For most aspiring physician assistants, PA school loans are a reality. Over 80% of students end up taking out education loans for their graduate programs, according to the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA).
But there are ways for you to cut down on your PA loan debt. Consider these steps to pay for PA school, as well as your federal and private PA loan options.
Choose among cheaper physician assistant programs
Seek government scholarships with a service requirement
Seek private scholarships for physician assistant school
Investigate your federal and private student loan options
Plan for your student loan repayment
So where should you start in figuring out how to pay for PA school?
There are around 250 accredited physician assistant programs from which to choose, depending on your area of focus and other factors. Once you’ve narrowed your school list to programs catering to your specialty and other preferences, such as class size, consider two ways to save money: Staying close to home and choosing a public college or university.
Many public physician assistant schools offer discounted tuition rates for in-state residents, according to the PAEA. The association reported that in 2018 the median tuition for in-state students ($50,289) was dwarfed by that of their out-of-state classmates ($88,677).
Private school students pay even more on average, a whopping $91,603. These costs don’t include a litany of secondary fees, such as those for books and lab or clinical work.
Choosing a cheaper physician assistant school means you’ll have an easier time coming up with the cash to pay for it.
If you’d like to leave school with essentially zero debt, you should prioritize gift aid.
As long as you’re zeroing in on the federal government’s aid options, here are three out of many scholarship and forgiveness programs you can consider.
- National Health Service Corps Scholarship: You will commit to practicing in a rural, urban or frontier community with limited access to care, receiving aid for each year of service. There is a two-year minimum and four-year maximum service commitment.
- Health Professional Scholarship Program: You will commit to working for at least two years at a healthcare facility run by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to receive this scholarship. In return, you will receive tuition, authorized required fees and an annual education expense payment.
- Indian Health Service Scholarship Program: Qualified students of American Indian or Alaska Native heritage can receive funding for tuition, required fees and living expenses for serving for at least two years at health facilities in these communities.
Your (prospective) schools’ financial aid office can help you navigate your eligibility and applications for these government-funded scholarship programs.
For a list of additional options, see our guide to student loan repayment and forgiveness for physician assistants.
You may also want to look into private scholarship options, which usually don’t come with service or other requirements beyond basic eligibility rules. You typically must be an admitted or enrolled physician assistant student, for example, and you may need to meet some academic benchmarks.
The Physician Assistant Foundation, for one, awards multiple scholarships of $1,000 to $2,500 in value to enrolled students.
You may also find opportunities according to your interests or specialty. For instance, PAs for Latino Health offers a $1,000 scholarship, and PAs in Orthopedic Surgery offers two $5,000 scholarships. For this one, the top five candidates must write a publish-worthy orthopaedic case study, review article or clinical pearl.
If you do need federal and private student loans, they are always an option to fund your physician assistant program. Remember, however, that loans — unlike scholarships or grants — need to be repaid with interest over time, potentially hampering your other long-term financial goals.
The Department of Education allows you to borrow up to $20,500 per year in direct unsubsidized loans, and you could cover the difference — your tuition shortfall — using PLUS loans.
Federal loans are also generally preferable to private loans because they come with more room for error. You may switch your repayment plan, temporarily pause your repayment and apply for loan forgiveness, for example.
Private loans, on the other hand, come with fewer options for loan deferment and forbearance if your repayment goes south. Still, if you have a strong credit history, or a cosigner who does, you could score a lower interest rate from a private lender than the government can offer.
Be sure to shop around when looking for private student loans to get your best terms and options. And compare all the details of federal versus private loans before choosing to go down either or both paths. Borrowing as little as possible — and securing your lowest possible interest rate — could help you avoid additional debt down the line.
If you decide to borrow for PA school, plan your eventual repayment while you’re still in school. Along with the aforementioned service and forgiveness programs, there are state-funded assistance programs for physician assistant graduates. Find your state contact via the Department of Health and Human Services to inquire about the possibilities.
You also might consider refinancing your student loan debt once you’re off-campus and earning a salary. American Academy of Physician Assistants members may be able to get refinancing discounts or perks at lenders such as SoFi and Laurel Road.
Use Student Loan Hero’s refinancing calculator to get an idea of what your savings might be.
Rebecca Stropoli contributed to this report.
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