (especially with a child where you wish you could give more), but for us, there are more days we exult in the fact that we have what we do. And in my case, where I am free from any other involuntary obligations, I reflect that I would have been financially better off to not go into my profession, but I have a good time in it that I'm not particularly regretful of the lost opportunities. It's a mixed blessing, but I feel that I'm on the winning side of that trade, but I know of many people who feel trapped and the opposite. Without work as a comfort, it becomes a hell.


vet robot pirate zombie
Staff member
10+ Year Member
Mar 9, 2007
It's very difficult for people to make the debt manageable at the more expensive vet schools. Salaries are lower in the veterinary field than other health professions and many veterinarians are currently dealing with debt that continues to accrue after vet school due to interest rates. They simply cannot make the payments needed to keep that from happening. So barring a windfall, it may not be manageable for them, either. It's a very real problem in our profession.

As for quality of life - prepare to live like a student for a lot longer than you intended. Many vets cannot afford newer cars due to their debt situations. I know some that continue living with a roommate due to decreased rent costs.
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