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Charting A Course to Medical School: PART XI

This is one of the topics most of you have been waiting for! Let's talk about Financial Aid ....

Financial aid is becoming more scarce today for students pursuing careers in the medical field. Some alternatives are employment, aid directly from a private source, federal scholarship programs and grants, and federal loans. The funds necessary for medical education today can no longer come directly from medical schools. Students must seek financial aid alternatives outside their college.

Aid granted directly from private sources is very difficult to find. Nevertheless, there are many foundations willing to support your education. The best scholarship foundations are those with large assets located within your state and particular area of interest. For example, some hospitals and other large health-care-providing organizations offer scholarships to students willing to commit a few years of service to their organization ("support-for-service" aid). Some states offer their own loan-repayment programs (largely support-for-service), but these vary widely from state to state.

Federal scholarship programs for medical students are very limited. There are two such programs: The Exceptional Financial Need Scholarship, which requires primary care commitment, and the Financial Assistance for Disadvantaged Health Professions Students Scholarship. In general, scholarships -- gift aid -- are largely need based only.

The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Scholarship Program is an excellent program sponsored by the United States Department of Health and Human Services Public Health Service. The NHSC offers competitive support-for-service scholarships for tuition and educational fees, books, supplies, as well as a monthly stipend. All citizens enrolled in U.S. allopathic or osteopathic medical schools are eligible. Recipients are obligated to serve in physician shortage areas as assigned by the NHSC. The minimum service obligation for this program is two years. The NHSC gives preference to persons with primary care specialty goals and students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds (and/or come from primary care deficient areas). Highest priority is given to individuals who are former recipients of the NHSC Scholarship Program.

Most of the financial aid money available to medical students comes in the form of loans, e.g. the Federal Stafford Loan for students ($8,000 for two semesters), the Federal Supplemental Loan for students ($10,000), and the Health Education Assistance Loan (HEAL). Other types of loans include MEDLOANS, Health Professions Loans (primary care commitment only), and Loans for Disadvantaged Students.

To receive federal loans you must first find a private lender (all lenders are required to charge the same interest rate on federal loans) and consider the individual nuances of each type of loan in relation to your situation. For instance, although Federal Subsidized Stafford Loans are more difficult to qualify for, the government pays the straight eight percent interest for these loans as long as students do not work; the government does not do this with Federal Unsubsidized Loans.

The search for financial aid is very tedious. The first step is to find out whether your prospective medical college and/or university processes loans and other aid; the second is to seek them out for advice. Most schools have financial aid advisement centers and all schools have an office responsible for processing financial aid. Use both of these resources to create a realistic budget and find advice about locating the kind of aid most appropriate for your situation.

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