Explore the Cost of Medical School

You’re probably well aware that medical school is expensive but may be unsure of exactly what costs are involved. Medical school tuition, while the largest expense, is not the only one you’ll face. In addition to tuition and fees associated with medical school, you need to pay for things like books, rent, utilities, food, health insurance, transportation, and other necessities.

Regardless of whether you need financial aid, a solid financial plan starts with researching your expected expenses and formulating a detailed budget.

The prospect of paying for medical school can be especially daunting for students from low-income families and those who are first-generation college students. If you’re unfamiliar with the system, contact a financial aid officer at your prospective med school and let him know. He can guide you through the red tape involved and make sure that you are on track to get the financial support you need.

What is COA (the cost of attendance)?

Tuition and fees for a single year of medical school are well over $40,000 at most private schools and top $50,000 at some. Even going to a public medical school doesn’t mean your education will be inexpensive; tuition and fees for state residents at public schools typically run $20,000 to $30,000. No wonder future medical students often focus on tuition when considering the costs of attending medical school!

However, books, supplies, health insurance, rent, and other living expenses add another $20,000 or so to the total amount you need to pay for each year of school. In fact, the total cost for a student’s expenses, including education and living expenses, has an official name: cost of attendance (COA).

COA is different for each medical school and is part of what financial aid offices use to determine financial need in order to allocate need-based aid. Differences for COA among schools are the product of differences in tuition and fees as well as variations in the cost of housing, transportation, and other items in the budget.

For example, rent is typically higher in major metropolitan areas and lower in rural ones. Conversely, clinical sites at a rural school may be spread farther apart, necessitating a car, while students at urban schools have access to less-expensive public transportation. Each school’s financial aid office determines that school’s COA based on the many factors particular to that program and the area in which it’s located.

The COAs for students attending an individual medical school aren’t necessarily exactly the same. Your COA may be somewhat different from another student’s at your school because of additional allowable expenses added to the COA. For example, a student’s COA may be adjusted to include an allocated amount for childcare expenses.

COA is also valuable to you as a future medical student as you compare the cost for different medical schools and make your own personal budget. You can find the estimated cost of attendance for most medical schools on their websites or (for allopathic schools) in the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) online database available for purchase through the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) site.

For osteopathic medical schools, see the Osteopathic Medical College Information Book, downloadable from the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) site.

Determine your eligibility for aid

How much and what type of financial aid you receive depends on financial need. Financial need is determined by a formula that involves cost of attendance and expected family contribution (EFC). Expected family contribution is the amount that a student and/or his family are expected to pitch in to cover the cost of medical school.

The formula for determining financial need is as follows:

Cost of attendance – Expected family contribution = Financial need

For the purposes of most types of federal loans, graduate and professional students are considered to be independent from their parents. However, when determining the EFC for eligibility for institutional funds (including school-based grants, scholarships, and low-interest loans), medical schools usually factor in the income, assets, and benefits of the student, of his spouse (if applicable), and of his parents.

A medical student may be married or self-supporting for many years prior to medical school, yet most schools still factor in parental contribution when determining EFC to determine need for institutional and certain other need-based funds. (Some schools make exceptions for students who are above a certain age or who are estranged from their parents, allowing such students to apply for institutional aid without providing their parents’ financial information.)

Schools include family contribution when determining need in order to ensure that funds go to students who have the fewest resources.

Students who plan to pay for medical school themselves may be concerned about how they’ll cover the amount designated as EFC if their parents won’t be contributing money toward their medical educations. Don’t worry, though; if this is your situation, you’re not stuck. Many students don’t receive the full EFC from their families for various reasons and use non-need-based federal loans and private loans to cover the EFC.

Note that to receive federal aid you must be a U.S. citizen, national, or permanent resident or be a foreign citizen with asylum or other special status that confers eligibility. Policies regarding institutional aid vary by school, but many restrict certain or all types of school-based aid to U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Because of these policies, financial aid for international students attending U.S. medical schools is very limited.

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