[Editor's Note: Today's guest post was submitted by Morgan Sweere, an MS2 at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences pursuing an MD/MPH degree. I get frequent questions about medical school scholarships. Although far more rare than undergraduate scholarships, they are out there and they are a great way to reduce your debt burden as a doc. We have no financial relationship. ]
Starting as a child and even into my teenage years, I grew up watching my parents be very financially responsible and work hard to avoid mistakes. Both of my parents worked several jobs to pay off their house before I went to college. Every Saturday night that I was home, I stayed up with my mom until the end of the Suze Orman show to watch the “Can I Afford It?” section. It became a game with my mom and I to see just how DUMB some of the financial choices the show’s guests were making. They would call with thousands of dollars in debt, asking if they could buy some luxury item of their choosing. It was obvious to me, even as a young child, how this was not a smart way to manage personal finances. This encouraged me to self-educate about finances as well. However, despite this exposure, I still found it difficult at times to avoid spending money frivolously and to not be envious of others.
Fortunately, my parents helped keep me on track. When I was starting to apply for colleges, I had a different approach than a lot of my friends. I distinctly remember my parents stating to me several times “If you want to go to college, get a scholarship.” Loans were simply not an option in our household. I started looking at colleges around the state, studying heavily for my ACT, and applying for private scholarships during my junior and senior year of high school. However, if there was one thing I knew at this point, it was that I WAS NOT EVER going to the university in my hometown because “I had to get away.” This was obviously a clear-minded, logical teenager talking here.
Choosing a Local Full-Ride Undergraduate Scholarship
Although I had several offers for full-ride scholarships to other schools in my state, to please my parents I interviewed for the Honors College at the university in my hometown. To my surprise they had a lot to offer, not to mention a high acceptance rate to professional schools. Not only could I receive a full scholarship, but also an apartment-style “dorm” for the honors kids with my own room, and a textbook stipend.
I changed my mind at the last possible second (literally May of senior year) to attend the local hometown university and I have never looked back. It was probably one of the best decisions of my life as I was able to not only graduate debt-free, but also get heavily involved in leadership opportunities and internships, meet my now husband, and even go home during my lunch break to permanently borrow food from my parents’ pantry.
Our Debt Aversion
Because I was so blessed with undergraduate scholarships, I was quite naïve when it came to apply for medical school loans. I wanted to graduate debt-free, but it was not an option for me due to neither my parents nor me being able to cash flow the significant tuition. I did the thing I dreaded most—took out loans.budgeting, insurance, retirement, and how to pay off debt. I also got involved in the Honors in Finance track at my school, which involved taking a Business in Medicine course that taught me a lot about the financial struggles specific to physicians, the available financial options and opportunities that exist, and how to begin to navigate our financial path.
Since medical school tuition is so high and funds for a newly married couple are very limited, we couldn’t quite get started on paying down the loans, even though we didn’t have any other debt. My student loan debt was only beginning to accrue, and we knew it would painstakingly continue over the next four years. However, we had to devise a plan because the accumulating debt was already daily haunting us in the back of our minds. First, we wanted to take out as little loan money as possible, so during my first year I took out tuition only (still about $35k a year). We worked hard to return any excess loan money and saved what we could from our income.
Secondly, we earned money wherever we could. Despite being in graduate school, my husband works as a teacher during the week and at the mall every weekend. I make extra money during school working at my hometown hospital almost every weekend as a phlebotomist, dog sitting (pretty easy when you’re home studying all day) and working at other odd end jobs.
Private Medical School Scholarships
My hard work has also had a third focus which is somewhat more obscure for a medical student – scholarships. Although some schools have institutional scholarships, the number of students who receive them are few and far between. I, unfortunately, fell into this group, so I set out to find private scholarships to defer the cost of tuition.
My journey was met with skepticism from my mentors, local physicians, and teachers – “There simply aren’t any. Just be okay with the debt.” Be okay with it?! I wasn’t pleased, and I wasn’t going to stop there. I set out on a search over my fall break trying to scrounge up any scholarships for which I would be eligible.
Internet Search For Scholarships
Searching “medical student scholarships” wasn’t very useful, so I had to get inventive. I searched for general university scholarships, such as those open to all graduate students or any student at a university. I had to dig deep, but I found that the long lists on college scholarship websites were actually very helpful, though somewhat time-consuming on the front end.
Although some scholarships have narrow eligibility criteria, with hard work and persistence I was able to find ones that had very general criteria. I ended up making a list in my Notes app on my computer, and it has grown exponentially over the year such that I am now applying for several scholarships in any given week.
Finding Time to Apply for Scholarships
Medical school curriculum is definitely tough, and it makes it hard to have free time to do things you need to do, much less things you want to do. I look at writing scholarship essays like other people look at going to the gym or spending time with family. It’s important to me, so I make time. I spend twenty minutes a day. That’s right—2-0. I spend twenty minutes per day writing essays, which after almost a year, have compiled into quite a large folder.
Many scholarships have similar essay criteria, so I can utilize previous writings and morph them into a new essay quite easily. I’ve always enjoyed writing, so I feel like I am doing something fun to contribute to our financial success in the future. For my M1 year, I won $2000 in private scholarships, and I have already received over $3000 in scholarships for my M2 year. If twenty minutes a day could save you thousands in medical school debt, why would you not do it?
Helping Other Medical Students
My goal in writing this is to help other medical students recognize that with persistence, time, and effort, they can make a big impact on their future financially. I also want to bring awareness that although there is an unfortunate lack of scholarships available to future physicians, they are available. I will share a list of 25 scholarships students can apply for this semester by taking just twenty minutes out of their day. The scholarships are organized by month, so they can be done chronologically throughout the school year. Each of these scholarships are available to all medical students based on the eligibility criteria. There are many more scholarships out there—students just have to get out there and find them!
There are many things that can make someone successful with money, but after growing up watching my parents, I think the main factor is work ethic. If you want to get rid of your debt, be financially successful, and minimize your future debt burden, then I truly believe you have to hate the debt so much that you’re willing to work to get rid of it. That hard work to reduce and eliminate debt can manifest in a variety of ways, but the reward of financial freedom is worth it.
25 Scholarships Available to Future Physicians
- McLean DDS Medical Scholarship
- White Coat Investor Scholarship
- Cystic Fibrosis Awareness
- Prosper Law Scholarship for Future Medical Professionals
- Arctic Physical Therapy Scholarship
- IVein Health and Wellness Scholarship
- Credit Repair Co Scholarship
- Win Back Your Life Scholarship
- Access to Education Scholarship
- Laborde Earles Scholarship
- BooksRun Scholarship
- Mesothelioma Scholarship
- ClothingRIC Scholarship
- Cost-Conscious Student Scholarship
- Acumen Velocity Scholarship
- Save a Life Scholarship
- CompHealth Medical Scholarship
- Healthy Lifestyle Scholarship
- Aegis Law Firm Scholarship
- Medical Scrubs Collection Scholarship
- SwopSmart Scholarship
- HealthWholeness Scholarship
Did you receive a scholarship for Medical School? How have you searched for scholarships? What scholarships would you encourage medical students to apply for? Comment below!