One of the last things any new graduate thinks about is adding to their student loan debt. Thankfully, I never really had this problem. But with the cost for the new Doctor of Medical Science (DMSc) program reaching up to $35,000, I had to decide how I was going to pay for it regardless.
What My PA Program Cost
I consider myself lucky–I was able to attend the state school of my choice to earn a Master’s degree as a PA. I only had to borrow enough for tuition, fees, and books. 10 years ago this amounted to $60,000. My sweet wife and I had been married for only a few years and she supported us on $10 an hour as we lived in a makeshift apartment above someone’s garage for $500 a month.
Those were good days–simpler days. I don’t remember really needing anything and we still seemed to have enough money to go to the discount movie theater every now and then. We didn’t have any kids yet and our only dependent was a dwarf rabbit named Wallace.
Most of my undergraduate degree was paid for by academic scholarships and Pell grants but we did accrue a few thousand dollars for miscellaneous things.
My NHSC Job
While in PA school, I considered applying for the National Health Service Corps Scholar program but I didn’t like the idea of being assigned to a particular area after graduation. The NHSC Scholar program pays for tuition, fees, and provides a monthly stipend for living expenses. It’s a great deal but I needed more freedom.
I would later join the National Health Service Corps but as a member of their loan repayment program. I received exactly $60,000 for a 4-year, part-time commitment to a rural clinic. The blessing of this loan repayment is not lost on me but there were many, many times I thought about how I could exit the program early. If I could do it all over again, I might have just opted for a well paying job and tried to negotiate loan repayment into the contract.
“Live Like No One Else, So Later You Can Live Like No One Else”
I think what has made the most difference for our family’s financial success, however, is the minimalist approach that we’ve continued to take toward life. I’m still driving the same car I had in college, for example; now 17 years old. We have tried to maintain the student lifestyle as much as possible and furiously save and invest the rest. So when it came time to finance another degree, we had options.
Applying to Be A Doctor
As part of my application to the Doctor of Medical Science program at Lincoln Memorial University, I had to submit two letters of recommendation from physicians. I also had to interview with several faculty members including a physician radiologist, a faculty EdD, and the program director who is also a PA and Doctor of Medical Science.
What My DMSc Program Cost
When I was accepted into the program a few days after the interview, I still wasn’t sure how I was going to pay the $35,000 tuition. While we had no other debt besides our home, I was reluctant to borrow such a large sum. My PA school loans were paid off with sweat and tear and four years of my life. I was also extremely hesitant to borrow at the prevailing interest rate of approximately 7%–almost twice the APR we carry on our home. So I started looking into private lenders.
Financing your education with private loans is not a commonly recommended practice because you forfeit Federal protections such as income-based repayment. Several private lenders have similar programs however and interest rates are currently 3 to 5%. I was sure I could pay off the cost of the DMSc program within a few years—why not enjoy a much lower interest rate during that time? I did not feel that my job was or ever would be in serious jeopardy and so I was fine giving up some of those protections.
But again, students are better off getting Federal loans if they can. So, I dutifully filled out a FAFSA for the first time in a long time. I won’t say that it was surprising, but I was a little disappointed when my Student Aid Report (SAR) came back with an EFC (Estimated Family Contribution) of $30,000 meaning I would likely only qualify for a few thousand dollars in Grad Plus loans.
Pay As You Go
Thankfully, Lincoln Memorial University has a tuition payment plan. This allows for the cost of the DMSc program to be broken down into monthly payments. There is no interest, pre-qualification, or credit check. Books and supplies are not eligible for the payment plan.
For each semester, you can select a 5-month or a 4-month payment plan. The fee is 45.00 to join the program and if you choose the 5-month plan, the first payment is July 1 and if you do the 4-month plan then the first payment is August 1.
I was accepted into the program early in 2020 and have been working on saving up as much as I can since that time. I’ve continued making my automatic 401(k) deferrals of 13%. Any remaining cash that had been going toward my other investments (Roth IRA, brokerage), have been diverted to savings. I forget how much I had in savings before I started the stockpile but it wasn’t much as we just bought a new house 6 months previous. At the time of this writing, I’m up to $18,000 which covers the first 2 semesters. Classes start in about 2 months.
So, How’s it Gonna Be? How I’m Covering the DMSc Program Cost
Right now the plan is to use that money and make payments to prevent losing our only cash cushion. At the present time, the second half of the program is still a year away so I’m pretty sure I can come up with another $18k before then.
Would I be as eager to start another program if I was still paying off PA school loans? I think so. I feel like the DMS at LMU is unique among PA doctorates and it’s really the only path for clinical growth.