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Questions to Ask Before Making a Financial Investment in Your Health Sciences Education

A number of studies confirm the long term financial benefits of obtaining a degree and the positive return you are likely to see on your investment in a health sciences education. These are only a couple of the reasons you should feel confident as you consider a career in the health sciences, how much it may cost, and how to pay for it.   

Part of your confidence may come from getting answers to some questions you may have about the substantial financial investment that may be required of you to obtain that degree you are seeking.

What is my projected starting salary during my first year of employment?

There are practical reasons for asking this question, as your budget and subsequent living expenses will be driven (at least in part) by the answer, as will your ability to responsibly manage your student loan debt. A “rule of thumb” is that your level of student loan debt should not exceed your annual salary, at least in order for you to comfortably make payments on your student loans, hence a reason to ask this question now. The relatively new Income Based Repayment (IBR) plan offers some borrowers the chance to repay their student loans as percentage of their income, and is helping responsible borrowers who end up with higher debt that they had initially planned.  

What are the “opportunity costs” associated with my degree?

Opportunity costs represent potential income you lose by not working for the period of time you have chosen to be in school working on your degree. The simple question to ask is:  “How much could I have made had I not chosen to enroll in a health sciences degree program?” These costs are not what we call “out of pocket” costs (those associated with tuition and other costs from your school), but they are very much part of the total financial picture. If you are already working and will be giving up your current job to start your health sciences education, the opportunity costs should be relatively easy to calculate. If you have recently graduated or are about to graduate, think what kind of job you might be able to secure and what it would pay, and that should give you at least an estimate of the opportunity costs associated with the health sciences degree you are about to pursue.

What kind of counseling is available at my school to help me with my student loans?

While important, we’re not talking here about career counseling and time well spent with your health professions advisor. We’re talking about the student loan counseling available at your school and how your school can help ensure that you borrow responsibly and that your borrowing has a minimal impact on your career decisions.

Many schools send their students online for educational debt management counseling, but the online counseling tends to be “boilerplate” and not specific to health sciences students, regardless of discipline and degree. Consider asking your school’s Financial Aid Office if they provide individual or small group counseling for students who have specific questions about their student loans, and if so, how often it is available.

How should the actual cost of a particular school impact my decision to attend that school?

This question is not aimed at higher costs schools. Your most important priority is to select a school or program that best meets your educational needs.  At the same time, this is simply to remind you that assuming multiple acceptances, you do have control over which school you attend and you can choose to attend one that has lower institutional charges, as long as that school will help you meet the goals and objectives you have set for yourself with regard to your degree.

Studies aside, your thoughtful attention to these questions, and the answers you get, should help you feel good about the financial investment you are making in your health sciences career. 

Paul S. Garrard, American Dental Education Association Financial Aid Consultant and a 31-year veteran of student financial aid and higher education, wrote this article. 

Copyright 2012 American Dental Education Association