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LendingTree is compensated by companies on this site and this compensation may impact how and where offers appear on this site (such as the order). LendingTree does not include all lenders, savings products, or loan options available in the marketplace.

15 Best Dental Schools to Avoid Six-Figure Student Debt

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Content was accurate at the time of publication.

$1.28 billion — that was the combined student debt of 2016 dental school graduates, according to numbers reported in the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) Survey of Dental School Seniors.

Because many aspiring dentists must take out student loans for dental school, debt is a huge financial burden for dental school graduates. This is true even on a median salary of $159,770, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But dental school candidates might be more focused on getting through the competitive admissions process than limiting their student debt. Dental schools fielded nearly 80,000 applications in 2016-17 but enrolled just 6,165 students, according to the American Dental Association (ADA) Health Policy Institute in its annual Surveys of Dental Education.

Still, dental school candidates would do well to consider if dental school is worth the cost before jumping in. By attending dental schools with low costs and low levels of graduate debt, applicants are more likely to avoid six-figure student loan debt after graduating.

15 best dental schools to avoid student debt

Using data from the annual Surveys of Dental Education conducted by the ADA Health Policy Institute, LendingTree identified the 15 best dental schools in the U.S. for students on a budget.

LendingTree ranked 54 U.S. dental schools based on factors that might affect students’ costs and debt, including:

  • Average student loan balance per student (projected over four years), which was the highest-weighted factor in our rankings
  • Tuition costs for the entire four-year program, which was the second-highest-weighted factor in our rankings
  • How many students at each school are granted student loans
  • How many students receive aid in the form of federal grants or scholarships

The top dental schools on this list have some of the lowest tuition costs and fees — and dental school debt. Typical student loan debt at these top 15 dental schools is well under the $262,119 average for 2016 dental school graduates, according to the ADEA.

Based on our analysis and rankings, here are 15 dental schools that are perfect for cost-conscious applicants, starting with the best at No.1.

RankDental SchoolAverage student debtProgram tuitionStudents granted student loansStudents receiving aid
1East Carolina University$17,400$98,4540.5 percent100 percent
2Texas A&M University$166,244$73,15272.8 percent84.1 percent
3LECOM School of Dental Medicine$71,111$198,8002.2 percent57.4 percent
4UT Health Science Center at San Antonio$183,032$84,60074.2 percent80 percent
5University of Connecticut$47,518$122,66839.3 percent37.6 percent
6UT Health Science Center at Houston$172,098$89,52872.6 percent44.6 percent
7Meharry Medical College$120,860$200,9732.5 percent38.4 percent
8Oregon Health & Science University
$137,194$170,5512 percent23.8 percent
9University of Mississippi$153,085$107,20075.5 percent47.7 percent
10University of California, San Francisco$187,456$171,51275.9 percent96.5 percent
11University of North Carolina$208,482$137,90878.1 percent100 percent
12Columbia University$71,951$281,2184.4 percent58.9 percent
13Rutgers School of Dental Medicine$187,202$158,6444.7 percent17.1 percent
14Tufts University$62,860$282,84811.3 percent51 percent
15Augusta University$201,540$102,30085 percent45.6 percent

Cheap dental schools can lead to huge savings

Choosing an affordable college, whether it’s an undergraduate program or a dental school, is one of the best ways to limit student debt.

Total program costs surveyed in these dental school rankings ranged from $36,600 to $321,900. That’s a massive difference in costs for the same D.D.S.

These dental school rankings also highlight other ways students can save money by attending the schools listed.

In-state tuition saves an average of $108,000

For dentistry candidates who live in a state with a public dental college, in-state tuition can save students about 42.9 percent on average, according to these rankings, which equates to $108,600 in savings for in-state students.

Even if you can’t get in-state tuition right away, work toward getting residency status. Some students can get residency status for their last two or three years in dental school and save tens of thousands of dollars in tuition.

Include private dental schools in your search

If you won’t be able to swing in-state tuition, consider private dental schools. Although private dental schools will be more expensive overall, the average total cost for out-of-state tuition is $249,000. Private dental schools average $263,000.

Several private colleges earned spots in these dental school rankings, including East Carolina University, LECOM School of Dental Medicine, and Meharry Medical College.

Also, there are numerous ways to claim student loan forgiveness and assistance for dentists. For people who are planning ahead, however, limiting dental school debt now is a smart move with big rewards.


LendingTree evaluated 54 dental schools across three factors to identify those programs least likely to burden graduates with significant dental school debt. These rankings relied on dental school data provided by the American Dental Association (ADA) Health Policy Institute in its annual Dental Education Surveys.

Dental schools were ranked on the following factors:

  1. The average student loan balance per borrowing student, multiplied by the average four-year length of a dental program (weighted at 37.5 percent)
  2. The total dental program tuition prices for in-state students (weighted at 25 percent)
  3. The total dental program tuition prices for out-of-state students (12.5 percent)
  4. The portion of students with student loans in the 2015-16 school year (weighted at 12.5 percent)
  5. The portion of students receiving need-based federal grants and scholarships (weighted at 12.5 percent)

All data was reported by dental schools and collected by the ADA Health Policy Institute. Financial aid data is based on student loans and aid requested, not necessarily granted, through student aid applications. Some dental schools were excluded from these rankings because of a lack of reporting on the factors above.

RankDental schoolIndebtedness after 4 yearsProgram in-state tuitionStudents receiving need-based aidStudents borrowing student loans
1East Carolina University$17,400$98,454100.00%0.49%
2Texas A&M University$166,244$73,15284.10%72.79%
3LECOM School of Dental Medicine$71,111$198,80057.41%2.24%
4UT Health Science Center at San Antonio$183,032$84,60079.95%74.16%
5University of Connecticut$47,518$122,66837.59%39.29%
6UT Health Science Center at Houston$172,098$89,52844.57%72.64%
7Meharry Medical College$120,860$200,97338.43%2.48%
8Oregon Health & Science University$137,194$170,55123.75%2.01%
9University of Mississippi$153,085$107,20047.66%75.52%
10University of California, San Francisco$187,456$171,51296.49%75.87%
11University of North Carolina$208,482$137,908100.00%78.09%
12Columbia University$71,951$281,21858.89%4.40%
13Rutgers School of Dental Medicine$187,202$158,64417.11%4.69%
14Tufts University$62,860$282,84850.99%11.33%
15Augusta University$201,540$102,30045.58%84.98%
16University of Kentucky$249,346$122,17678.01%83.00%
17LSU New Orleans$204,005$113,67240.34%81.47%
18University of Nebraska Medical Center$208,800$113,71255.26%87.37%
19University of Maryland$248,091$141,45275.80%75.38%
20Boston University$66,718$288,00026.13%14.52%
21University of Florida$243,366$150,256 71.70%78.61%
22University of Michigan$248,673$144,33756.93%75.84%
23Ohio State University$46,964$168,51122.11%84.01%
24University of Oklahoma$258,625$91,66430.05%85.28%
25University of Pennsylvania$158,032$286,80051.22%1.31%
26University of Alabama$202,997$109,28028.65%93.75%
27University of Iowa$231,608$171,25267.72%75.16%
28University of Tennessee Health Science Center$253,813$116,06451.17%84.53%
29West Virginia University$226,078$120,31227.93%72.15%
30University of Colorado$251,337$138,32025.08%66.58%

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