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How to Afford a Doctor of Pharmacy Degree

A pharmacist reaches for medication on a high shelf.

Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) programs prepare students for rewarding careers in and around pharmacy. Many pharmacists work in drug stores, building lasting relationships with patients and communities, but PharmD graduates enjoy broad career flexibility. Pharmacists work in multiple industries and are in demand around the U.S. in patient care, retail pharmacy, research, and public health. Pharmacy careers also pay very well. The median wage for pharmacists across industries is about $129,000, and PharmD holders in specific fields, such as pharmaceutical development and outpatient clinical practice, can earn even more. In all areas of the profession, pharmacists know they're making a positive difference in people's lives.

But while earning this degree itself can be life-changing, completing a PharmD program requires a significant investment of time and money. Programs typically take four years to complete and require a full-time commitment, therefore most PharmD students take time out of the workforce to focus on their education. Prospective Doctor of pharmacy students should not be intimidated by this investment, however. There are many ways to pay for a Doctor of Pharmacy program, and the degree more than pays for itself over time.

The Doctor of Pharmacy online pathway from the Butler University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences prepares students for careers in the pharmaceutical sciences through a mix of online didactic coursework and in-person experiential rotations, and the ROI of the PharmD it confers is overwhelmingly positive. Paying for the program comfortably is primarily a matter of understanding the total cost of a Doctor of Pharmacy and the many funding options available.

How Much Do PharmD Programs Cost?

PharmD degree program tuition varies considerably by institution based on several factors. Data from the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) states that the average in-state tuition for the first year of a traditional four-year PharmD program is about $32,000. Average out-of-state tuition for the same program is about $40,000, but the costliest programs charge as much as $65,000 for the first year. Tuition for Butler's PharmD online pathway is similar to that of other high-quality Doctor of Pharmacy programs.

PharmD programs tend to cost more than other graduate programs because they are intensive and immersive, but prospective pharmacists should consider the cost in relation to how much they can earn as licensed healthcare professionals. Completing a PharmD program can translate into higher lifetime earnings than other options. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, pharmacists earn about$126,000 per year, and PharmD programs vastly outperformed graduate-level academic programs in engineering, the sciences, and even other healthcare disciplines in terms of ROI.

How to Pay for a PharmD Program

Prospective Doctor of Pharmacy program students must be ready to secure funding for four years of school, but there are many options to help PharmD students pay for their degrees.

Federal Student Loans

Many students fund their Doctor of Pharmacy degrees with federal student loans, the most popular student loan option in the U.S. Like undergraduates, PharmD students apply for student loans and other federal funds using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  

Doctor of Pharmacy students are eligible for Direct Unsubsidized Student Loans, available to all graduate students regardless of credit score, and Direct PLUS loans, available to graduate and professional students pending a credit check. These options tend to have much lower interest rates and more flexible repayment plans than private loans. PharmD candidates can also defer repayment while enrolled in a qualifying program. 

External Scholarships

Private donors such as foundations, businesses, and professional, religious, and community groups award external scholarships for Doctor of Pharmacy candidates. These scholarships can be based on merit, heritage, identity, industry, or need. Finding them can take as much time as applying for them. PharmD students can use resources such as Fastweb to find external scholarships for aspiring pharmacists, but prominent pharmacy scholarships include: 


Internal Scholarships 

Universities with PharmD programs often award scholarships to students who meet specific academic criteria or apply by certain deadlines. Some internal scholarships are awarded automatically, but others require that students submit a scholarship application to qualify for funds. Doctor of Pharmacy students can find out more about internal scholarships by contacting the College of Pharmacy or the financial aid office. New students in the Butler PharmD online pathway program may be eligible for specific internal scholarships paid out annually and can connect with an Enrollment Advisor to learn more.

Private Student Loans

Private lenders, such as banks, sometimes offer student loans. These private student loans are rarely the best funding option for Doctor of Pharmacy students. Borrowers with an excellent credit history may be able to negotiate lower interest rates and better repayment terms on private student loans. Still, for many, these loans should be a last resort to pay for pharmacy school. 

Unlike federal loan programs, which defer repayment during school, repayment terms for private student loans begin immediately, even for students enrolled full-time in PharmD programs. Finally, repayment plans for private student loans are typically much more demanding than their federal counterparts and offer no flexibility for students experiencing financial hardship.

Pharmacy School Loan Forgiveness Programs

Pharmacists with federal student loans may be eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. This federal program forgives all student debt for professionals who work for U.S. federal, state, local, or tribal governments or qualifying non-profit organizations for a set period. Any pharmacist working for a qualifying employer will have their remaining federal student loan debt forgiven after 120 months (or 10 years) of payments.

The federal government employs pharmacists across its branches and agencies, which means there are many opportunities for pharmacy students interested in the PSLF program. The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) also offers student loan repayment funding for professionals working in designated Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs). Funding and HSPAs vary, but pharmacists interested in paying off some or all of their student loans more quickly should consider participating in the NHSC program.

How Long Does It Take to Pay Off Pharmacy School?

According to a July 2021 report by the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP), the average student loan debt for pharmacists is around $174,000, and 85 percent of PharmD students used federal student loans to fund their degrees. Fortunately, pharmacists are in an excellent position to pay off student debt thanks to high earnings and job security. 

Researchers writing for the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education studied the payoff of a Doctor of Pharmacy degree compared to bachelor's degrees and high school diplomas. They wrote, "Earnings from a career in pharmacy are clearly favorable when compared to a high school diploma or bachelor's degree in biology or chemistry, even when considering student loan repayments."

The researchers also found that the standard repayment plan term for pharmacists with student loans is 25 years. However, that is simply the length of the standard repayment period. High-earning pharmacists may be able to pay off that debt sooner and save money on interest payments in the long term.

A Doctor of Pharmacy Pays for Itself Over Time

The cost of a Doctor of Pharmacy degree program may seem overwhelming to prospective students interested in pharmacy practice. However, prospective PharmD students should consider that cost in the context of how financially and personally rewarding a career in pharmacy can be. Most pharmacists take on significant student loan debt to finance their degrees, but that debt is readily justified by their expected net earnings over an entire pharmacy career.

It follows that students should consider more than just cost when choosing a PharmD program. Lower-cost programs may save money in the short-term but not offer the career boost of more expensive, higher-ranking programs. Graduates of the Butler Doctor of Pharmacy program enjoy very high NAPLEX first-time pass rates–97 percent in 2021, compared to the national average of 84 percent. Passing the exam is necessary to work as a pharmacist, so first-time pass rates are essential in determining how quickly graduates can begin their pharmacy careers and pay off their student debt.

The Butler College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences is highly respected in healthcare, setting students up for successful careers in whatever pharmaceutical practice area they choose. Butler's pharmacy program has a long history of full accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE). The college and PharmD program boasts world-class faculty members who build lasting professional relationships with students in small classes. The online pathway blends a flexible online education with experiential learning during on-campus immersions and practice experiences. Alums cite the program's high educational standards as a factor in their career success.


Connect with an Enrollment Advisor or start the application process for Butler's PharmD program today.