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Medical school can create a lot of opportunities for a rewarding and lucrative career. But it's also incredibly expensive, with many students easily racking up more than $200,000 in student loan debt.
Understanding the costs of medical school and how to handle student loans can make it easier for you to prepare and possibly even reduce how much you need to borrow while you're in school.
How Much Does Medical School Cost?
The cost of attending medical school goes far beyond just tuition and fees. You'll also need to pay for textbooks, supplies and equipment, transportation and other living expenses.
Here's what first-year students can expect to pay for their first year in medical school, as well as over the full four years:
|Median Cost for Public and Private Medical School for 2021-2022|
|Public Medical School||Private Medical School|
|Median in-state tuition and fees for the first year||$40,562||$65,650|
|Median in-state total cost of attendance for the first year||$65,085||$90,138|
|Median in-state total cost of attendance over four years for the class of 2022||$263,488||$357,868|
Source: Association of American Medical Colleges
As you can see, attending a private medical school is significantly more expensive than attending a public school. Also, note that these figures are for in-state tuition. If you're planning to attend a medical school in another state, you'll want to double-check the tuition numbers to see if it's affordable.
How Many Students Take Out Student Loans for Medical School?
The cost of medical school is staggering, so it's no wonder that 73% of students take out student loan debt, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Among graduates in the class of 2021 who took out student loans, the average balance is $203,062. What's more, nearly 1 in 5 medical school graduates have more than $300,000 in student loan debt.
On top of student loans, 10% of medical school students have credit card debt, with a median balance of $4,000.
How to Pay Off Medical School Student Loans
As a medical school graduate, your student loan burden will be significantly heavier than that of many other college graduates, so you may feel a lot of pressure to have a plan for paying off your student loans. Here are some steps you can take.
There are many government-run loan repayment assistance programs designed to help health care professionals to pay down their loans. You can check with both federal and state agencies to see which options are available. You can also get help paying down your student loans if you join the military or meet the requirements for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
Avoid Deferring in Residency
Medical school graduates don't earn a lot in residency, at least in comparison to what can be earned once residency is complete, but federal student loan payments start six months after graduation.
While many graduates request additional deferment in residency, loans will continue to accrue interest, which will be capitalized (added to the loan principal) when deferment is over and increase the principal loan balance.
As a result, it's a good idea to avoid deferring your loans while you're in residency, if possible.
Consider an Income-Driven Repayment Plan
If you have federal student loans, income-driven repayment plans reduce your monthly payment to between 10% and 20% of your discretionary income. This can be helpful during residency and also after you start your career because it makes your payments more affordable.
What's more, income-driven repayment plans stretch your repayment term to 20 or 25 years. After that period is over, any remaining balance you have will be forgiven. Just keep in mind that this option isn't available for private student loan borrowers.
Make Extra Payments
If you have room in your budget, try to pay more than your standard monthly payment. If you have different interest rates on your loans, focusing on paying down the loans with the highest interest rates will maximize your interest savings.
Refinance Your Student Loans
If you don't plan to take advantage of loan forgiveness programs, loan repayment assistance programs or income-driven repayment plans, refinancing your loans with a private lender could be worth considering.
This could be especially helpful if you have relatively high interest rates and can qualify for a much lower rate through a private lender—even a small reduction in your interest rate can mean huge savings with a six-figure balance.
Refinancing can also give you a little more control over your monthly payments, with repayment terms ranging from five to 25 years, depending on the lender and your needs. Having a good credit score can help you secure better terms on your new loan and make this option more beneficial.
How to Minimize Borrowing for Medical School
If you're already a medical school student or you're thinking of attending after you finish your undergraduate degree, it's important to research how to reduce your need for student loans.
Here are some other steps you can take to borrow less for your medical degree:
- Choose your school wisely. It's not necessary to attend a private university to get a quality education, and if there are good schools in your state, it'll cost you less than if you were to go out of state. If you are considering a school that's out of state, it may be worth it to establish residency in the state before you apply, so you can qualify for in-state tuition.
- Take some time to work before applying. It's not uncommon for medical school students to take a gap year between their pre-med degree and medical school. If you do so, consider getting a job in the field you want to pursue. This approach gives you the chance to earn some money to help defray the costs of at least your first year in medical school, and it can also give you some experience to display on your application.
- Look for scholarships and grants. Start by filling out the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each school year. Your school's financial aid office will use the information you provide to determine whether you qualify for need-based scholarships. Your school may also offer other scholarships that can cut your costs even more. Finally, take the time to search scholarship websites like Scholarships.com and Fastweb to see if you qualify for the millions of opportunities that are available.
- Get help from your employer. If you're a military service member, you can get help paying your tuition in exchange for your service over a set period. Additionally, some private employers may offer tuition help, although it may not cover the full amount.
Start Building Credit Now to Prepare for the Future
As a college student, you generally don't need to worry about having good credit, especially if you only use federal student loans. But once you graduate, you may want to borrow money to buy a house, a car or another large purchase. And if you're considering refinancing your student loans at some point, your credit score generally needs to be high.
As a result, it's crucial to start building credit as soon as possible. Experian Go™, a free program, helps you establish your financial identity by creating an Experian credit report. You'll also get free access to your Experian credit report and FICO® Score☉ once it's available, which you can use to track your progress.
As you take intentional steps to build your credit sooner rather than later, you'll be in a better financial position as you transition to your career.