How to Pay for Medical School

Pursuing a medical profession is something you’ve always dreamed of, but you’re worried about the costs associated with medical school. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. If you’re interested in one of the many medical professions, we’ll help you better understand what costs to expect and how to pay for medical school.

As of 2019-2020, the average cost for medical school students is $32,520 (in-state, public school) and $56,001 (out-of-state, public school) per year. And that’s just tuition – you still have to pay for room and board, transportation and other school-related expenses.

The median debt for medical school in 2019 was around $200,000. And as many as 73% of graduates have some sort of medical school debt according to a report from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

Let’s learn a little more about how you can harness all the resources available to you to help pay for medical school.

Learn more about how much it costs to go to medical school.

9 Ways to Pay for Medical School

In figuring out how to pay for medical school, you will need to understand all the different options available to you. Some will be reminiscent of how you looked for aid as an undergrad but pay attention because there are more than a few options that are specific to paying for medical school.

1. Reach Out to Financial Aid Officers (And Do it Early)

Getting accurate and relevant financial aid advice is crucial before your time in medical school. Reach out to the financial aid officers, pre-health advisors or current medical students or residents at the programs you’re applying to, so you can ask them direct questions about how to pay for med school.

Here are several questions to consider asking:

  1. What is the full cost of attendance at their school? There are more costs involved in medical school than tuition, fees, and room and board. Be sure to find out if there are other expected costs to your MD program.
  2. Do they know about institutional or local scholarships or grants? Some schools offer their own forms of gift aid or may be aware of less-publicized local opportunities.
  3. Do they have their own institutional loans? Some schools have their own loan programs.
  4. What is the average amount of debt for their students? Knowing where other students stand can help you gauge your own level of debt.
  5. Is a supplemental financial aid application required at their school? Some schools will automatically consider you for need-based aid. But not all.
  6. Do they require parental information for you to get a financial aid award package? Even if you are considered an independent on an application for federal loans, some schools require parental information to be considered for additional aid provided by the school.
  7. Are their scholarships for one year or more? Some medical schools will renew scholarships annually or each semester.

2. Look for Other Sources of Free Money for Aspiring Doctors

You’re not limited to sources that are designed just for pre-med or medical school students. You can also apply to general graduate school scholarships and grants.

Fellowships are a good option for doctors who wish to become highly specialized. If you’ve already completed your first four years of med school and your residency, a medical fellowship can fund further training within your medical specialty.

There’s a small but growing trend of free medical schools. For example, in 2018, The New York University School of Medicine announced that it would offer free tuition starting in the 2020-2021 school year. Weill Cornell Medicine School launched a debt-free medical school to qualifying students in the fall of 2019. And starting in the 2019-2020 academic year, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis allowed as many as half of its medical students to attend tuition-free.

3. Apply for Federal Aid Using the FAFSA

Medical school students should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), as soon as it becomes available every October.

Filling out an application can help you qualify for federal aid such as work-study, scholarships, and gift aid from your state or school. Plus, there are loan options you might qualify for:

  • Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans – Sometimes referred to as unsubsidized Stafford Loans, they are fixed-rate loans available to undergraduate and graduate students. You do not need to show financial need and no credit history is required. However, interest begins accruing at the time of loan disbursement. For Direct Unsubsidized Loans first disbursed on or after July 1, 2019, and before July 1, 2020, the interest rate is 6.08%. The maximum amount you can borrow is up to $20,500 depending on grade level and dependency status.
  • Federal Direct Graduate PLUS loans – Unlike the Stafford loan, Grad PLUS loan borrowers must have good credit or a co-signer. The most you can receive is the cost of attendance minus other financial aid. These are also fixed-rate loans and are usually available to those who need to borrow more than what was allocated for Federal Direct Loans. For Direct PLUS Loans first disbursed on or after July 1, 2019, and before July 1, 2020, the interest rate is 7.08%. The maximum amount you can borrow is the cost of attendance minus any other financial aid you may receive.

Use our student loan calculator to estimate what your federal loan costs could be. Don’t forget to search for Scholarships and Grants for Pre-Med or Medical School Students.

It’s a good idea to make scholarship and grant hunting a regular activity. Your search should start before you enroll and continue throughout your studies. There are scholarships and grants for medical school students, which can cover a variety of costs from tuition to attending specialized conferences.

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has a database of scholarships (and loans) that are specific to pre-med and med school students. This is a great place to start. Services like Fastweb and maintain lists of scholarships for aspiring healthcare workers.

Don’t forget to check nonprofit organizations and medical associations to see whether there are scholarships, grants and other forms of financial aid for current medical students. You can start by looking at scholarships offered by the American Medical Association, American Podiatric Medical Association, and the American Medical Women’s Medical Association. These associations offer scholarships to members or member nominees, usually students who are entering their third or final year of medical school.

4. Become a Research or Teaching Assistant

If you can qualify — some schools require a certain amount of undergraduate credits — you may be able to apply to become a research assistant or teaching assistant. These teaching or research aid opportunities allow you to lead small group discussions or assist professors to receive tuition credit, and a small salary.

How much you can reduce depends on the hours you work. For example, The Stanford School of Medicine lets students work between 4 and 20 hours a week and receive up to $13,060 in tuition credits and a salary up to $11,352.00 per quarter.

Typically, first-year medical students aren’t eligible but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk to your school now so you can meet the eligibility requirements down the road.

5. Be Diligent About Your Budget

Living on a budget during school will help you with your long-term financial life. It’ll help you spend below your means and prevent you from borrowing more money than necessary.

When creating a budget, you’ll need to see how much income you’ll have each month and allocate accordingly. Look at your fixed expenses first, like rent then see how much you can afford to spend in other categories like food, clothing, and transportation.

You can do this in a notebook, spreadsheet, or there are plenty of budgeting tools.

Some to consider include:

  • Mint – This popular app helps you categorize and update transactions automatically once you link your credit cards and other financial accounts. Other features include tracking bills and having the app alert you if you’re going over your allotted budget. It automatically updates and categorizes transactions, creating a picture of spending in real-time. Users can add categories, track bills, split transactions and set budgets that alert them when they’re exceeding their maximum spending threshold.
  • Clarity Money – Like Mint, you can link to your financial accounts. It’ll help you track your spending, categorize your transactions and other features like helping you cancel unnecessary subscriptions.
  • Goodbudget – This app can help you share your budget in case you’re managing it with a partner or family member. The budgeting style is based on the envelope system where you put a certain amount of money towards categories, or “envelopes.”
  • PocketGuard – You’ll be able to see how much money is left over after you pay for bills and other expenses. You can see what’s left at any given time, helping you to cut back if necessary.

6. Consider Side Hustles to Earn Extra Money

In addition to work-study programs you might get from filling out the FAFSA, consider flexible side hustles where you can work at the hours you want without compromising your studies.

For example, you can tutor undergrads, become an overnight asleep assistant (where you provide emergency support for the overnight awake staff at various facilities), or become a human subject research through your university. If you’re looking for maximum flexibility, driving for Uber or Lyft, freelance writing, or even babysitting are great ways to earn extra cash.

7. Take Out a Private Student Loan to Pay for Medical School

If you don’t qualify for federal aid programs or find you need to borrow more, private student loans are a viable option. For example, College Ave offers private loans for medical school. These loans are designed for doctors and offer flexible repayment options and deferment during your residency. You can also opt for a fixed or variable rate loan.

Before taking out a private student loan to pay for your med school, make sure to shop around for the best rates and terms.

Apply for a Private Medical Student Loan.

8. Research Loan Repayment Programs Before Going to Medical School

There are various loan forgiveness and repayment programs, each with specific requirements for eligibility, that can provide significant assistance to aspiring medical professionals. Typically, they will repay all or some of your student loans in exchange for a commitment of service. Understanding what these are before applying for school not only sets you up for financial assistance but also helps plan your career trajectory once you have that diploma.

Here are some of the different types of programs to consider:

  • The National Health Service Corps has a few federal and state loan repayment programs in place if you’re willing to commit to practicing in underserved areas.
  • The National Institute of Health provides up to $50,000 annually to repay loans if you commit to working on research relevant to the NIH mission.
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness programs forgive qualifying federal loans for those who work in public service careers. Borrowers will need to meet certain qualifications like making 120 on-time monthly loan payments. Other requirements include submitting a Public Service Loan Forgiveness: Employment Certification Form each year and working in a qualified organization.
  • The Indian Health Service provides up to $40,000 a year in loan repayment in exchange for an initial two-year service commitment to practice in health facilities serving American Indian and Alaska Native communities.
  • The Military Health Professionals Loan Repayment Program pays a maximum of $40,000 per year to both current and former enlistees who work in areas the Department of Defense considers to be critical in times of conflict.
  • There are many state loan forgiveness programs available to medical school students. Typically, these are awarded to students who commit to practicing in high-needs areas.

Final Thoughts

Just because there are high costs associated with medical school, doesn’t mean you need to give up on your dreams, you’ll just need to start your research early and plan. By using all resources available, you can help lower your costs and pay for medical school without the worry.


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