You’ve always wanted to become a doctor, but affording medical school is standing in the way. That’s not surprising considering the average out-of-state tuition for a private school is $61,428 a year, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).
But not to worry: There are many ways to finance your education that can keep your debt manageable while you pursue your dream — you just have to know where to look.
How to pay for medical school
Here’s how to pay for medical school without completely going broke.
1. Look for local scholarship opportunities
When it comes to scholarships, the conversation tends to be around undergraduate education. But there are plenty of scholarships for medical students as well. Even better, there are scholarships available for every step of the medical school process from being a pre-med undergrad student to heading off into your residency.
For example, some medical schools will provide full merit scholarships, such as the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. Meanwhile, the American Medical Association Foundation has the Physicians of Tomorrow Scholarship, which gives students in their final year of medical school $10,000. So, it’s important to research scholarship options throughout your time in medical school.
Also, don’t forget to look up scholarships that have nothing to do with your medical pursuits. You could score some free money based on an outside interest, your heritage, or your volunteer work. Even smaller ones for a few hundred dollars could add up to big savings if you get a bunch.
To find scholarships, you can look in a few places. Ask your school what scholarships they have available, reach out to local organizations, research what possibilities hospitals have, and use a website like CollegeBoard’s scholarship search to look up options based on your interests and background.
2. Apply for federal financial aid
When figuring out how to pay for medical school, filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) might not come to mind. Sure, it’s something you did for undergrad, but it should also be the first step in securing financial aid for your post-graduate degree too.
Medical schools use the FAFSA to determine how much aid you’re eligible for based on your financial needs. Even if you haven’t been accepted to a school yet, send an application for each school you’ve applied to. This will ensure you’re getting as much financial aid as possible.
Through the FAFSA, you could also be offered a federal loan. There are several types of federal loans available to medical students, including Direct Unsubsidized, Direct PLUS, and HRSA Primary Care. These loans tend to have lower interest rates and more flexible repayment terms, making it easier to pay them back once you graduate.
The process is the same as when you filed the FAFSA for undergrad — just make sure you check to see if the medical schools have any deadline requirements. You may need a parent to fill out the form as well, so have all your paperwork in order before applying by the due date.
3. Consider private student loans
Even if you received some scholarships and financial aid from your medical school or the government, you still might not have enough money to cover your education costs. That’s where private loans come in.
Unlike federal loans, which are regulated by the government, private student loans for medical school are issued by private lenders such as Citizens Bank or College Ave. That means the eligibility requirements, interest rates, and repayment terms can vary depending on the financial institution offering the loan.
While there are fewer regulations, private loans tend to have higher borrowing caps, which could help cover all of your expenses federal aid couldn’t. They can also have lower interest rates compared to federal loans meaning you will pay less overall.
Just be sure you understand all the terms of the loan, so you don’t get stuck not being able to pay. The lack of regulation leaves you with fewer options if you find yourself struggling financially.
4. Become a TA or RA
Trying to take on a part-time job while going through the rigors of medical school might seem impossible. But there is a way you can put in some work on campus that will go directly towards your tuition.
Many medical schools offer both research and teaching aid opportunities where you can assist professors or lead small group discussions for underclassmen in exchange for tuition credits. The Stanford School of Medicine, for example, lets students reduce their tuition by over $12,000 for putting in 20 hours per week as a teaching aid (TA) or research assistant (RA) and provides a quarterly salary around $10,000.
This option is not typically available to first-year medical students as it requires some experience in the field. But be sure to start the conversation with your school early so you’re prepared to meet any application deadlines and complete prerequisites that might be necessary.
5. Enroll in a service program
A great answer for how to pay for medical school is enrolling in a service program with the government or military. Basically, in exchange for working a certain number of years for one of the institutions, you will have some or all of your medical school costs covered.
Here are some programs to consider:
- National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Scholarship: With this scholarship, the Department of Health & Human Services will pay for up to four years of your medical school tuition and living expense if you agree to work for at least two years in an approved “underserved community.”
- Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP): Funded by the military, you can have all of your tuition and fees covered in addition to a living stipend and sign-on bonus if you serve time in the armed forces. You will be required to commit to one year of active duty for every year of your scholarship, with a three-year minimum.
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF): While this program won’t cover your costs upfront, it can help you pay back any loans you took out for medical school. Through PSLF, you might be eligible to have your loans forgiven if you work for an approved institution such as a nonprofit or the government after you’ve made 120 loan payments. It’s not an option that is guaranteed, so be sure to do your research and use a Public Service Loan Forgiveness Calculator to determine if it’s worth it.
All of these options are great for figuring out how to pay for medical school. Medical school costs can seem overwhelming at first, but doing some research on different opportunities can help alleviate some of the anxiety and have you well on your way towards helping others.
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