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How To Pay for Medical School

Updated on:
Content was accurate at the time of publication.

Many students feel overwhelmed when trying to figure out how to pay for medical school without drowning in debt. The average out-of-state tuition at a private medical school in 2022-2023 was $58,166. Given the expense, it’s not surprising that 71% of med students from the class of 2022 had student debt.
Fortunately, you may be able to make medical school slightly more affordable with financial aid, scholarships, or by going to a tuition-free medical school.

6 ways to pay for medical school

Becoming a doctor usually requires a serious commitment and a lot of money. Be sure to ask yourself whether medical school is worth the cost before diving in. If you have a passion for health care, you could always pursue other jobs in the field. For example, the cost of a nursing degree is usually lower, and generally requires less time to complete.

If you have your heart set on becoming a doctor, here are six ways to pay for med school.

1. Look for scholarships and grants

If you’re wondering how to pay for medical school, you should start your search by finding free money. The more scholarships and grants you receive, the more you can reduce your overall student loan debt.

Medical school scholarships and grants can be based on merit and financial need and are typically offered by universities, nonprofit organizations and private companies. You can search for opportunities through the Association of American Medical Colleges or by using a scholarship search tool.

Don’t limit yourself to just medical school awards, either. You can research a variety of scholarships, including some that may be designed to support people with your gender, race, personal interests, socioeconomic background, location, military affiliation and more. A scholarship search site can help filter your options and notify you when opportunities meet your unique criteria.

2. Enroll in a service program

Enrolling in a service program with the government or military can help pay for medical school. The institution will cover some or all of your medical school costs if you work there for a certain number of years.

Here are some programs to consider:

  • National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Scholarship: With the NHSC Scholarship Program, the Department of Health & Human Services will pay for up to four years of medical school tuition and living expenses if you commit to two years of full-time service in an approved underserved community.
  • Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP): This program offers members of the armed forces two-, three- and four-year military scholarships to pay for medical school tuition and fees, plus a monthly living stipend. The scholarship length and criteria vary by service branch, with the possibility of an additional sign-on bonus.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Depending on available funds, you could receive up to $50,000 per year with the CDC’s Education Loan Repayment Program for Health Professionals. You must be accepted into a two- or three-year fellowship program and follow the rules outlined in the service agreement.
  • State loan repayment program (SLRP): Many states offer student loan assistance to medical professionals in exchange for two to three years of work in a high-need area. Check out the database of SLRPs to find out if your state could help repay your medical school loans.

3. Find a free medical school

Some medical schools waive tuition charges to help make the medical field more accessible to a diverse range of students. For example, New York University (NYU) now offers tuition-fee scholarships to all admitted students, regardless of financial or academic standing.

Remember that even if you attend a free medical school, you’ll most likely need to pay for nontuition costs, such as fees, room and board and supplies. Some universities, like Columbia, Cornell, Duke and UCLA all offer full-ride scholarships for medical school if you qualify based on academic merit or financial need.

4. Apply for federal financial aid

You can get financial aid for grad school, including medical school. As with undergraduate school, it all starts with submitting your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Medical schools use the FAFSA to determine how much aid you’re eligible for based on your financial needs. Send an application to every school you’ve applied to, even if you haven’t received an acceptance letter yet. This will ensure you get as much financial aid as possible.

The process is the same as when you filed the FAFSA for undergrad — just make sure to check each medical school’s deadline requirements. And even though you are now considered an independent student, some medical schools still require your parents’ financial info when determining award packages.

5. Consider private student loans

Even if you received scholarships and financial aid, you might not have enough to cover your med school’s total cost of attendance.

While private student loans can help cover remaining financial gaps, you should exhaust your federal student loan options first since they tend to offer lower interest rates and more flexible repayment plans. Med students can borrow federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans and grad PLUS loans, regardless of financial need or credit score.

Private lenders typically look at your income and also require borrowers to have a good to excellent credit score. If you have low or bad credit, you may need to apply with a creditworthy cosigner to secure the best rates and terms.

6. Get a part-time job

Taking on a part-time job while juggling the rigors of medical school might seem impossible. But if you can squeeze in a few hours of paid work or start a side hustle, it could help chip away at your medical school debt. There are even companies offering student loan repayment assistance as an extra perk. You’ll probably still need to limit your hours to ensure you don’t burn out because medical school can be very grueling.

Many medical schools also offer research and teaching aid opportunities where you can assist professors or lead small group discussions for undergrads in exchange for tuition credits.

For example, the Stanford School of Medicine will deduct $13,820 from your tuition each quarter if you work 20 hours per week as a teaching aid (TA). A research assistant (RA) can receive a deduction of $11,820 for the same hours of work. Additionally, both roles can earn a quarterly salary of just over $12,000. Since the quarterly tuition is $21,249, you could actually completely cover the cost of tuition with this program.

Contact your school to discuss how to make money in medical school. There might be application deadlines and necessary prerequisites to become a TA or RA. Keep in mind that your med school might have limitations on how many hours you can work at a job while attending their program.

Additional ways to pay for medical school debt

Even with the above methods, you might not be able to fully cover your medical school expenses. Here are some more tips for paying off your med school debt.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

While PSLF doesn’t cover upfront costs, you could have your medical school debt forgiven if you work for an approved institution, such as a nonprofit or the government, and make 120 qualifying loan payments. However, it can be confusing to figure out if you qualify for PSLF.

You should first contact the Department of Education and your student loan servicer to confirm you’re eligible before pursuing this plan. You’ll also want to check out our Public Service Loan Forgiveness calculator to determine if it’s the right fit for you.

Create a budget

You can stretch a limited financial aid package by reducing your overall expenses. Consider attending a school close to home to save on room and board. Other tips include buying secondhand clothes, avoiding lavish meals out and postponing any unnecessary travel.

Make sure to revise your budget regularly to continue trimming back expenses. Even though small changes might seem insignificant, every dollar saved helps in the long run.

Crowdfunding for medical school

If you’re having trouble paying for medical school, there’s no shame in asking family and friends for help. You can start a crowdfunding campaign via GoFundMe, Gift of College, Backer or UNest. Encourage your community to donate to your medical career instead of giving birthday or holiday gifts.

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