Medical School Admissions: The Truth About Med School Costs

Posted by Ethan MacKenzie on 12/12/14 10:00 AM

MacKenzie_12102014At last, you can sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor. 


Last spring thousands of newly minted doctors all over the country graduated, marveling at the knowledge they had accumulated in 4 surprisingly short years. They also marveled, however, at the debt they had accumulated. With medical school debt levels increasing faster than inflation, the cost of attendance is becoming an important consideration for those applying to medical schools. While we're happy to offer MD admissions coaching options, let's make sure you are fully informed before you dive in.

If you find yourself in the position of considering medicine against other career options, here are some basic facts about the financial costs of medical school for you to mull over. 


The Beginning: Applying to Medical School

That’s right, the cost of medical school begins before you even get to put on a white coat. The fees associated with applying to medical school can be broken down into application fees and the costs associated with interviewing. For this section, let’s imagine a scenario in which you decide to apply to 25 schools, a not unreasonable number.

The first step in applying is the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS, for short), essentially your common application for medical schools. The fee to apply via AMCAS is $160 for the first school and then $36 for subsequent schools. For our chosen lucky 25 schools, that comes to $1,024. Ouch.

The AMCAS application is really only a formality for most schools and so all 25 ask you for a secondary application. Secondary applications often cost north of $50. For an average application fee of $60, that comes to an additional $1,500 (a total of $2,524 for those keeping score).

Joy oh joy! After all of your hard work on your applications, your hard effort in enlisting med school app help from peers, teachers, and MD application coaching from tutors, 10 of your schools have offered you an interview spot. This means, however, that in addition to weathering the plethora of uncomfortable plane flights across the country, you must also fork over money for the pleasures of that experience. I won’t attempt to tell you the average cost of airfare in this unpredictable world, but my own travel fees ran me over $1,500.

Finally, you receive a letter in the mail (or an email in your inbox), you tear open the envelope and begin to read, you’ve been accepted to medical school! Congratulations, but hand over another $100 as a deposit to hold your spot.

For just the application leg of the medical school journey then you have incurred $4,124. Your own experience may be cheaper, but it also may be more expensive.


Medical School: Loans, Loans, Loans

For those of you lucky enough to come from a family capable of paying for your medical school, give your parents a hug, they deserve it. For the rest of you, be prepared to take on some serious debt.

Your loans in medical school will end up comprising some combination of Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans (Interest rate of 6.21% for professional students), Federal Perkins Loans (5% interest), Direct Graduate PLUS Loans (7.21% interest), and institutional loans. However, it is unlikely that your entire education will be financed by loans, most medical schools award scholarship money based on need, and chances are that you will get some. If you are under the age of 30, be warned. Many medical schools include your parents’ financial information in determining your scholarship eligibility, regardless of whether or not they are paying for your medical school education.

 According to the AAMC, the average medical student graduating in 2014 took with them $180,000 of debt. This may seem like a daunting number to some, but many students graduate with well over $200,000 in debt.


Residency and Beyond: Paying it Back

Unfortunately, loans are not grants or gifts, and so must be repaid in full. Usually, the first payments are made during residency. There are multiple payment plans to consider and they can be found on the AAMC website (like so many of the statistics listed above) so let’s walk through one of them. It should be noted, that all of the listed plans assume you go into internal medicine. An increasingly popular option for residents is a repayment plan known as “Pay as You Earn.” This plan grades your monthly loan payment according to your income, generally charging you 10% of your discretionary income. PAYE also has a repayment period of up to 20 years, meaning that while it may take you a while to pay back your loans, you will be able to handle the individual payments. Even so, with an average resident salary of $55,300, this is still a lot of money.

If $180,000 or more plus interest and application fees seems like a daunting number, there are some options you can explore to incur less debt.

  • The AAMC’s Fee Assistance Program: For those students who cannot afford to apply to medical school, the fee assistance program can provide vouchers to alleviate or eliminate those costs.
  • Go to a public medical school: Graduates of public medical school leave with a median student debt of $170,000 compared to an average of $200,000 for private schools.
  • Get loan forgiveness: Physicians practicing and repaying their loans for over 10 years in a high-need area or providing public health services are eligible for loan forgiveness. This can total over $160,000 and so represents a great option for those who pursue careers in primary care.
  • Join the military: Seriously, many military programs will offer hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay towards your medical school education. Of course this comes with the catch that you have to serve as a military doctor following residency, but if serving your country is your cup of tea, this represents an excellent option.

Doom and gloom aside, the costs associated with medical school, while significant, should neither be the only nor the most important consideration in choosing a career in medicine. It is just one more factor to consider. The truth is, that with a career in medicine, you will be able to eventually pay back your loans, you just may have to put-off buying a sweet new ride while you do so.

Want to know more? Check out the AAMC website and Studentaid.ed.gov. Or check out excellent blog posts other tutors have written about the medical school admissions process, on MD/PhD programs, osteopathic programs, and "new" medical schools. Cambridge Coaching is here to help with MD application consulting -- whether you need a one on one tutoring bootcamp with the MCAT, guidance with the writing process, or general med school application help, don't hesitate to reach out!

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