I’m a physical therapist who graduated with over $150,000 in student loans. This guide is all the things I wish I would have done and all the things you still can do to graduate with your PT degree and as little student loans as possible.
1. Find cheap DPT programs
I can tell you from experience, that where you graduated from hardly matters in the physical therapy community.
If you were in business school, I would tell you to go USC or Harvard. But for PT’s, it doesn’t really matter where you graduated from.
In fact, your GPA doesn’t matter either!
Oh, and no one cares about your NPTE scores!
In the PT world, there are 4 things that matter:
- That you are licensed physical therapist and your license is in good standing. Basically, you have your PT license and you aren’t in any legal trouble.
- That you are able to perform as a PT. Clinics don’t care about your background. They want a PT who can perform evaluations, treatments, and proper documentation and billing.
- You are compassionate. Soon reimbursements may be based on the happiness of the patient. So clinics want a PT who is caring and compassionate. Clinics want patients leaving happy and ready to spread the word about how great their facility is. So, if you are a caring and compassionate PT then you’ll stand out in the crowd.
- You are hardworking. Clinics basically want PT’s who see a lot of patients because the more patient’s you see means more money for them.
Now if you have a residency, a specialty certification or are just a kick ass PT then you’ll really stand out!
Hopefully, I have convinced you to try to go the cheapest physical therapy school you can find. But when you look for schools, also make sure you like their program as well!
2. Live at home while attending PT school
Housing costs are often the biggest cost, besides tuition, when you attend any university.
If you could live at home, you could potentially save thousands of dollars a year.
Let’s do an example:
Let’s say Bob has a choice between living at home versus renting an apartment close to a physical therapy campus.
If he lives at home he saves an estimated*
-$500 on rent per month
-$100 on food per month
-$20 on internet per month
-$50 on utilities per month
Total: $670 per month or $8040 per year.
PT school is often 3 years. So over his entire school program, he saves $24,120 just by living at home.
Now this is just an example. Rent’s vary all over the United States and can range from $500 all the way up to $2000 or more! So these savings could be doubled or even tripled depending on where you choose to go to school.
3. Look for scholarships and grants.
Scholarships or grants are a great way to help pay for physical therapy school.
I wish there were more resources out there but here is my suggestion for finding financial aid for PT school:
- Ask your PT school.
You are probably wondering, how do I ask and who do I ask about scholarships?
A great opportunity is when you do your tours to help you decide what school to go.
This is how I got my $8,000 scholarship.
I had set up a tour with my choice school, guided by someone in the admission counsel.
When we finished up the tour, he led me to his office to ask my thoughts.
I told him that I loved the school and was very impressed with the program. But, that the price tag was pretty steep. I told him that it would be very difficult to afford the school. I described how I knew I’d be a valuable student and if there was any possibility of a scholarship, that this would be greatly appreciated and not wasted.
You can also email or call your admission committee.
There may also be a variety of funding applications on the school’s website.
I would also look not just within your schools DPT program but also within the entire school as well. For example, say you are going to Northwestern. Look at the Northwestern site as well as their DPT subsite.
- Research your high school or undergraduate college for funding
- Research your city as well state for funding
- Look for your local DPT chapter or a local chapter of the school you want to go to
- Apply for DPT specific scholarships but also general scholarships or healthcare scholarships
4. Start paying your student loans while in school
I know it sucks, but sooner or later you will have pay back all that money you borrowed.
But the quicker you can repay your student loans, the less you’ll be charged in interest and as a result, the less you pay in total for your student loans.
I don’t want to scare you….but I do! I was completely clueless about interest but I don’t want you to suffer the same fate as me!
Let say your tuition per year is $50,000. By the time you graduate, taking cost of living out of the picture, you would owe $150,000. At 7 percent interest, if you paid off your debt in 10 years, you would have paid $208,995. Of that $208, 995 over $58,000 was wasted on interest.
If you were able to earn $5,000 a year and graduate with $135,000 in student loans instead of $150,000 then you would have only paid $188,096 to pay off your loans in 10 years at 7% interest.
Yes, $5,000 is still a lot of money! But by reducing your student loans even just $5,000 a year, you can save potentially $20,899 on your student loans.
This example has a lot of variables including interest rate, loan amount, earnings amount, and how long it would take you to pay off your loans. But you can see how every dollar counts. This calculation was performed using the Student Loan Payment Calculator by Student Loan Hero.
5. Find work.
As former PT student, I can tell you it’s pretty hard to earn a lot of money in the after school hours. Most physical therapy programs run from 8am to 5pm and require rigorous studying.
I worked as a PT student. I was an Anatomy tutor and I also worked in our continuing education department, serving the food and collecting surveys during continuing education classes.
I earned $10 an hour and made roughly $100-$200 per month extra from doing these little jobs.
There are ways to earn more as a PT passively. This includes blogging, social media marketing, and affiliate marketing. But, don’t be fooled, these are not as a passive as recent therapist entrepreneurs seem to make it out to be.
There are simpler ways to passively earn more such as smart online banking or by using free money backs like Ibotta and Ebates (p.s you can earn $10 in one click by signing up here for the free Ebates app and here for the free Ibotta app).
Overall, it will be hard to earn significant enough income to pay for the current PT tuition rates.
However, working will help you build skills for when you graduate as well as help you pay towards food or utilities.
6. Refinance your loans or choose private loans.
There are many advantages to using public loans to pay for your PT school. You have various forgiveness or income based programs such as REPAYE, PAYE and IBR. You also have leniency programs such as forbearance and deferment.
However, public service loan forgiveness is a program that may or may not last. Every year, the U.S government seems to threaten the survival of PSLF.
And public loans may have a higher interest rate compared to private loans.
When you are choosing how to pay for your loans, it is important that you consider both private and public options and look closely at your interest rate.
For example, by getting a 4% interest rate instead of a 7% interest rate on a $150,000 student loan could save you $26,754 if you had a 10 year loan term. (Calculation found by using the Student Loan Hero Refinance Calculator).
If you have already received public loans, then you can get a lower interest rate through refinancing. Which would move your public loan to a private loan at a lower interest rate.
Here are some companies that offer no fees, great student loan interest rates, and still have a variety of forbearance options:
- Lend Key
- So Fi:
- Common Bond
Plus, did you know you can get $100-$200 cash if you refinance with any of these companies? Under the freebies tab, you’ll find all of ways to earn extra money plus the links to learn more about these lenders and earn extra cash when you refinance.
7. Maintain a budget.
Budgeting is always good, no matter if you are in school or not. It is important to understand your spending habits so that you can assess where you may be able to find savings.
A great free tool I use is Personal Capital to help me keep all of my credit card, banking, and loan data in one place.
Having your data in one place will help you gamify your budgeting. You can see when you spend a lot or a little and try to beat your previous month’s savings.
It is possible to graduate with your physical therapy degree and not have hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans. Below are the keys we discussed today.
The keys are:
- Research schools and pick one that fits you but also maintains a low cost.
- Try to live at home or with several people in order to minimize housing and utilities costs.
- Get as many grants and scholarships you can.
- Try to pay off your loans even while in school.
- Refinance or find private loans to lower your interest costs.
- Find work to make extra cash.
- Maintain a budget.
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