Navigating Medical School Expenses and Your Financial Future
Whether you’re applying for medical school or are just starting your medical education, this section helps you understand the costs associated with attendance so that you can formulate a money management strategy with clear expectations. Being informed about overall expenses will help you know how much loan money you may potentially need, and what resources you’ll need to seek out, including scholarships and grants.
What's Normal Medical School Debt?
Most students must take on debt to attend medical school because of the high cost of tuition. The average amount of debt for a majority of graduating family medicine residents is more than $150,000. The final loan amount you decide you need will depend largely on your school’s tuition and other factors such as cost of living, United States Medical Licensing Examination® (USMLE) Step 1 and Step 2 examination fees or Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination of the United States (COMLEX-USA) Level 1 and 2 examination fees, and fees and expenses for travel related to residency interviews and conferences. All of these factors are important for success in medical school, but that doesn’t make it any easier to afford them.
Part of assessing your expenses includes asking medical schools’ financial offices about the cost of education at their schools and what kind of assistance and aid they offer.
Get Organized Before You Apply to Medical School
It's easiest to manage your financial aid documents if you have a strategy to track and store your communications, financial information, academic records, scholarship materials, and other financial aid resources. Here are some steps to take early on:
- Make physical and electronic copies of important documents and store the originals in a secure location. Remember that you will need to refer to the materials for years to come.
- Secure sensitive information that includes personal and financial information about you or your family. If you must throw away copies of information, be sure to shred sensitive documents.
- Establish a relationship with an experienced financial aid officer from your college and/or the medical school(s) to which you plan to apply.
Be Prepared for Expenses Along the Way
Here are some common costs that you’ll encounter when you apply to medical school and become a medical student. Keep these medical education expenses in mind when making financial decisions and seeking out payment assistance. Many school websites provide specific information about how much you can expect school to cost when adding in these factors:
- Medical College Admission Test® (MCAT®)/American Medical College Application Service® (AMCAS®) Fees – To apply for medical school, you must first take the MCAT. If you don't have the financial ability to pay for the test, some financial assistance is available through the Fee Assistance Program at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC)
- Living Expenses – Use an online budget calculator to plan your living expenses. If you move to attend medical school, contact the city's chamber of commerce or the medical school's financial aid office to get an accurate estimate of the cost of living (rent, utilities, etc.)
- USMLE Exams and COMLEX-USA Exams – There are a few separate fees you’ll have to pay to take USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 or COMLEX-USA Level 1 and Level 2 tests during medical school. The COMLEX-USA Level 2 exam includes a physical examination portion that is administered at only a couple of sites throughout the U.S., requiring many to incur travel expenses. Students often buy several different study resources to help them prepare for the various required board tests.
- Residency Application Fees and Travel to Interviews – Application fees for programs listed in the Electronic Residency Application Service® (ERAS®) are updated each year. These include a cost per program for each program you apply to, plus other expenses, such as USMLE and COMLEX-USA transcript reports.
- Conferences and Meetings – While conferences and meetings aren’t required, attending them can help you explore specialties, network, and meet residency programs. You may want to travel to them to present research or attend workshops to build up your curriculum vitae (CV). Many medical conferences offer scholarships for students who want to attend, and medical schools may provide stipends to students in some cases.
Undergraduate and Premedical School Loans
You might already be familiar with how loans work because you have some that funded your undergraduate and/or graduate education. Make plans for what you’ll do with this loan debt if you cannot pay it off before medical school begins.
Federal loans have a short grace period after graduation, in which time you do not need to make any payments. Before you begin medical school, you will need to contact your loan servicer(s) to learn what options you have for loan repayment or postponement over the next several years of your education. Some loans (those that are private) will continue to accrue interest while you are in medical school. Each lender is different. For example, a subsidized loan from the federal government can be deferred in medical school without accruing interest.
Financial literacy is crucial during medical school and residency. Use the resources below to better understand how money works and to create your personalized plan for financial success.