What’s the real cost of medical school?

November 10, 2018

Whether you are looking into which schools to apply for or already have your acceptance letters back, it’s no doubt you have nothing but medical school admissions on the brain…but have you given enough thought to what happens once you actually get into the medical school of your dreams?

You’ll invest a lot of money attending medical school for four years—not to mention what you’ll have already spent on primary and secondary applications. The cost of medical school adds up quickly. So, just how much can you expect to pay?

Calculating the true cost of medical school

According to the AAMC, the average cost of attendance for one year at a public medical school (including tuition, fees, and health insurance) was $34,592 for in-state students and $58,668 for out-of-state students in 2016–2017. Tuition and fees at a private school averages well over $50,000 a year regardless of whether you’re an in-state or out-of-state student. Unfortunately, public and private medical schools both increased costs from the previous years.

These numbers represent solely the amount charged by the universities, which means that cost-of-living, books, food, and housing are not included. Even a thrifty student who cuts costs will incur certain necessary expenses outside of what they’ll pay to attend. Plan your medical school budget accordingly!

Finding more affordable tuition and fees

Not all medical schools are that expensive, however. For example, according to U.S. News & World Report’s list of least expensive public medical schools, the Texas A&M Health Science Center costs only $16,432 for in-state tuition. U.S. News also includes University of Texas Health Science Center-San Antonio, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, University of North Texas Health Science Center, University of New Mexico, and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center on their list, given that in-state tuition and fees at these institutions has remained less than $20,000 per year.

If you’re not able to get in-state tuition in Texas, you may want to consider going to one of the most affordable private medical schools such as Baylor College of Medicine ($31,663 per year), Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine ($32,985 per year), or the University of Pikeville ($41,320 per year).

The most expensive medical schools

Even though the cheapest private school option is still twice as much as the cheapest public school option, more affordable private schools are nonetheless not a bad deal—especially considering how expensive the cost of medical school can get.

Tufts University holds the record for being the most expensive medical school, with a whopping $61,436 per year (2013-2014) in tuition and fees. Columbia University, Dartmouth University, Northwestern University, and Case Western Reserve University round out the top five most expensive medical schools in the country. The reputations of these schools may be worth the premium but only if its the right fit for you and seems like a reasonable financial investment for your situation.

Factor in the cost of living

Are you considering cost of living in the location you’re looking? If not, you should be. The cost of living in each city can vary drastically. When looking at total cost of attendance, you should look at factors like rent, food, whether you’ll need a car, and cost of travel home if you’re out-of-state.

These additional factors can tip you over the edge in terms of which schools are most affordable. This is also one of the most individual components of the medical school application and will require some research. The good news is that there are several grants, scholarships, and loans available for incoming medical students.

How to pay for med school

Institutional grants tend to be rare and there are far fewer scholarships available to cover the cost of medical school than are available at the undergraduate level. Fear not—we have some tips for funding your path to a career in medicine. See below for some resources available to you when considering how to pay for medical school:

Student Loans

  • Given the cost of medical school attendance and the difficulty of juggling your education with a part-time job to pay for it, student loans have become the norm. According to the AAMC, the average student loan debt in 2014 was $176,348 with close to half (43%) of those accruing more than $200,000.
  • The medical school financial aid application process is similar to that in undergrad—the school’s financial aid office will have a protocol to follow, which includes filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). After your application has been processed, you will likely qualify for two federal loans, the Direct Unsubsidized Loan (6.21%) and Direct PLUS Loan (7.21%). The first has a limit of $20,500. While the second will cover the remainder of costs, it will require a credit check. The interest that accumulates while you are in school will be added to the overall loan balance when you graduate.
  • It’s important to stay on top of your student loans to monitor for any changes. Talk to your financial aid office to see if they recommend any tools to help you better manage your debt.

HPSP and Military Scholarships

  • A significant number of students each year apply for and accept the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP), which is sponsored by the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force. The Scholarship covers 100% of tuition and supplies, with a stipend given for living expenses every month.  Recipients of the HPSP scholarship are sworn in as officers and will be expected to serve, generally, one year on active duty for every year of the scholarship received (“1-for-1”).  This does not include residency training, whether done in a civilian or military residency.
  • Application for the HPSP is completed via a recruiter, for whom the financial aid office or administration will have contact information. The application process can take a while, especially if there are any issues or roadblocks along the way, so it is best to apply early.
  • The National Guard offers the Medical and Dental Student Stipend Program (MDSSP), which requires some time commitment during school and does not provide as much in the way of incentive, but can nonetheless be an excellent option for those wanting to serve part-time and maintain a civilian career.

The NHSC Scholarship

  • The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Scholarship is not only available to MD/DOs, but also to dentists, NPs, PAs, and DNPs. The NHSC scholarship is run via the US Department of Health and Human Services and provides yet another good option when thinking about how to pay for medical school.
  • Much like the HPSP scholarship, the NHSC scholarship provides tuition, fees, educational costs, and a living stipend in return for a “1-for-1” commitment (minimum two years) at an NHSC-approved, high-need urban, rural or frontier site. Note that you must also pursue residency training in one of the following fields: family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, OB/GYN, psychiatry, or a combination of the above.
  • The NHSC scholarship is quite competitive, with 1,844 applications received in 2014 and only 190 awards given out. If you are dead set on a primary care field and would like to give back to an underserved community, the NHSC is a great way to alleviate the cost of medical school while also helping those in need.

The Professional Student Exchange Program

  • The Professional Student Exchange Program (PSEP) allows students in 10 western states to receive financial support when attending selected professional programs that are not available at public institutions in their home state.
  • While both MDs and DOs are included in the PSEP, other professions such as veterinary medicine, podiatry, PA, physical therapy, pharmacy, optometry, dentistry, and occupational therapy are also supported. For the 2015–2016 year, the amount of support given each year for allopathic medicine (MD) is $32,070 and $21,300 for osteopathic medicine (DO). Many states have a contractual “service payback” obligation in which you must return to your home state after graduation to practice for a certain number of years.
  • A word of advice is to apply early in the year before you plan to attend school, as the standard deadline is October 15th and only applicants who are processed before that date have a realistic chance at the scholarship.


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