How Can I Find Money for Dental School?

Tom's son has applied to dental school, and the first year will be about $77,000. Tom wants his son to graduate with no debt and plans to help him. How do you approach this kind of graduate school?

QUESTION: Tom in Virginia has a son finishing his third year of college. He’ll graduate debt free from college. Tom’s son has applied to dental school, and the first year will be about $77,000. He also won’t be able to work. Tom wants his son to graduate with no debt and plans to help him. How do you approach this kind of graduate school?

ANSWER: The two best programs I’ve seen are the M.D./Ph.D. program—which I don’t know if you can get a dental version of that or not. I haven’t seen one. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I haven’t researched it in detail. The kissing cousin to that is the fellowship. The fellowship is where you work for the school—working on some kind of work, teaching undergrads or whatever you’re doing—while you’re in school. I know that’s tough to do and go through medical or go through law school. Suddenly, what happens then is you are an employee—when you’re doing a fellowship like that—of the university. Translation: The tuition is free.

I’d keep scratching around that because I’m familiar with a bunch of law schools, and I’ve never seen anybody do it for law school but a couple times, and last weekend I ran into a kid whose dad was telling me he got a full ride to law school on a fellowship. He’s not the top of his class. He’s not a dumb kid, obviously. He’s in law school, but he wasn’t like the valedictorian or anything—salutatorian—but he walked into that.

So I’m going to keep poking around those edges of that thing and try to find ways. Then the last thing I would look at is—and this is even harder, but what we’re trying to do here is do the impossible, really, and we’re going to keep beating on it until we do the impossible and that’s when everyone’s amazed, meaning I’m telling you this is hard. But stuff like this—I actually had a vet student pull this off because they couldn’t do a fellowship. They couldn’t find one. But they went to several of the drug makers for the veterinary world, and it turns out they had a ton of scholarships for vets. What they’re trying to do is endear themselves to that future veterinarian. The stinking product lines going through the dental office are incredible—everything from caps to Invisalign—all of these people and not to mention the drug companies. I’m betting that some of those guys have some money set aside on a scholarship basis for some of these dental students. I would be working that. I would be working it hard.

Let’s say you spend 10, 15, 20 hours working on these things, and you get one that’s $20,000. You just made some serious money per hour. I’m also going to turn Junior loose on this and make sure he’s pounding it as well and pushing it through.

But that’s the way we’ve been approaching this med school/law school/dental school/vet school thing because the tradition is $200,000 in debt and you come out and you’re broke for 10 years, or you keep your student loan around so long you think it’s a pet and it’s stupid and you’ve got doc-itis. Here’s the problem: Not everyone graduates from med school. A hundred percent of the time, if they take out debt, the debt goes with them whether they graduate or not. This automatic assumption, “I’m going to be a doc. I’m going to make plenty of money. I’m going to be a vet. I’m going to make plenty of money. I’m going to be an attorney. I’m going to make plenty of money,”—some of these attorneys come out and go into public service work and don’t make anything. “I’m going to work in the DA’s office and make $15,000 a year or something.” That’s ridiculous. “Yeah, I’ve got $200,000 in law school debt.”

You’ve really got to think differently about it, and you already are, which is half of the equation—is to think differently about it.