“How do you afford dental school?”
“How much does it cost to study dentistry?”
“Is dental school expensive?”
“What options are there available to me for paying my dental school fees?”
“Can I get a loan for dental school if it is my second degree?”
“Does the NHS help with the tuition fees at all?”
Some of the most frequently asked questions that I receive from fellow dental students and prospective applicants. There is a common theme to these questions – money.
Right from the start, it should be highlighted that I will be writing this post for dental schools in the United Kingdom. This is important to note because the costs and options may vary wildly depending on what country you are based in. For example, I know that the cost of studying dentistry in the United States is vastly different. Another example that I now know about well is that there are no tuition fees for dental school in Peru (where I did my dental elective this summer) but students have to pay for all of their own equipment/materials.The fees structure will also depend on whether you are a ‘home’or international student, with costs for studying abroad being hugely inflated.
Also, I should highlight that I will first talk generally about how the majority of dental students pay for dentistry, then I will mention all the common exceptions and differences (e.g. if dentistry is your second undergraduate degree, or, if you are Welsh/Scottish etc).
Studying dentistry is a big financial burden. It’s a burden for you, the student (and your family) but also for the UK government and NHS. Don’t let costs put you off or be the deciding factor that pushes you away from dentistry though – it is worth the investment.
Don’t worry, you are not alone! Most dental students will at some point in time be concerned with the cost of pursuing dentistry. And, if you are in a tight situation like myself, you will think about it more often than others.
The annual tuition fees for dental school in the UK currently stands at £9,000 (some dental schools now charge £9,250 per year). This is a LOT of money and will seem like a daunting figure to anyone considering dentistry at university. It is the same tuition fee figure for most other undergraduate degrees, but most courses only last three or four years, whereas dentistry for undergraduates is a five-year course! Of course, there is the exception of the accelerated four-year dental programmes that some universities offer for those with a relevant previous degree – and I will discuss this exception later in the post.
It was only a few years ago that annual university UK tuition fees were a third of what they are now; my first degree (2010-2013) fees were £3,000/year. And in decades gone by dentistry along with all other university courses were free in the UK.
Here is some quick and simple maths brings us to the intimidating conclusion that for five years of dental school (5 years x £9,000): you will need to pay the university around £45,000. Not many students would be able to pay that amount of money, even over five years, and even with the support of their parents. Fortunately, if you’re a UK national then you don’t have to fork out the cash up front. Instead, you can rely on Student Finance (a UK government branch that aims to provide financial support to all undergraduate university students).
On top of the tuition fees that need to be paid to the university every year, there are the additional considerations to keep in mind for your livelihood! You will need money to spend in order to survive but also to have a good time. Money is needed for you to pay for food, travel, nights out, fun activities, accommodation, study materials (e.g. pens, paper, laptop etc) and so many other little things. Most students need help to afford all of this as well, and for that there is the Maintenance Loan which you can apply to receive from Student Finance (i.e. a loan from the government). These loans are repayable, with interest, but the repayments only start once you are working as a dentist and earning a salary – so you don’t need to worry about the repayments whilst a student too much. I’ll get back to this topic later in the post.
Just like with all undergraduate courses here in England, if you are entering dentistry as a first degree (i.e. you have not done another prior degree) then you can apply to Student Finance Englandfor both a Tuition Fees Loan and a Maintenance Loan. Both of these are repayable, i.e. you will need to pay the money back to the government when you finish the course and are earning over £25,725 a year, £2,144 a month or £495 a week (note: these figures are subject to change depending on when you read this post). Since the current starting salary for Foundation Year dentists is £32,050, you will start repaying your loan immediately. The government will automatically take money back from your earnings each month so you do not have to worry about setting this up yourself – you just need to make sure you check your monthly income to check that they are taking the right amount. Student Finance will send you an email and letter outlining your repayment plan, it will outline how much of your salary they will take each month and it also outlines the total amount you owe them (this figure will include the current rate of inflation as added interest).
As you progress through your career as a junior dentist, your salary will start to rise, and, as your monthly income increases, so will the amount you repay each month to Student Finance. They will always offer you the opportunity to pay it off quicker than scheduled, or you may contact them to arrange for more of your earnings to be taken – this is beneficial in helping you to get it all paid off sooner, so you are then debt free. Just something to bear in mind and possibly think about when your salary spikes up (hopefully!!)
You will repay 9% of all of your earnings above the re-payment threshold which is ~ £25,000.
Studying dentistry is by no means cheap. It is of course nice to know that the government is there to help up with loans for tuition fees and offering a maintenance loan too. But, there are some caveats to this and also many other ways in which you can get money to help you live comfortably and afford the cost of studying for five years. Read on to find out more…
Before I go on any further, I want to bring up the unique system in place for Scotland. As far as I know, if you are Scottish (i.e. you have been brought up there and live in Scotland) then if you choose to study dentistry at one of the three dental schools in Scotland: Aberdeen, Glasgow or Dundee then you do NOT need to pay any tuition fees – these are covered by the local government. This is an amazing system in place – so for any prospective dental students from Scotland, I would strongly advise you to think about staying near your home for the undergraduate course since you will save yourself a LOT of money. Plus, the Scottish dental schools are all superb, and not only that, many dental guidelines are developed by the amazing clinicians in Scotland (especially the SDCEP Guidelines and the Childsmile Programme).
UNDERGRADUATE STUDENT PRIZES/COMPETITIONS
Whilst you are a student, there are lots of opportunities for you to make some money.
There are so many different national societies for different aspects of dentistry. These societies are professional bodies that promote dentistry, specifically promoting a speciality area and many of them actually offer Prizes/Scholarships/Awards that any undergraduate dental student can potentially win. Why is this worth you being aware of? Well, winning these awards often has a cash prize.
So far as a student, I have won a collective total of: £1500 through entering these competitions. This is indeed a significant amount of money that has helped me financially. I would absolutely recommend these to any dental students because they are win-win-win. Firstly, remember that you have to be in it to win it. If you make no effort, you have no chance. Often these competitions involve you having to write an essay on a specified topic related to the society with a defined word limit.
So why are they win-win-win:
- You receive cash for winning
- You can add the award to your CV which looks great when applying for jobs
- You learn a lot through the process of researching and writing the essays.
It is also worth keeping in mind that not a lot of dental students actually make the effort to enter these competitions, which means that the chances of you winning are pretty good! Personally, I found out about a lot of these competitions that I was eligible to apply for simply by doing a Google search:
I have applied to quite a few of these; so far, I have applied to six in total and have won three awards. Typically, I would say each of these essays has taken me around 5 days to write, which includes ~3 days for researching and then ~2 days writing. It may seem like a big-time commitment but I think it is worth it! I am now a final year dental student and am continuing to seek out new competitions I can try to enter in the hopes of winning more awards, and, more importantly, winning more money! I have told myself that any extra money I now win I will put aside to hopefully buy myself a pair of dental loupes.
List some of the large national dental societies below:
- BACD– British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry
- BSSPD– British Society of Prosthodontics
- BSP– British Society of Periodontology
- BES– British Endodontic Society
- BOS– British Orthodontic Society
- BASCD– British Association for the Study of Community Dentistry
- BSPD– British Society of Paediatric Dentistry
- BSRD– British Society of Restorative Dentistry
- SAAD– Society for the Advancement of Anaesthesia in Dentistry
- ABAOMS– Association of British Academic Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons
Visit their websites and look for their section on Awards/Prizes to find details on any opportunities they have open which you can consider applying to! Good luck.
Whilst this is something few consider seriously, and only a relatively small number of students sign up for, it is definitely an opportunity that we should all be aware of. You can choose to join either the Army, Navy or Air Force whilst a dental student. By joining the military as a future dentist, you will be rewarded well financially. You will be called a Dental Officer.
This is a big commitment, so, if you are going to consider it, you should speak with your friends, family and those who are already recruited as more senior military dental students. I am sure that if you contacted someone from the Army/Navy with a genuine enquiry, they would be more than happy to welcome you to visit a nearby base to see everything in person, talk to people there and get a proper feel for the environment. This will help you have a realistic idea of what you could expect. It isn’t easy, and you should be prepared for the physical and emotional tests that come with this. You will need to prove your base level physical fitness, go through basic training camps and all sorts of other military assessments.
It can be a really great thing to do, and I am not going to write too much about it here since I just wanted to highlight the opportunity from a financial perspective. You would be part of a wonderful organisation, make great memories, travel to new parts of the world (you may get posted to military camps around the world) and develop other parts of your professional self.
Dental students who successfully join the military/navy will have part of their tuition fee total paid for. You will also get a maintenance grant (i.e. non-repayable) for your senior years of dental school.
When I was at the BDA Conference in 2017, I spoke briefly with the Army Recruitment Team who showed me these figures as a guide (*note, this may be different now):
|REGULAR DENTAL OFFICER|
|Student Bursar||£10,000 per year, for the last three years of dental school£45,000 lump sum payment for starting Sandhurst|
|Army Training at Sandhurst||£55,956.84|
|Starting Salary as a Fully Trained Captain||£69,962.04|
|On Promotion to Major||£100,609.80|
You don’t need to commit to being a full time Army Dental Officer. You can always join the territorial army as a reservist and that is something else to consider.
PART TIME WORK
Many dental students choose to take on some kind of part time work. This is not for everyone, but can be a great benefit if you choose to take on some employment. If you decide to try and find some part-time work, then you can really choose something that suits you. Here are some examples from peers of mine: working on weekends as a private academic tutor teaching science/maths to GCSE or A-Level students, working in a retail shop on weekends, working in a pub as a bartender, working in a café as a barista, working in a restaurant as waiting staff etc. It is important that you ensure your manager knows your situation, so they can offer you flexible working hours. As a dental student, you are technically in full-time education and therefore throughout the week (Monday-Friday) are a dental student. On weekends, and weekday evenings, you need to allow yourself down time to relax, recharge, stay social, and not forgetting keeping time free to keep on top of your studies. Throughout the academic year, you will also have projects to work on in your free time, including writing essays, preparing for presentations and of course revising for exams. So please do not let any part-time work you take on affect your development and ability to dedicate enough time to your dental studies! It can always be tempting to accept more shifts to get more money, but be sensible and don’t over work yourself.
I personally am amazed at the students who do have a regular part-time job because I feel overwhelmed simply by all the dentistry and the little free time I do have is for me to relax, socialise and study.
If you’re going to take on a part time job, you really need to be well organised with your time to be able to juggle the workloads. If you do work on the side, make sure your manager is friendly and understanding of your situation, and you are able to have flexible hours to choose when to work, and when not to. Don’t be tied into a contract that forces you to work specific days and hours per week – it won’t work out long term.
Of course, you can choose to take on a job in your holidays. As a dental student, you will have the typical breaks each year for Christmas, Easter and Summer. My advice would be to keep your winter break work-free to ensure you have time to relax, spend time with your friends and family and enjoy Christmas. My strong advice would be to keep your Easter break free of work too, because this is usually just before your end of year exams so you need this time to revise. So, that leaves your summer break, which, in my opinion, is really the only free time each year whilst you’re a student when you can realistically take on a job for a few weeks or month to earn some cash.
In addition to the option of part-time work. You can also find the occasional opportunity to take on some simple one-day jobs, which can pay well. I have done a few things like this and I know of many other dental students who also do it. Most universities advertise at the start of each academic year for new “Student Ambassadors”. These are students who become employed by the university on casual contracts which means you can work on events within the university, such as at Open Days. I have been a Student Ambassador for my university for a few years now and recently worked at the open day for one day (Saturday). It was a single shift, lasting all day (8am-5pm) and they pay quite well – I received roughly £120 for the event. All the people working at the Open Day were students, and there were many dental students working. It was a nice event, since we were interacting with prospective students so were able to promote our university. There are many opportunities like this, which are definitely worthwhile. They pay well, and pretty simple, easy work.
Another example of work I have done whilst a dental student which paid me quite well was within the Institute of Dentistry, working alongside some of the senior dental tutors to create a digital presentation to teach student about Tooth Morphology. This was a job that all dental students were emailed about, and I was interested in it so emailed back with my CV to say that I was interested. I had a quick interview about the role and they accepted me. The job was relatively simple, I was needed to help take photographs of teeth and then help upload these to a digital file. The Institute of Dentistry gave me all the resources and training I needed for the task, including lending me a DSLR camera for a weekend to take all the photos. In the end, I would say working on this job took up maybe two full days of my time and in return I was paid £600. The reason I mention this is to highlight to you that there will be some opportunities available whilst you’re a student which you can choose to be involved with, and they will pay you for your time and efforts.
PROFESSIONAL BANK LOANS
This is not something I know much about, but I do know that there is a possibility that you can consider approaching financial institutions for support in the form of a professional bank loan. If you really need to find additional means of paying off your dental tuition fees, or need extra cash to survive as a student then this is a possibility. However, I would advise anyone to do their homework, think long and hard about it, do your calculations before committing to anything. Visit the online webpages for well-known high street banks as well as online financial organisations to see what they can offer. Loans from banks usually come with hefty interest rates, so I’d be reluctant to explore these unless you’ve exhausted all other options first.
NHS BURSARY AND GRANTS
As dental students, we are supported by the NHS. During our final year of undergraduate study, i.e. the NHS bursary-funded year, you may receive the following: payment of your tuition fees, a means-tested bursary, and a non-means tested grant.
The fees for your fifth (i.e. final) year of undergraduatetuition are paid by the NHS.
For graduate students on an accelerated course, the NHS will pay the first £3,715 of tuition (or £3,925 if studying in Northern Ireland). Students can apply to Student Finance England for a loan to cover the difference.
As well as the NHS paid tuition fees, you can also apply for an NHS Bursary (means-tested). In 2019–20, students living in London could get up to £3,191; outside London, up to £2,643; or living in their parental home, £2,207. What you can get will reduce for household incomes above £24,279. These amounts are for the standard academic year; additional weeks are awarded at £108 (London), £84 (outside London) and £56 (living with your parents) per week. Alternatively, you can apply for the non-means tested NHS Grant (non-means tested) which is £1,000 per year (paid to you in monthly instalments).
Additional help. As well the supplementary grants and travel expenses listed at the top of this page, NHS bursary students can also apply for the following: NHS Hardship Grant for Medical and Dental Students. £100–£3,000 may be awarded to students eligible for a means-tested bursary, who are facing financial hardship. Students will need to show how they have been managing their finances, and must have applied for all possible financial support, including student loans and university hardship funds.
Applying for an NHS bursary from England:
Apply only for the years you are eligible to receive an NHS bursary. Applications open from March and close two months before courses begin. Go to the NHS Business Services Authority website, where you create an account on the Bursary Online Support System (BOSS) system. You’ll need photographic ID; after submitting your application, an email will inform you if other supporting evidence is required.
UNIVERSITY SCHOLARSHIPS/BURSARIES/HARDSHIP FUNDS
This will be different for each university but most UK universities will have a few different internal funds that have been set up to help with finances for students who need help or exceptional students who have earnt extra help in the form of a scholarship.
Hardship funds are usually open to students who have come from particularly difficult financial positions (i.e. very low family income, orphans etc). You have to prove your eligibility to receive this help but if you do qualify then it may mean the university will help out by paying part/all of your fees. These are not given out to many students, only those few who really need it.
Personally, I have been fortunate to receive an annual bursary from my university (Queen Mary University of London) because my household income (i.e. my mum’s salary) is relatively low. When I applied to Student Finance England for funding, there is a section where they ask you online if you would be like your application to be‘means tested’, which basically means they are asking if you want them to consider your family’s household income (i.e. how much money your parent(s) ear) when they decide how much money to give you as your Maintenance Loan. You do not have to input your parents’salaries if you do not want to, but that means the maximum amount of Maintenance Loan you can receive annually is fixed at the standard threshold. So, my advice is that if you know your parents’incomes are quite low, you should do a ‘means tested’application because you might be eligible to receive more. I did this and it helped me a lot receiving the higher amount. So, if you are reading this and are concerned about affording dental school, then perhaps you would be eligible for a bursary too. If in doubt, email your university’s finance office and they should offer you some guidance.
Also, there is a section in the online application where they ask you if you are happy for SFE to share your details (including your parents’incomes) with your university. The reason they ask if you want your information shared is because the university can then asses your application too and consider offering you a Bursary. I allowed SFE to share my application with QMUL and as a result the university decided to offer me an annual Bursary (i.e. a sum of money) which I received and did not have to pay back, ever. This was super helpful for me, and I have been receiving it every year (years 1-4). For me, they give me ~£1500/year. Without this, I am not sure how I would have been able to survive – London living is so expensive.
Unfortunately, I have now stopped receiving the bursary fee from my university since a decision was made to no longer give these out but I did benefit from it for the years it was in place.
MAINTENANCE COSTS AND CONSIDERATIONS
For most of us dental students, financial management is a difficulty. We are generally young adults who have for most of our lives to date been fortunate to rely on our parents/carers and schools for covering most of our daily living costs and needs. But now we are independent creatures away from home and having to pay for ourselves. This means we need to become more aware of what we choose to spend our money on. The daily living, i.e. maintenance costs are important to keep in mind as dental students in particular, given that the course lasts five years, for most of us. Fortunately, we can apply for a Maintenance Loan from Student Finance, i.e. from the government. The amount we are eligible to receive depends on different factors, so everyone will have different amounts. It is also worth highlighting that often these Maintenance Loans, whilst helpful, do not cover everything we need to enjoy a comfortable and fun student life.
When you apply for your Maintenance Loan, you will have the option to select how much money you’d like to receive annually, with a maximum upper limit set. This is good to know, because you have to remember that any money borrowed will need to be paid back eventually so don’t just choose the top amount available each year if you don’t necessarily need that much (i.e. if you will have your parents to help you etc). Personally, I had to apply for the absolute maximum that Student Finance England was willing to give me, otherwise I would not be able to afford it. Another important thing to know is that when you are applying for your Maintenance Loan, you can opt for the maximum threshold to be subject to means testing, which in other words means that you will share your parents’earnings and then Student Finance will factor this information in when deciding how much to offer you. This helps when you need extra money and your household income is low.
When you get to final year, when the NHS is going to pay your tuition fees as the NHS Tuition Fee bursary and also give you a non-repayable NHS grant then you will automatically have a reduced loan amount on offer from Student Finance because they are informed of how much money the NHS is contributing towards you. This was a surprise and quite disappointing for me, because I was still expecting and also relying on the usual Maintenance Loan to help me get by.
I hope you have found the information in this blog post to be helpful. Please remember that since the time of publishing this article, things may have changed so always check online and through your own university’s finance department for the correct information.
If you have any questions for me related to dental school payments or anything related to this, feel free to drop me an email. Always happy to try and help.