Paying for Medical School: Will give physicals for food!

July 19, 2011
Sam Asgarian

“Your bill will be $200,000. How would you like to pay for that? We take cash or check.”

These are words that no one ever wants to hear. Due to increasing costs, however, that is the average cost of tuition and expenses (rent, food, clothing, that shiny stethoscope) for a medical education. With so many different things to consider as a pre-med, one of the most overlooked is the actual cost involved. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s something you can ignore. Armed with the following advice, you will be one step ahead of most pre-meds and on the right path to managing the cost of getting your degree.

At some point in your medical education you’ll hear someone say, “Don’t worry, you’re going to be a physician – you’ll be able to pay it off.” The good news is that this is mostly true. Physicians’ starting salaries across the United States average around $175,000, so with a budget that limits extravagant expenses (sorry to burst your bubble, but there’s just not room for a yacht purchase with today’s medical school tuition costs) the sum of a medical education is not as extreme as it might sound. Federal student loan limits for medical school students are much higher than those for other graduate students, so you won’t have a problem getting loans to cover the cost. The best thing you can do now to ensure that you qualify for those loans is to confirm that you have a good credit rating. If you’ve been late sending in payments or don’t have established credit, now is the time to make sure you check your credit score and do whatever you can (pay down credit balances, don’t miss payments, and stop paying for things with credit) to raise your credit score.

There are also ways to lessen your financial burden. Many medical schools have lower tuition costs for in-state students, and some people are fortunate enough to have parents or other relatives who will pay for their tuition and/or their expenses (if you know anyone like that who is looking to adopt, please let me know). There are also little known loan-forgiveness programs for medical students who commit to practicing primary care in rural and underserved areas, and of course the armed services have one of the most lucrative scholarship and benefit packages for medical students; actually paying for the entire cost of a medical education as long as you commit to serving (as a physician) for a period of time after you graduate (the term of service varies depending on the course of your education).

You can always work part-time during med school to dampen some of the financial stress. Teaching, tutoring, and doing research are quite common and flexible enough to accommodate all the hours you’ll spend studying and working at the hospital. It also looks good on a medical residency application, which is great since you’ll be making money and boosting your resume at the same time.

A strong piece of advice is to not worry about the cost as long as you are fully aware of it. Know what you are getting into before you wind up at an interview asking for a scholarship (very bad idea). Rest assured that medical schools have dedicated financial aid departments with counselors paid to make sure that you are aware of how to apply for loans, pay your tuition, budget your expenses, and prepare to pay back that sometimes monstrous bill you will owe. As long as you commit to a budget (again, do not go out and purchase that yacht) and work with your school to apply for the right loans and scholarships, you’ll be able to look back on your medical education and realize that it was all money (lots and lots of money) well spent.

Sam Asgarian

Sam Asgarian I'm a current Tulane University medical student and an MBA graduate of the Johnson School of Graduate Management at Cornell University, and a long-time instructor and teacher trainer who continues to help students throughout the country. I've also done significant work behind the scenes, helping to develop and update study materials for both the MCAT and USMLE. I've been around long enough to see former students not only join me in medical school, but also be trained by me as new Kaplan instructors. While obtaining medical and business degrees has kept me busy, it hasn't stopped me from continuing to play soccer as a goalkeeper during both outdoor and indoor seasons.

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