If you are wondering how to pay for medical school, you are not alone. The dream of attending medical school comes with a high price, even if you attend one of the cheapest medical schools. Becoming a physician requires hard work, dedication, and, unfortunately, a lot of money.
In this blog, you will discover how much medical school costs, what kind of financial aid is available for medical students, several strategies you can implement to pay for medical school, and tips to get you through school in good financial shape.
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How much does medical school cost?
The cost of medical school in the US and Canada has been rising for years. The estimated total cost of 4 years of medical school in an urban area in the US is US$407,340, including tuition, fees, housing, utilities, food and transportation. A similar estimate for 4 years of medical school in Canada totals CAD$229,980.
According to a survey from the AAMC, 73% of medical school graduates report leaving medical school with student loan debt. In the US, the national average graduating debt is around $200,000. In Canada, the average debt for medical school graduates is around CND$100,000, with over 42% of students reporting debt of CND$120,000 or more (Association of Faculties of Medicine Canada).
Although such figures may seem discouraging, there’s no need to panic. With good planning and the right information, you can learn to navigate through the complex landscape of medical education financing.
Types of Financial Aid to Pay for Medical School
As mentioned before, planning ahead is key when considering how to pay for medical school. Before seeking funding, examine your current financial situation and commit to paying off your undergraduate loans and credit card balances before entering medical school.
If feasible, start by tapping into your personal network, such as parents, relatives, or other benefactors, who can help you start off on a stronger footing.
As you will see, most government-sourced financial aid is based on financial need. However, there are other sources of paying for your medical school tuition that are based on merit.
Let’s look at the different types of financial aid available.
Non-Repayable Funding: Scholarships, Grants, and Awards
Besides your own money, the best way to pay for medical school is with funding you don’t have to pay back, including medical school scholarships, grants, and awards.
There are a number of scholarships available for students with excellent academic records, significant research interests, or those who identify as minorities. These are offered by different organizations and have their own eligibility requirements and application deadlines.
For instance, some towns and cities have local charities or organizations that award money towards the tuition of local students. They may require you to be a graduate from a local high-school or college or hold residence in that town.
Also, there are some medical associations that offer scholarships and fellowships for medical students. For example, the American Medical Association (AMA) offers $10,000 scholarships to students entering their fourth year of medical school, known as the AMA Foundation Physicians of Tomorrow Scholarship. Students interested in applying for the Physicians of Tomorrow Award must do so through the medical school dean's office or the dean's designate. AMA Foundation scholarship information is available to the offices of the dean, student affairs, minority affairs, and financial aid.
The American Medical Women’s Association also offers a number of scholarships and awards to its medical student members. Each scholarship has its own requirements and deadlines, all available on the AMWA’s website.
Another option to finance your medical school costs is to serve in the military. The Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) offers med students a full tuition scholarship plus a monthly stipend in exchange for serving in the U.S. Armed Forces for a specific time. You will have the opportunity to become a military doctor or simply serve the required number of years in the army in exchange for the financial support.
The AAMC has an online searchable database that provides detailed information about many of the state and federal programs available to medical and other health professions’ students.
Always pay attention to the deadlines and apply early. Don’t wait until the last minute, as some of these are granted on a first come, first served basis.
Many universities have their own scholarship programs. Start by checking medical schools’ websites to find the necessary info about their financial aid opportunities. We recommend that you contact each school directly and speak with their financial officers before applying. Learning the financial aid options of your chosen schools can help decide which schools you should apply to, because you will know whether you can afford them based on their financial aid offers.
Here are some questions you can ask financial officers:
- What is the cost of getting a medical degree at your school?
- On average, how much debt are recent graduates carrying?
- Do you require a supplemental financial aid application?
- Do you require parental information before applying for financial aid?
- Are there any scholarships and grants available? What are the application deadlines?
- Are scholarships offered for one year or multiple years?
- Is there a medical school loan available from the institution and what does it cover?
- Can I work part-time while in school?
- Are scholarships and grants merit-based or needs-based?
- Do I have to be a resident of the state/province to receive internal funding?
- Do I have to pay back the money I receive in financial aid from your school? If yes, how long do I have after graduation before I have to start paying it back?
Did you know that 73% of medical school students graduate with debt?
Repayable Funding: Federal Financial Aid and Loans
If you are a US citizen or permanent resident (i.e. you hold a “green card”), you should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). FAFSA is an application form used to apply for financial aid, grants, student employment, and federal student loans.
Medical schools use the FAFSA to put together your federal aid package for one year of college. Each school has its own deadline for filling out the FAFSA, so check the medical school application timelines of your schools of choice to know the deadlines.
Usually, to qualify for US federal financial aid, you must demonstrate financial need, have a valid Social Security number, and be enrolled or accepted for enrollment as a regular student in an eligible degree or certificate program. Please review additional eligibility criteria to see if you qualify.
International students wanting to attend a US medical school can access federal funds through programs like Fulbright and EducationUSA. We recommend international students to apply for a social security number, which you will need to open a bank account in the US, and then fill out the FAFSA, specifying that you’re not a citizen or resident. Although the application will be rejected, your information will remain in the database and can be used by the school’s financial aid office to qualify you for other programs.
If you are Canadian, federal student grants and loans in Canada are available through your province or territory. There are grants available for full-time and part-time students who can demonstrate financial need and are enrolled in a designated educational institution. You don't need to repay grants you receive, but you do need to repay loans with interest after graduation.
Once you’ve completed the FAFSA, the financial aid office of the schools you’ve chosen will receive all the info you submitted to FAFSA in the Institutional Student Information Report (ISIR). The financial aid officer will determine if you are eligible to receive federal funds, as well as funds from the school.
That’s when you will receive financial aid offers from the schools of your choice and must decide whether to accept the entire sum offered or just parts of it. How do you decide?
Compare the amount offered with the cost of your medical school and other expenses. Take into account other sources of income you may have such as scholarships, family money, savings or a part-time job. You may not need to take all the money offered by the school. In fact, we strongly advise you to take time and calculate how much money you will really need. Remember, you will have to pay all this money back – be careful of accepting the entire amount offered. Generally, if you decide later that you need more money, you can request for it again.
You should first accept all the grants and scholarships that you don’t need to repay before accepting student loan offers and other funding you must pay back after graduation.It is likely that you apply to several schools, so compare the aid packages and calculate the final costs of attendance. If you need help deciding, don’t hesitate to contact the school’s financial aid officer.
Student Loans: Federal vs Private Loans
Often, scholarships and grants are not enough to pay for medical school and students are forced to take out medical school loans.
If this is your case, you may take out federal loans from the government or private loans from commercial or private lenders. Federal loans have better repayment terms because interest rates of federal loans are fixed and lower than those of private loans.
Your aid offer will likely include a Direct Loan, a US federal education loan with fixed interest rates and flexible repayment terms. You can borrow up to the school’s cost of attendance, which covers tuition and fees, books and supplies, room and board, and other required expenses. You should apply and use a Direct Loan before trying private loans.
There are four types of Direct Loans:
As a medical student, you would only be eligible for unsubsidized loans and you can borrow up to $20,500 each year. They accrue interest from the date the loan is disbursed until paid in full. Although you are not required to make payments while you are in school, you should make interest payments during your schooling to lower the amount you will have to pay later.
What about Canada? As mentioned before, Canada Student Loans are available for full-time and part-time students. These loans are interest-free until six months after you’ve finished school when you have to start making payments. You also get a 15% federal tax credit each year on any interest paid on your student loans.
Private loans or lines of credit can be obtained from banks and other financial institutions, both in the US and Canada. Once you are accepted in medical school, you can present any bank with your letter of acceptance and receive a line of credit for up to $150,000. This option may be more attractive than Federal or Private loans for some students, because if you sign up for a line of credit, you only need to pay back the money that you actually spend. When you accept a sum from a Federal or Private loan, you have to pay back the entire sum, plus the interest. With a line of credit, you pay back what you literally spent, plus the interest – not the entire line of credit that you have accepted. You will have to pay back ONLY the money that is taken out of your line of credit – so make sure to consider this option, research the terms the bank is offering you, and make a decision that is best for you.
How to Repay your Loans After Medical School
You have a few options when it comes to repaying federal loans, such as income-driven repayment (IDR) plans that reduce your monthly payment amount.
Federal loans also provide you with these options:
- Student loan forbearance, to temporarily stop making payments.
- Debt consolidation, to lower interest rates and simplify payments.
- Loan forgiveness or loan cancellation.
How does the loan forgiveness work? There are a few programs, such as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), that forgive the remaining balance (principal and interest) of Direct Loans after the borrower makes 120 on-time, qualifying monthly payments while working in a qualifying public service position, such as a U.S. federal, state, local, or tribal government or not-for-profit organization. The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) and the Indian Health Service (IHS) programs also offer med students loan forgiveness if they serve in a marginalized and under-resourced community.
Other ideas to repay your loans are:
- Work a part-time job as a teaching or research assistant while in medical school.
- Learn how to budget your expenses, commit to saving money during your four years at med school, and designate some of your income for interest payments.
- Live frugally.
- Find a job that will contribute towards your loan payments.
- Make lump-sum payments when you earn extra money.
How to Pay for Medical School Application Costs
Aside from tuition costs, you will have to pay hefty application fees. Fortunately, there are sources that can help you pay some of them.
Most American medical school applicants submit applications through the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), which costs US$170 for the first school and an additional US$40 for each extra medical school application. There is the AAMC’s fee-assistance program that can help you with funding these expenses. Eligibility is based on household income.
Also, most medical schools require applicants to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), which costs US$320 (international students pay an additional fee of US$115). For those in need, there is a fee assistance program available. If you want to avoid taking the MCAT exam, see a list of medical schools that don't require the MCAT.
If you are a US citizen or resident, you are eligible for the Fee Assistance Program if the household reported on your application has a total family income that is 400% or less than the national poverty level for that family size.
What are the benefits of AAMC’s Fee Assistance Program? If you are approved, you will receive these benefits:
- MCAT Official Prep Online-Only Bundle ($268.80 value)
- Reduced MCAT registration fee, from $320 to $130.
- Complimentary subscription to the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) online database ($36 value).
- Waiver for all AMCAS fees for one application submission with up to 20 medical school designations ($990 value).
- Additional fees will be charged for each medical school designation beyond the initial set of 20.More information is available on the AAMC’s website.
The Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada offers an MCAT fee assistance program for Canadian students in need. Eligibility and application guidelines are available on the AFMC website.
Check out how you can repay your medical school student loans:
As you can see, there are many resources available to pay for medical school — some that you have to pay back and some that can be considered as “free money.” Maximize the non-repayable money resources before applying for federal or private loans.
Here at BeMo, we believe education is your most valuable asset and that everyone deserves access to higher education regardless of social, cultural, economic, or racial background. That’s why along with SortSmart, we offer bi-yearly scholarships to pre-medical and medical students.
So, don’t give up on your dream to become a physician and take advantage of all the funding opportunities out there.
Would you rather watch a quick recap in our video?
1. How much does it cost to attend medical school?
The estimated total cost of 4 years of medical school in an urban area is US$407,340 in the US and CAD$229,980 in Canada, including tuition, fees, housing, utilities, food and transportation.
2. Which are the cheapest medical schools in US and Canada?
Tuition costs depend on various factors: in-state vs out-of-state tuition, public vs private university, urban vs rural location, etc.
We have compiled a list of cheapest medical schools in the US and Canada, so be sure to check it out.
3. How many medical schools should I apply to?
Premed students apply to 16 schools on average, which can be very expensive when you take into account application costs. We recommend that you apply to 8-10 schools where you are confident you can get accepted.
4. How do I apply for financial aid?
Check the medical school's websites and find all the info you can about their financial aid opportunities. US citizens or permanent residents should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid application (FAFSA) form. Once you’ve completed the FAFSA, the financial aid office of the schools you’ve chosen will receive all the info you submitted to FAFSA in the Institutional Student Information Report (ISIR). The financial aid officer will determine if you are eligible to receive federal funds, as well as funds from the school and other sources.
5. Where can I find scholarships and grants available for medical students?
The AAMC has an online searchable database with detailed information about state and federal programs available to medical students.
6. Is it a good idea to take a student loan to pay for medical school?
Scholarships and grants are often not enough to pay for medical school, and you may be forced to take on medical school loan debt. You can take out federal or private loans. Federal loans have better repayment terms and interest rates are fixed and lower than private loans. You should take advantage of free money from scholarships and grants before taking out loans.
7. Can I have my student loan forgiven or cancelled?
Yes, in some circumstances, if you are willing to serve in the military, work in public service, or serve in a marginalized and under-resourced community, your debt can be forgiven.
8. Should I always choose a cheaper medical school?
While the cost of a medical school is a huge factor to consider, there are no cheap medical schools per se. If you come from a state with public medical schools, like Texas, New York, or California, you should really look into attending an in-state public school, as this will keep your costs down. However, you should be prepared to pay for your education, as medical schools tend to be expensive whether you choose to attend public or private institutions.
9. What kinds of financial aid is available for international students?
Although federal financial aid is limited for international students, many universities have scholarships and grants available to applicants from other countries. You can check the Fulbright and EducationUSA programs if you are applying to American schools and check your school’s financial aid website for more information.
To your success,
Your friends at BeMo
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