How to Pay for Medical School in the Real World
- Aug 05, 2022
- Reviewed by: Amy Rontal
So, all of your hard work and medical school prep have paid off. Now 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 Association of American Medical Colleges, the median student loan debt for those graduating medical school in 2019 was $200,000. Below are top nine tips from Blueprint Prep for minimizing student loan debt!
Taking out student loans
All student loans are not created equal! Many students (myself included!) assume that government/federal loans are more advantageous over any private loans. While this may be true for some loans, it is not always the case. In fact, some private loans will offer a much lower interest rate (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 medical residency time either.
The bottom line is to look seriously into all student loan options- private loans are not always worse. And, remember the FAFSA from your undergrad years (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)? According to salliemae.com, the FAFSA could qualify you for the following: Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan: Medical students can borrow this type of loans (sometimes called “Stafford Loans”). Organizations like the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), AAMC, and Sallie Mae, amongst many others, have good resources on their websites to research what types of loans may be right for you.
Minimizing living expenses
Other than the pressure of how to retain information in medical school, many 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 expense. It is crucial to minimize living expenses (which will lessen your 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. But, if you find yourself needing to live off those medical school loans, there are a few sites that can help you make it through. Nerdwallet.com, studentloanhero.com, and studentaid.gov all have ideas and resources to help.
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 toward 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. Sources like forbes.com, bankrate.com, and studentaid.gov all have good information regarding paying off medical school loans faster.
Saving can be very difficult—if not impossible—for most medical school students. 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 toward savings.
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.
It is always worth checking locally for scholarships , such as Rotary clubs, nonprofits, and hospitals. Also, your specific medical school might offer great opportunities. Brown University created a great resource for specific school scholarships. It may take some time researching online, but it could pay off if you are able to secure a scholarship. Unlike loans, scholarships (and grants) don’t have to be paid back!
, or National Institutes of Health could potentially earn free tuition (plus a yearly stipend for living expense if military). 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 (more info below).
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!
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.
Although not an industry standard, some employers will help reimburse student debt if you are a highly attractive candidate or are willing to work in an unpopular location. This “benefit,” which is really another way of paying you, can be useful in situations where salary is limited to a narrow range. Alternatively, working for the Department of Veterans Affairs qualifies you for their Education Debt Reduction Program. Working for a qualified employer (VA, military, academics, non-profit) opens up the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, where the student loan repayment is tied to income and capped at 120 payments. This can be a boon for long residencies and low-paying specialties, but with high physician salaries and shorter medical residency requirements, it may make more sense to refinance or pay down the debt.
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.