How Can Pharmacy Students Graduate with No Debt?

OCTOBER 10, 2017
Earlier this October, Tim O’Shea wrote about paying off student loan debt faster in this article and Austin Hewlett wrote about loan forgiveness options in this article.  
 
But what about students that never take loans out in the first place? How do they do it? I don’t ever remember talking to other students about how they stayed out of student loan debt. It seemed like an inevitability.
 
The last 5 years has shown a steady decrease in the number of students who take out loans at all. Using the data from the last six years of the AACP Pharmacy Graduating Student Survey Summary Report we can readily see the trends in student loan debt and start the conversation about how to become one of those 14 students.

In this article, I’m going to go over 3 principles that can keep you from taking out student loans:
 
1. The loan-free path
2. The entrepreneurial path
3. The right undergraduate path
 
1. The loan-free path
 
As a community college instructor, I know many of our pre-pharmacy students leave with no student debt at all. Many students I advise choose to not rush toward the pharmacy application. They stay in their current jobs while taking 2 or 3 courses a semester. With tuition around $3,000 a year for a 20 credit hour load, they find it relatively easy to stay debt free by taking 3 rather than 2 years to get their 60 or so pre-pharmacy credits in. Not only do they avoid debt, but also they begin saving for college.
 
While there are only a few distance pharmacy programs, one of the great advantages is the ability to stay home if you already own a house. With recent talk about part-time pharmacy school and expanding distance education, these might be 2 ways students would be able to pay as they go. I only knew 1 student in pharmacy school, who had no student loans, but she worked consistently before and during school to make sure that was a possibility.
 
2. The entrepreneurial path
 
The mindset of 1 job where you trade hours for dollars seems to be evaporating. While in pharmacy school I worked as a waiter and pharmacy technician, since then I’ve worked in 2 non-pharmacy professions and earned enough part-time money to cover the pharmacy tuition, room, and board.
 
1. Real estate agent. Working as a real estate agent required a $400 investment in a licensing course and a great desire to learn. The work itself parallels the pharmacy profession in that it’s a service industry, providing the best advice possible. Can you be an agent without owning a home? Absolutely. Being a good agent is about knowing the neighborhoods, understanding value, and great interpersonal skills. Would people trust a young agent? The young Silicon Valley titans have paved the way for energy and tech expertise to trump extended decades of experience. To start in this venture, simply look up your state real estate licensing board and ask where you can take classes.
 
2. Author. I’m excited that my book Memorizing Pharmacology: A Relaxed Approach has been successful. What makes me sad is that if I had the entrepreneurial mindset to try to write a book when I was younger and had the access Amazon.com provides, I could have paid my way through Harvard. What makes a book successful enough to pay for pharmacy school? The size of the problem you solve and the group that has that problem. Instead of looking to make sales, look to solve a problem that you are passionate about. Uploading the eBook on Amazon.com is free. Paying a quality narrator costs from $100 to $400 per finished hour.
 
3. The right undergraduate path
 
Students often look to what degree fits the pre-pharmacy requirements rather than what degree would pay for the pharmacy journey. There’s no reason to get a biology or chemistry degree if you’re going to do a graduate degree in pharmacy. While my decision to get an English degree and work as a writer is often a difficult one, another path is underutilized. Half of the students at my community college are in vocational/technical professions that pay well. Some students use these jobs to support their liberal arts and professional school journeys. Our own college president drove an 18-wheeler to get through law school.
 
Instead of telling yourself, “I have to go into debt to go to pharmacy school,” why not ask, “how can I go to pharmacy school and graduate with no debt?”
 
 
 
 
 
 


Tony Guerra, PharmD
Tony Guerra, PharmD, is chair, instructor, and pre-pharmacy advisor at Des Moines Area Community College's Pharmacy Technician program and Pharmacy Podcast Network Co-Host. He's Tony_PharmD on Twitter and TonyPharmD on YouTube providing Top 200 drugs and pronunciation help to over 4,500 followers with over 1 million views. His two audiobooks Memorizing Pharmacology: A Relaxed Approach and How to Pronounce Drug Names: A Visual Approach to Preventing Medication Errors are Amazon bestsellers. He graduated from Iowa State University with a BA in English and the University of Maryland with his PharmD.
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