How to pay for medical school without going completely broke

There are several ways to pay for medical school without incurring tons of debt. (iStock)

Applying for medical school can be a challenging task since undergraduate students begin applying in the spring and summer between their junior and senior years of college after they receive their scores from the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

Potential students then interview at medical schools and must make their final decision in April. The process to apply for financial aid to medical school starts with a student completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) beginning Oct. 1 of the year before they wish to enter medical school.

The average medical student completes his or her training with more than $200,000 in debt, in addition to undergraduate debt, said Dr. Jaewon Ryu, CEO of Geisinger, a Danville, Pa.-based hospital and healthcare company. 

“This is often a significant financial setback for newly minted physicians, especially those in certain specialties,” he said. “Many experts point to the rising debt from medical education as a contributing factor for the accelerating primary care shortage the country is currently facing. Reducing this debt burden makes it more likely that students can pursue the passion for community medicine that inspired many young doctors to consider a career as a physician.”

Ways to pay for medical school

There are several ways for students to pay for medical school. Here are seven tips:

1. Seek federal financial aid via FAFSA.

2. Find schools that either offer free tuition or tuition assistance such as the Geisinger Primary Care Scholars Program, which provides full tuition assistance and a living expense stipend for medical students who will work for Geisinger for four years as a primary care physician upon the completion of their training. 


“It’s among the first programs in the country to subsidize medical school tuition to help budding doctors pursue a passion for primary care,” Ryu said. “The program not only offers medical students the opportunity to pursue a passion for primary care, but it also opens up the opportunity for a more diverse group of applicants to attend medical school in the first place. Many members of our program are the first in their families to attend college.”

The New York University (NYU) School of Medicine said in January that its MD degree program will be tuition-free for all current and future students.

3. Seek out employers who contribute a monthly stipend to employees’ student loans.

4. Apply for scholarships from universities and local and national foundations.

5. Obtain federal and private student loans.

6. Work a part-time job as a teaching or research assistant.

“Medical students, with the exception of first-year students, can also take jobs as teaching or research assistants, which offers additional income and in some instances will reduce tuition costs,” said Dr. Darryl Anderson, the director of the medical program at Plaza College in New York.


7. Enroll in a service program operated by the military or government that will pay for medical school.

There are several ways medical school graduates can pay down their student loans. Start by signing up for bill pay or auto-pay so you can avoid late payment charges and have to fork over more money. The six-month grace period after graduation ends quickly.


Check out the programs where your loans can be forgiven, such as the Federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)  for people who have qualifying public service jobs and made 120 on-time payments on an income-based repayment plan or the National Health Service Corps Students to Service Loan Repayment Program. Apply in your last year of medical school if you can work for at least three years in a rural area. You could qualify for up to $120,000 toward the loans.

Another option is to choose income-driven repayment forgiveness. If you received a federal student loan, you can qualify for loan forgiveness under one of four Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plans and become eligible for loan forgiveness after 20 or 25 years. These include the Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE), Pay As You Earn (PAYE), Income-Based Repayment (IBR) and Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) programs.

Refinance your student loans to a lower interest rate or consolidate them as a strategy to pay them off sooner, said Alyssa Schaefer, head of product and strategy at Laurel Road, a New York-based lender.