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How to Pay for Medical School in the Real World

If you are currently enrolled in, or have been accepted to, a medical school- congratulations! The path to becoming a physician is an incredible journey. However, this path is not without costs (literally!). Medical school is unbelievably costly. According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, the average student loan debt for those graduating medical school in 2018 was nearly $200,000. Below are the top seven tips for minimizing student loan debt!

1. Taking Out Student Loans

All student loans are not created equal! Many students (myself included!) assume that government/federal loans are more advantageous than any private loans. While this may be true for some loans, it is not always the case. In fact, some private loans will offer much lower interest rates (and even longer grace periods) than federal loans. My medical school, for instance, offered a private alumni loan with a much longer grace period than federal loans. Not only did this loan not accumulate interest during medical school, but the grace period extended for three years after graduating medical school. For me, this loan was a much better option, since it didn’t accumulate interest during my residency time either. The bottom line is to look seriously into all student loan options- private loans are not always worse.

2. Minimizing Living Expenses

Many medical students start medical school with little or no financial savings or support. Unfortunately, this can mean having to use student loans to also help pay for living expenses. It is crucial to minimize living expenses (which will lessen student loan burden down the road!). When deciding where to live, consider living at home, living with a friend or a roommate, or selecting a small/studio type apartment. If you’re living off student loans, medical school is not the time to splurge.

3. Paying off Interest

Every little bit counts! In medical school, if I had over-budgeted one semester or received money as a gift for the holidays, I would always try to put some towards paying off student loan interest. Although it might not seem like it, student loan interest adds up fast. Unfortunately, for many people, at the end of medical school the interest accumulated is capitalized and added to the principle (so going forward you essentially pay interest on interest!). For this reason, keeping student loan interest as low as possible is helpful.

4. Saving

Saving can be very difficult- if not impossible- for most students in medical school. For those who live off loans, there often isn’t much money to spare for savings. However, working before or during medical school (for some) or receiving monetary gifts from family/friends are possible sources of cash flow that could be contributed to saving.

5. Searching out Scholarships

Unfortunately, in medical school, scholarships are few and far between. Most people who gain acceptance into medical school are stellar academic candidates, so the limited scholarships available can be competitive. However, students with certain backgrounds or interests, such as underserved minorities, first generation college students, students highly involved in volunteering or working with the underserved, or students interested in certain medical specialties may have more opportunities. Additionally, students interested in joining the military or the National Health Service Corps could potentially earn free tuition (plus a yearly stipend for living expenses). Additionally, for students interested in working for a public institution after medical school, the public service forgiveness program offers qualified individuals the option for student loan debt to be expunged after making 10 years of regular payments.

6. Support from friends/family

Some students are fortunate that their families can finance all or part of their medical school tuition and/or help with living expenses. For most students whose families cannot provide substantial support, small amounts truly can help. For instance, my parents were able to help pay my cell phone bill while I was in medical school. Other parents help with car payments, health insurance, internet fees, Uworld subscriptions, USMLE fees, or car insurance. If parents or family ask about gifts for holidays or birthdays- these are great suggestions!

7. Seeking out other potential sources of income

Unfortunately, the vast majority of students will not have the time or ability to work outside of medical school. However, if you’re doing well in school and capable of balancing your studies, there are potential options for part time jobs. For instance, tutoring for a private tutoring company (such as Med School Tutors 😊 ) is not only financially beneficial but also an enjoyable way to support/mentor others who may be struggling through medical school. Additionally, some medical schools hire current students to tutor classmates who failed or did poorly on a block exam. At times there may be the option to volunteer as a standardized patient for extra cash, write blogs for a company, or tutor undergraduate students for course work or the MCAT.

It is without doubt that for the majority of students, medical school is an incredibly costly time. However, by living frugally, making smart financial choices, and following the above tips, one can minimize the medical school debt burden.