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Becoming a doctor can be a tall order. Medical students often spend more than a decade preparing for the profession between college, medical school, residency and specialization. It’s also expensive; a report from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) found that the median four-year cost at U.S. medical schools exceeds $263,000. This may explain why medical students who took out loans left school with an average of $200,000 worth of debt in 2021.
But all costs aside, medical doctors have some of the most generous salaries in the nation, with yearly earnings ranging from $105,000 to over $740,000 a year, depending on their specialization, according to Payscale. Here’s everything you need to know about the cost of attending medical school, including ways to reduce the costs.
Average cost of medical school
The AAMC estimates that resident students at public medical schools pay a median of $263,488 for their four-year education, while resident students at private schools pay a median of $357,868.
But the cost of attending medical school starts with the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), which is required by nearly all schools. The MCAT currently has a $325 registration fee, though the cost goes down to $130 if you qualify for assistance. If you plan on taking prep courses (which is highly recommended), then you’ll need to budget for a few thousand dollars more.
Then there’s the medical school application fee. Most medical schools in the U.S. require students to submit their application through the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), which has a fee of $170 for your first application and $43 for each additional school.
According to the AAMC, the average student in the U.S. applies to 16 schools through the AMCAS — meaning you can expect to spend more than $800 in application fees alone. Some medical schools also require a secondary application fee, which Kaplan estimates can range between $30 and $250, although some schools may waive these fees.
You’ll also need to factor in the cost of taking the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), which is a three-step exam. The first- and second-step exams are typically taken when you’re finishing your second and third year of medical school and are required by most schools to start your residency. The third step is taken during your residency and requires that you’ve passed the previous two exams. Each step is charged separately, and the application fees add up to roughly $2,200.
How the cost of medical school has changed over time
Over the last decade, the median four-year cost of attending medical school has grown by roughly 20 percent, going from $227,000 in 2009 to $272,000 in 2019, according to a report by the AAMC. These prices include not only the cost of tuition and fees, but also living expenses and course materials.
The cost of attending a public vs. a private medical school
Although the AAMC found that the cost to attend public medical schools has grown more quickly than the cost to attend private ones, attending a public medical school is still cheaper than attending a private one. AAMC research shows that during the 2021-22 academic year, first-year students at public medical schools paid a median of $65,085 between tuition, fees and living expenses, while those attending private medical schools paid a median of $90,138 — a 38 percent difference.
Students at public medical schools also graduate with less student debt than those at private schools. The median debt of students at public schools who took out loans was $195,000 in 2021, while those who took out loans at private schools graduated with $220,000 worth of debt.
Average cost of tuition, fees and health insurance for first-year students
|Public resident||Private resident||Public nonresident||Private nonresident|
How much it costs to attend the top medical schools in the U.S.
The cost of medical school varies not only by the type of institution you attend (public versus private), but also by how prestigious your school is. Below are the costs of tuition at some of the nation’s most well-known medical schools, though it’s worth pointing out that the prices listed below are only for the first year of school. The third and fourth year of medical school typically cost more due to the clinical rotations.
|School||Estimated in-state tuition, fees and insurance for first-year students (2022-23)||Estimated out-of-state tuition, fees and insurance for first-year students (2022-23)|
|Baylor College of Medicine||$27,955||$41,055|
|Harvard Medical School||$73,591||$73,591|
|Johns Hopkins School of Medicine||$66,173||$66,173|
|Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine||$75,186||$75,186|
|NYU Grossman School of Medicine||$3,950 (with tuition and health insurance subsidy)||$3,950 (with tuition and health insurance subsidy)|
|Perelman School of Medicine||$73,293||$73,293|
|Stanford University School of Medicine||$71,278||$71,278|
|UCSF School of Medicine||$45,131||$57,376|
|UNC School of Medicine||$37,770 (2021-22)||$65,730 (2021-22)|
|Yale School of Medicine||$71,647||$71,647|
How to pay for medical school
While there’s no denying that medical school is expensive, there are several ways to reduce out-of-pocket costs.
Scholarships and grants
For medical students, a good starting point to look and apply for both scholarships and grants is the AAMC’s aid search engine, where you’ll find dozens of them.
Federal and private student loans
Although scholarships and grants can significantly reduce the cost of attending medical school and are quite easy to come across, they rarely cover all the costs. If you need more money, student loans are the next-best thing to help you bridge the financial gap.
But when it comes to borrowing money to pay for school, make sure you look at federal student loans first. Federal student loans tend to have lower interest rates and offer income-driven repayment options, in addition to the possibility of forgiveness — all of which aren’t available with private student loans. Unlike private loans, federal student loans also don’t require you to have excellent credit or a stable income to qualify, so almost anyone in good academic standing is eligible for them.
Medical students can apply for two types of federal student loans: Direct Unsubsidized Loans and grad PLUS loans. Direct Unsubsidized Loans have an annual borrowing limit of $40,500 and a lifetime borrowing limit of $224,000 for medical students and currently have a fixed interest rate of 6.54 percent. Grad PLUS loans can be taken out for up to your full cost of attendance, as certified by your school, and currently have a fixed interest rate of 7.54 percent.
Another way of reducing the cost of medical school is looking into forgiveness programs. These programs are typically available through your state and are designed to help you tackle any debt you incurred while in medical school.
However, most of the forgiveness programs require you to relocate to rural areas where there’s a high need of medical professionals or to work in public service, which means that you won’t be earning as much as other doctors in a private practice. You’ll also have to commit to a number of years (typically two or more) to be eligible for these programs.
Still, they’re an option worth considering, as you could get a significant portion of your debt forgiven early on in your career.
Medical students can spend more than a decade in school: four years for their bachelor’s degree, four years in medical school, three years of residency and a few more if they decide to pursue a specialization.
Getting into medical school is a highly competitive process. AAMC data shows that applicants and matriculants in the 2021-22 school year had an average GPA of 3.59 and an average MCAT score above 505.9.
The process to get into medical school is as follows:
- Take and pass the MCAT.
- Prepare a personal statement of roughly 500 words about why you would like to attend medical school, as you’ll be asked to submit this as part of your application.
- Submit applications to several schools through the American Medical College Application Service. The application currently costs $170 for the first school and $43 for each additional school you want to apply to. You’ll want to submit your applications early in the summer (May) so you can hear back from the schools as soon as possible.
- Once your applications through the American Medical College Application Service are verified by the schools, you’ll be asked to submit a secondary application. This secondary application is for the school itself and will only be sent to you if the school thinks you’d be a good fit. For this secondary application, you’ll be asked to answer a few questions in the form of an essay about yourself and your interest in medical school.
- If your secondary application catches the interest of the school, you’ll be asked to come for interviews, which is the final step of the application process. If those go well, then you will be admitted.
The cost of medical school varies depending on the type of school (public versus private) and how prestigious it is. According to the AAMC, the median four-year cost of public medical schools is $263,488 for resident students, while resident students at private schools pay a median of $357,868.
Medicine is one of the most challenging fields of study, with countless hours studying required to absorb an incredible amount of knowledge in a short period of time. Some classes may also have a pass or fail format, which can add a lot of stress. However, in the end, the reward could be very well worth it.
The best medical school for you depends on your personal preferences and career goals. However, some of the most popular medical schools in the U.S. are:
- Harvard Medical School.
- NYU Grossman School of Medicine.
- Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
- David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
- Duke University School of Medicine.
- Baylor College of Medicine.
- Stanford University School of Medicine.
- Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
- Georgetown University School of Medicine.
- Eastern Virginia Medical School.