There’s no way around it: Medical school is expensive. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the median four-year cost of attendance for the class of 2022 was $268,476 for those attending public schools and $363,836 for those attending private schools.
If you’re wondering how to pay for medical school without drowning in debt, there are several options. From tuition-free medical schools to grants and scholarships, there are financial aid opportunities available that reduce the need for student loans.
Overview of Medical School Costs
Becoming a doctor requires a significant amount of education. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, you enter medical school, which typically lasts four years.
So how do people pay for medical school? Unfortunately, many students rack up a significant amount of student loan debt. And because their medical school debt is on top of their undergraduate student loans, it’s no surprise that the median student loan balance for medical school graduates is $200,000.
However, you can avoid accruing that much debt by utilizing other financial aid. It’s wise to start with gift aid, such as scholarships and grants, that doesn’t have to be repaid. Medical school students can also take advantage of work-study programs to offset some of their expenses. Maximizing gift aid and work-study programs can reduce how much you need to borrow in federal or private student loans.
Scholarships and Grants for Medical School
Scholarships and grants aren’t only for undergraduate students; you can qualify for these forms of gift aid for medical school too. Gift aid varies in value by the organization issuing the award, ranging from $500 to the full cost of attendance.
Scholarships and grants can come from several sources, including universities, non-profit organizations, and private companies.
Institutional Grants and Scholarships
The following universities offer their own scholarships for medical school students:
- Florida State University: Through the College of Medicine Alumni Relations Fund, eligible medical school students can receive up to $2,000 to pay for their education.
- University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA): As part of the David Geffen Medical Scholarship program, UCLA awards 10 scholarships each year that cover the total cost of attendance, including tuition, fees, and a stipend for living expenses.
Both private and public universities may offer institutional grants and scholarships. Contact your university’s financial aid office or your department chair for information about available aid.
Scholarships From Non-Profit Organizations
Non-profit organizations offer scholarships and grants to encourage enrollment among underrepresented students and those who display outstanding academic achievement. For example:
- American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA): The AMWA awards the Medical Education Scholarship to women currently enrolled in medical school. Each scholarship is worth $500.
- Herbert W. Nickens Medical Student Scholarship: This award gives students $5,000. To qualify, students must be entering their third year of medical school.
- Pisacano Leadership Foundation: Students who qualify for the Pisacano Leadership Scholarship receive up to $28,000: $5,000 each for the final year of medical school and the first three years of family medicine training, and $2,000 a year to cover travel expenses to attend the annual leadership skills symposium hosted by the Pisacano Leadership Foundation.
Many companies, particularly those in the healthcare industries, provide scholarships to medical school students. For example:
- Panacea Financial: The Panacea Financial Scholarship Program is for medical school students who belong to underrepresented ethnic or racial minority groups. It gives eligible students $5,000 to pay for school.
- Tylenol Future Care Scholarship: The Tylenol Future Care Scholarship is a one-time award for incoming medical school students. It awards 10 scholarships worth $10,000 per student, and 25 scholarships worth $5,000 per student.
You can find scholarship opportunities through FastWeb, Scholarships.com, and CareerOneStop.
Medical School Student Loans
After using up all of the available gift aid you can get, you can take out student loans to cover the remaining balance that you owe. As a medical school student, you can qualify for both federal and private student loans.
Federal student loans are the best starting point since they usually have lower interest rates than private loans, and they also have more forgiving repayment options. They allow you to defer your payments while you’re in school and for six months after you graduate, and you may be eligible for additional benefits like income-driven repayment plans or loan forgiveness.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) isn’t just for undergraduate students. To qualify for federal loans and need-based aid in medical school, you need to complete the FAFSA by the federal, state, and school deadlines.
Federal Direct Unsubsidized
Federal Direct unsubsidized loans are for graduate and professional students. There are caps on how much you can borrow; the aggregate maximum is $138,500, and that number is inclusive of any federal student loans you took out for your undergraduate degree.
Federal Direct Grad PLUS
If you reach the borrowing maximum for Direct unsubsidized loans, you may be able to utilize federal Direct Grad PLUS loans. Unlike unsubsidized loans, PLUS loans do not have a borrowing maximum, so you can borrow up to the total cost of attendance.
Private Student Loans
Although you should start with federal loans, private loans can play an important role in paying for medical school. If you exhaust your other financing options, you can use a private student loan to cover the remaining balance that you owe so you can complete your education.
Private loan lenders usually allow you to borrow up to the total cost of attendance, but they tend to have stricter repayment terms and charge higher interest rates.
Some lenders have loans specifically designed for medical school students. For example:
- Citizens Bank: With Citizens Bank, you can take up to 15 years to repay your loans, and you can borrow up to $350,000.
- College Ave: College Ave’s medical school loans have multiple repayment options and loan terms as long as 20 years. You also have the option of deferring your payments during your residency or fellowship.
- Sallie Mae: Sallie Mae’s medical school loans cover up to 100% of the total cost of attendance, and it offers up to 48 months of deferment during your residency or fellowship.
Medical school student loans only cover your education expenses. However, there are some lenders, such as College Ave and Discover, that offer loans that will cover your medical residency or relocation expenses after you graduate from medical school.
Best Medical School Student Loans
|Lender||Loan Amounts||Loan Terms|
|Credible||$1,000 minimum; no maximum||5–20 years|
|Juno||Varies by lender||5–15 years|
|ISL Lending||$2,001–$200,000||10–15 years|
|College Ave||$1,000–$150,000||5–20 years|
|Discover||$1,000 minimum; maximum not disclosed||20 years|
Other Ways to Pay for Medical School
If you’re trying to figure out how to pay for medical school, scholarships, grants, and student loans are the most common methods. However, there may be other ways to get help with your education expenses through incentive and work programs.
Although medical school is expensive, there are some universities that have tuition-free options for students. For example:
- Columbia University: Columbia’s new program replaces student loans with scholarships for medical school students who demonstrate financial need.
- Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine: At Kaiser, all classes starting school through 2024 qualify for free tuition.
- New York University (NYU): NYU awards all medical school students full-tuition scholarships, regardless of merit or financial need.
- Weill Cornell Medicine: At Weill Cornell Medicine, 100% of students’ financial needs are met with grant funding rather than student loans.
Depending on the information you submitted in your FAFSA and the school you choose, you may be eligible for a work-study program. These programs allow you to get a part-time job related to your field and earn money to pay for some of your education expenses.
For example, the University of Minnesota allows medical students to hold graduate assistantships as research and teaching assistants. Those who work at least 10 hours a week can qualify for a waiver of a portion of their tuition fees.
Federal and State Incentive Programs
Other financing options include federal and state incentive programs that help with the cost of medical school in exchange for a commitment to work in a high-need facility for a specific period of time, such as two or three years. There are programs available across the country; for example:
- Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program for Physicians: Will the military pay for medical school? Through the Health Professions Scholarship program for Physicians, yes, the federal government will pay for medical school tuition, fees, equipment, and a monthly stipend until you graduate. To qualify, students must work at least three to four years in active duty service in either the Army, Air Force, or Navy.
- Indian Health Service Health Professions Scholarship Program: In this program, qualified American Indian and Alaska Native students enrolled in eligible medical school programs can get a scholarship that covers tuition, living expenses, and other fees. In return, students must agree to a two-year service commitment working in a Native community as a health professional in an approved Indian health facility.
- National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Scholarship Program: This program covers the cost of tuition and fees, as well as a stipend for other expenses. To qualify, students must commit to working full-time for two years at an NHSC-approved site.
- Arkansas Rural Practice Scholarship Program: To increase the number of healthcare providers practicing within Arkansas, the state launched the Rural Practice Scholarship Program. Students can receive up to $16,500 per year to pay for their education. The awards are loans, but if the student works in a high-need area in an approved facility, the awards are converted to scholarships and no longer need to be repaid.
- New Mexico Loan-for-Service Program: This award gives students loans to pay for school. But if students commit to working in designated healthcare professional shortage areas, a portion of their debt will be forgiven for each year of service. Students can qualify for up to 100% loan forgiveness.
You can search for available opportunities through AAMC’s scholarship database or by contacting your state education agency.
Loan Repayment Assistance Programs
For medical school students who have already taken out federal or private student loans, loan repayment assistance programs can be helpful. These programs repay a portion of your federal or private student loans in exchange for working in critical areas.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): The CDC provides up to $50,000 in loan repayment assistance through its Education Loan Repayment Program for Health Professionals. In exchange, healthcare workers commit to two- or three-year service agreements.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA): The VA’s Specialty Education Loan Repayment Program gives qualifying veterans up to $40,000 per year in loan repayment assistance, up to a maximum of $160,000. In return, veterans must work in a clinical practice at a VA facility for one year for each $40,000 received.
You can find loan repayment programs through the AAMC loan repayment and forgiveness database.
Tips for Paying for Medical School
- Fill out the FAFSA: The FAFSA is used by schools, government agencies, and non-profit organizations to determine your eligibility for some forms of financial aid, so filling it out will help you get as much help as possible.
- Apply for gift aid early: The competition for scholarships and grants can be stiff, so start researching available opportunities early. Make sure to submit your application before the award’s deadline, and don’t be afraid to apply to many awards; you can combine several scholarships and grants to reduce your education expenses.
- Be realistic about working: Medical school can be grueling. While you may think you can work while going to school to reduce the cost, you may find that it isn’t doable with your coursework. Keeping your hours fairly low, such as 10 a week, can make working more manageable.
- Shop around: If you need to take out loans, shop around for the best offers. Rates vary by lender, and you may qualify for a lower rate if you add a co-signer to your application.
What Are the Different Ways to Pay for Medical School?
There are several ways to pay for medical school, but the most commonly used methods include:
- Gift aid, such as scholarships and grants
- Work-study programs
- Federal and private student loans
What Are the Pros and Cons of Medical School Loans?
Medical school loans give you the money you need to pay for your education as an upfront lump sum. They will pay for your entire cost of attendance, allowing you to focus solely on your education.
However, student loans must be repaid with interest. And considering how expensive medical school can be, interest will accrue on a large balance and add a significant amount to your overall debt.
What Are the Requirements for Medical School Financial Aid?
Although requirements vary by school and award, medical school financial aid opportunities usually have the following requirements:
- You must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
- You must be accepted or enrolled in a medical program at a qualifying four-year university.
- You must maintain a strong GPA.
What Are the Best Strategies for Managing Medical School Debt?
Now that you know how to pay for medical school, you can think about how to manage the debt after you graduate. Depending on where you live and the type of loans you have, you may qualify for federal loan forgiveness or state loan repayment assistance for a portion of your debt.
If you have private student loans, you could take advantage of student loan refinancing to get a lower interest rate and save money over time. Regardless of which approach you take, creating a budget, tracking your spending, and making extra payments toward your debt will allow you to become debt-free faster.
Student loan refinancing can be a useful strategy for managing debt, but think twice before refinancing federal loans. Refinancing converts federal loans to private debt, and private loans aren’t eligible for loan forgiveness or other federal loan benefits.
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