Financial Aid Advice

Finances and Other Important Decisions for Dental School Applicants

Posted by Gardner Key on August 16, 2021

As an applicant to or a student enrolled in a dental education program, you will often hear “borrow responsibly and never borrow more than you need.” Why? Because being a responsible borrower means that when you become a dentist, you are typically not stressed about what you borrowed for dental school because you feel confident you can responsibly repay your loans. While finances are an important part of your decision about which dental school to attend, it is important to remember they are only one part of this decision. 

Financing is available to help pay for dental school. With a combination of federal loans—direct unsubsidized and direct PLUS (also called Grad PLUS)—you can borrow what you need, up to the full cost of attendance (also called your annual financial aid budget). So again, if you are eligible and willing to borrow federal loans, the financing is there.

The most important factor about deciding where to go to dental school is the dental program itself. So, ask yourself: “Why do I want to go to dental school?” and then look for the program that answers that question. 

  • Is your primary goal to get your clinical education, then graduate and start practicing dentistry? If so, find the program that prepares you to do just that.
  • Is your goal to specialize, do research or perhaps engage in public health policy? Then find the program that prepares you for that.
  • Is your goal to work in academic dentistry and teach? Then find the program that helps prepare you for that career path.

The dental schools you are considering have professionals who can assist with these questions and are more than willing to help you see if your interests in dental education match up with their program and institutional mission.

You’re probably going to spend a lot of money regardless of where you go, so it’s important to make sure that you’re spending your money wisely. The return on the investment that dental students make in their dental education when they borrow continues to be strong. However, you don’t want to get well into your program only to discover that the program you are spending good money on is not meeting your goals and objectives for becoming a dentist. Cost will always be a part of your decision about which dental school to attend, but it should never be the primary and only concern.


About Gardner Key:

Gardner Key

Gardner Key
Director of Financial Aid  
Harvard School of Dental Medicine

Mr. Key began his career in financial aid at Lesley University in Cambridge as the as Assistant Director of Financial Aid. In 2011 he became the Assistant Director of Financial Aid at the Harvard School of Public Health. In the spring of 2012, Mr. Key became the Director of Financial Aid at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, a position he has held for over nine years. Mr. Key holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the College of Wooster. He also currently serves as Chair of the ADEA Student Financial Aid Advisory Committee.