Is Medical School Worth It? 4 Questions to Ask Before Deciding

 January 30, 2020
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cost of medical school

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Becoming a physician is a rewarding career path that can literally be a life-saving profession. However, the mental and physical demands of the job coupled with the likelihood of shouldering six-figure student loan debt may have you questioning, “Is medical school worth it?” Here’s what you need to know to know about costs and average medical school debt before making a decision.

Is medical school worth it? Pros and cons
What is the cost of medical school?
How long does medical school take?
How hard is it to get into medical school?
What are the top medical schools?
How to pay medical school student loans

Is medical school worth it? Pros and cons

Pros Cons
High earning potential (in the six figures) Expensive education
Possible eligibility for loan forgiveness High student loan debt
In-demand job outlook Competitive application process
Fulfilling career path Challenging work-life balance

What is the cost of medical school?

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the average cost of medical school for the 2019-2020 academic year for first-year students is $32,520 at a public institution. This is for in-state residents; non-resident first-year students can expect to pay an average of $56,284 to attend a public medical school.

Private medical schools are more expensive across the board for residents and non-residents alike. The AAMC reports that 2019-2020 average medical school tuition at a private institution is $55,337 for first-year students who are residents and $56,831 for first-year students who are non-residents.

These med school tuition figures don’t include student fees and health insurance, which can increase yearly admission costs by several thousand dollars.

Additionally, the AAMC states that students are required to earn a bachelor’s degree, which is typically a four-year degree, before entering a medical school program. According to the College Board, the average cost for an in-state student to attend a public four-year college and live on campus is $26,590. A four-year private education with on-campus housing averages around $53,980.

In total, including the cost of an undergraduate degree, paying for medical school can cost you anywhere from $236,000 to nearly $500,000, depending on the school you attend, your residency status and other factors. This estimate also doesn’t include other expenses you may incur during your medical school career, like textbooks, housing and other living expenses.

Paying for medical school costs

Although financial aid, such as scholarships and grants, can help cover some costs, 75% of medical students rely on student loans to help pay for medical school, according to the AAMC. If you need to take out student loans, you can choose to take out federal student loans along your journey through medical school.

Keep in mind, however, that the aggregate subsidized and unsubsidized federal loan limit you can borrow as a graduate student is $138,500. This includes your undergraduate federal loans. You’ll likely need to take out private student loans to cover the remaining costs, if you don’t have this cash on-hand. When taking out student loans — whether federal or private loans — factor in the interest costs for each loan to get the full scope of your out-the-door medical school loan cost.

The AAMC’s latest data found that medical school graduates left school with a median debt of $200,000, with 0.50% of students carrying debt over $500,000.

How long does medical school take?

A medical school program typically takes four years, but that doesn’t cover the entirety of how many years it takes to become a doctor. First, you’ll need to complete a four-year, pre-med curriculum to obtain your bachelor’s degree. Then, you’ll undergo another four years in your chosen med school program, followed by another three to eight years in residency to train in a specialty. In total, pursuing an education and career in medicine can take 11 to 16 years to complete.

There’s also the option to apply to a post-baccalaureate premedical program as extra prep before applying to medical school. These programs typically take one to two years to complete and are meant to help position you as a stronger candidate for medical school. Of course, with additional coursework, comes additional tuition costs along the road to becoming a physician.

How hard is it to get into medical school?

Getting into med is notoriously difficult. The acceptance rate for Harvard Medical School’s entering 2019 students was just 3.3%, for example, and completing the medical school application is an intricate process in and of itself. The course requirements vary between med school programs. For example, one program may expect a certain amount of laboratory experience, while another program may put a greater emphasis on specific courses completed.

Generally, medical school applicants need to have taken a year of biology, a year of English and two years of chemistry, in addition to demonstrating multiple core competencies, like critical thinking, human behavior, oral communication and ethical standards.

Aside from submitting transcripts of your coursework to your desired programs, you’ll need to describe your extracurricular activities, work experience, awards and certificates, and list your MCAT exam scores. Additionally, you’ll need to write a personal essay and obtain letters of recommendation to submit with your medical school applications.

What are the top medical schools?

With so much money invested in preparing and attending med school, there’s a lot at stake when it comes to choosing the right program. To make the most of your investment without taking on more debt than necessary, you’ll want to know where to find the most affordable top medical schools in the U.S.

In Student Loan Hero’s 2018 medical school study, we ranked the cheapest medical schools based on how much debt graduates had after their program; the cost of in-state, full-time annual tuition; and how many students received financial aid. Here are the top 10 results from our ranking:

  1. East Carolina University Brody School of Medicine
  2. University of New Mexico School of Medicine
  3. Baylor College of Medicine
  4. Texas A&M College of Medicine
  5. Mayo Clinic School of Medicine
  6. Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine
  7. University of Central Florida School of Medicine
  8. David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California – ​Los Angeles (UCLA)
  9. University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
  10. University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio

How to pay medical school student loans

Although the cost of becoming a doctor is shocking, leveraging financial aid opportunities can make medical school worth it. You can find various medical school scholarship opportunities directly through your medical program or school, or through scholarship and grant websites, like Fastweb.

There are also federal service programs that can cover a significant portion of your medical education costs. The Health Resources & Services Administration, for example, offers a handful of loan repayment programs, if you meet eligibility requirements.

Another option for physicians with high federal student loan debt is pursuing Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). To be eligible, you’ll need to work full-time for a government organization or nonprofit, and make 120 qualifying student loan payments under an income-driven repayment plan. Afterward, your remaining federal loan balance may be forgiven, tax-free.

If working in the public sector doesn’t appeal to you, you can also pursue federal student loan forgiveness through an income-driven repayment plan. Under an income-driven repayment plan, your monthly payments are reduced based on your income. Depending on the plan you choose, you’ll need to make payments for 20 or 25 years. Any remaining balance after that time is forgiven, but unlike PSLF, you’ll be taxed on the forgiven amount so it’s wise to prepare for that expense.

Without help in the form of scholarships, grants, and student loans, paying for medical school is challenging. By selecting an affordable school from the beginning and being open to loan repayment program opportunities, you can minimize the financial impact of medical school debt while benefiting from this lucrative and rewarding career path.

Miranda Marquit contributed to this report.

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