Some Professional Degrees Leave Students With High Debt but Without High Salaries

Rebecca Smith and Andrea Fuller:

Professional degrees like dentistry and veterinary medicine are leaving many students with immense college debt, threatening the outlook for fields that provide essential public services, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of federal data.

Sara Jastrebski finished her veterinary studies at the University of Pennsylvania in May with about $400,000 in student debt, including more than $30,000 in loans from prior studies elsewhere.

Now working as an associate veterinarian for about $100,000 a year, Dr. Jastrebski, 29 years old, said she loves being a vet but is haunted by the tremendous cost of her education. “It doesn’t dominate my thoughts, but it’s always there,” she said.

In addition to programs for veterinarians and dentists, chiropractic medicine, physical therapy and optometry produced graduates with some of the worst combinations of high debt and modest beginning paychecks, according to newly released data from the U.S. Department of Education.

Students pursuing professional programs can take out loans to cover all their school costs and living expenses under a federal loan program called Grad Plus.