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How to Pay for Medical School

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While you might have always dreamed of becoming a doctor, you might not have foreseen the high costs of medical school. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the average out-of-state tuition at a private school in 2019-2020 was $56,946 per year. To afford this steep price tag, it’s crucial to learn how to pay for medical school without taking on massive debt.

Fortunately, there are ways to finance your medical education without breaking the bank. You just have to know where to look.

How to pay for medical school

Here’s our guide on how to pay for medical school without completely going broke.

  1. Look for local scholarship opportunities
  2. Apply for federal financial aid
  3. Consider private student loans
  4. Become a TA or RA
  5. Enroll in a service program

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 Award, 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 scholarship 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 student 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 may also have lower interest rates compared to federal loans meaning you will pay less overall.

That said, you need to pass a credit check to qualify for private student loans, and you might need a cosigner if you can’t meet a lender’s underwriting requirements on your own.

Before borrowing, make 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 toward 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 $13,000 for putting in 20 hours per week as a teaching aid (TA) or research assistant (RA) and provides a quarterly salary of around $11,000.

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.
  • State-run loan repayment assistance program (LRAP): Many states offer student loan assistance to medical professionals in exchange for two to three years of work in a shortage or high-need area. Check out our database of LRAPs to find out if your state could help you repay your medical school loans.

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 toward helping others.


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