The Primary Factor in Choosing a Dental School: Total Cost of Attendance

Dentistry is a rewarding and impactful career. However, the journey to becoming a dentist is not just about the technical mastery of dental procedures; it also involves financial decisions that should be navigated with the same attentiveness and care as the student’s academic history.

When we delve into the discussion of choosing the best dental school, the emphasis often falls on the majestic trappings that many prestigious institutions offer – from renowned faculty to state-of-the-art facilities. Yet, one factor seems to shy away from the spotlight: the total cost of attendance. In this opinion piece, I argue that total cost should be the primary driving factor in your decision-making when it comes to selecting a dental school.


As a dentist looking back on my educational journey, I recognize the significant role that my dental school played in molding me – not just as a professional but also in shaping my financial landscape. I wish to guide prospective dental students through the terrain of their own decisions, alerting them to the often silent yet significant voice of total cost in the cacophony of dental school selection advice.

Considerations in Choosing a Dental School

Before diving into the financial aspect, it’s crucial to acknowledge the multitude of factors that tempt aspiring dentists when considering their educational options. The reputation and ranking of a school, the curriculum and clinical experiences it offers, the location and accompanying lifestyle, as well as opportunities for networking and mentoring, are elements pre-dental students must carefully assess.

Reputation and Ranking:

A school’s reputation can carry considerable weight in the professional world, influencing everything from patient trust to post-graduation career choices. However, it’s vital to discern between a reputable education and the allure of a name.

To be frank, your dental school’s reputation has little or no impact on your success as a general dentist. Your school’s reputation in the academic setting does influence your odds of acceptance to a specialty program. Too many students put too much emphasis on a school’s reputation or brand, and end up overspending.

Curriculum and Clinical Experiences:

A robust curriculum and varied clinical experiences are essential for well-rounded and hands-on learning. Look for schools that offer a balance between traditional teaching and modern techniques. By this time, all schools worthy of applying to should have digital technologies available for students to explore.

Location and Lifestyle:

The school’s location can greatly impact your educational experience and personal life. You should consider the weather, cost of living, and proximity to family and support systems.

Networking and Mentorship Opportunities:

The connections you make during your time in dental school can be as important as the knowledge you gain. Evaluate the school’s networking and mentorship potential within both educational and professional spheres.

While the school’s alumni and network are undeniably fundamental in your school selection, they often overshadow the financial weight that will inevitably impact your entire career. Try and avoid this trap when selecting your school of choice.

The Case for Total Cost of Attendance

Student Loans and Debt Burden:

Dental school is expensive; there’s no sugarcoating it. The average debt for dental graduates in the United States is staggering, and on average surpasses the cost of all other professional degrees. With the rising cost of education, the onus is increasingly on the shoulders of the student to financially strategize their academia.

Financial Aid and Scholarships:

Grants, scholarships, and financial aid programs can mitigate the weight of student loans, but their availability and the criteria for their disbursement vary widely among institutions.

Return on Investment and Earning Potential:

An often glossed-over area is the correlation between the cost of attending a specific dental school and the returns in terms of post-graduation earning potential. Highly esteemed dental schools do increase your odds of specializing, but the question is whether this offsets the higher debt accrued during attendance if a student elects to not pursue a specialty certificate.

Long-Term Financial Stability:

Dentists have reliable and consistent earning histories, but their average earnings are not keeping pace with inflation. This trend is often criticized or questioned by online “pundits” who reference personal antidotes, but the trend among a statistically significant population is undeniable and alarming for the profession as a whole.

Addressing Counterarguments

Quality of Education and Training:

Doubtlessly, the quality of education should never be compromised. However, it’s crucial to evaluate if the perceived “better” education at a more expensive school justifies the cost.

Prestige and Career Opportunities:

The prestige of a school may open certain doors, yet it does not guarantee success or job satisfaction. One must assess if the prestige of the university is directly correlated with better clinical preparedness and if those career opportunities are inaccessible from a less costly alma mater.

Individual Circumstances and Priorities:

Admittedly, not all aspiring dentists face the same financial landscape or prioritize their expenditures in the same manner. One must tailor financial decisions and school selection to their unique circumstances and goals. However, thorough consideration of cost is universally prudent.


In the crescendo of advice awaiting the young minds aiming to be dentists, the cost of attendance should not be relegated to a mere footnote. It is a critical factor that demands to be evaluated and integrated into the decision-making process. Choosing a dental school is a monumental decision that will set the trajectory for your professional and financial journey. Let it be a well-informed choice, one that aligns with not just your academic and career aspirations, but also with your long-term financial well-being. In a field where robust teeth support the most vital functions of our bodies, let wise education choices cement the unimpeded future of your career.

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