Scholarships help dental student pursue dream of making people smile

Melissa Varner
January 19, 2024

As a baby, Katelyn DeGuzman says she was often put down to sleep with a bottle of juice. Today that practice is not recommended, as it’s known to cause tooth decay.

Katelyn DeGuzman 
Katelyn DeGuzman, Class of 2025

“By first grade all my baby teeth were rotted, and they all had to come out,” Katelyn said. She says her permanent teeth started growing in crooked, and she had to get braces for the first time at 8 years old. She endured a second round of braces when she was 12 and all her adult teeth were in. 

“I just feel like I can relate with the patient in the chair,” Katelyn said. “Because I know how much a smile can really impact someone’s confidence.”

By middle school, she knew she wanted to become a dentist. Katelyn, who grew up in Easley, South Carolina, chose the Medical University of South Carolina for dental school because of its proximity to her family.

She says in-state tuition was also a big draw. Across the nation, dental tuition has risen rapidly in recent years, driven by the high cost of maintaining the specialized environment needed for instruction and practice. Because of this, dental students in the U.S. are graduating today with an average debt of more than $290,000 each.

“It helps. You don’t even know how much.”

The James B. Edwards College of Dental Medicine has held the line on tuition increases for five years. Still, Katelyn, like most of her classmates, relies on student loans to pay her tuition. She works two part-time jobs and depends on her parents to help.

“Thankfully, my parents have helped me with rent,” Katelyn said. She also has “a little bit” coming in from working in the Office of the Dean and hostessing for a popular steak restaurant.

A female student in a green dress and white coat, poses for a photo with the college’s dean, also dressed in a white coat. 
Katelyn DeGuzman, Class of 2025, poses for a photo with College of Dental Medicine Dean Sarandeep Huja at the college’s White Coat Ceremony

She says that’s why scholarships have been so important. “It helps. You don’t even know how much.”

In 2023, Katelyn received the Arthur L. Haisten Scholarship, named for the college’s late dean. In 2022, she earned the Provost’s Scholarship. Katelyn says every scholarship dollar she earns helps pay her tuition, and ultimately, adds up to less debt she will have to pay back after she graduates in 2025.

Scholarship support has also given Katelyn the freedom to consider specializing in periodontology. “Before, I didn't think about specializing because it's more school, it's more money, and less time to pay off things,” she said. “But because of these scholarships, it's opened up that path for me to even think about it.”

No matter what kind of dentist she becomes, Katelyn is excited to help her patients smile again. “When they first see their new smile … you can see the difference it makes … inside and out. It's like seeing the sun rise for the first time. It's beautiful.”