TJ PorterBy T.J. Porter, WCI Contributor

It’s no secret that medical school is expensive. The median doctor pays more than $250,000 in tuition for four years of medical education. If you could find a medical school that doesn’t charge tuition, you’d save not only a large amount of money upfront but avoid significant amounts of interest on student loans.

The good news for future physicians is that there are a handful of medical schools that don’t charge any tuition. The bad news is that the list is small and applications are highly competitive—and some come with strings attached.


7 Tuition-Free Medical Schools

If you’re looking to go to medical school without paying tuition, these are some of your options.


Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences F. Edward Herbert School of Medicine

One tuition-free medical school is the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences F. Edward Herbert School of Medicine (USUHS). This school, named for a Louisiana congressman and journalist, is truly free, charging no tuition or fees and offering health insurance to its students free of charge. In fact, you’ll get paid to attend the school, making it the cheapest option.

The catch is that you’re getting paid as an officer of the United States military. You’ll get the base pay of an O-1 officer plus a Basic Allowance for Subsistence and Basic Allowance for Housing. Once you graduate, you won’t owe Uncle Sam a dime for tuition, but you will be locked into spending the next seven years of your life in the military, and you'll likely be earning much less than you would as a doctor outside of the armed forces.

If becoming a military doctor is your goal, this is probably the best school to attend. If you don’t want to join the military, this school won’t be a good fit.


Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine

This Pasadena, California-based medical school is the only truly free medical school in the United States. It charges no tuition, fees, or health insurance premiums, and it has no strings attached like the USUHS does.

However, given its location, it might not be the cheapest option. You might have to pay as much as $35,000 each year to live near campus. That can add up quickly. Also, keep in mind that the school has only promised to waive tuition for classes entering through the fall of 2024, so you have a time limit to apply and get accepted.

free medical school


New York University

NYU has two medical school campuses, one on Long Island and one in Manhattan. The university recently began waiving tuition for its medical school students. Though you’ll still have to pay about $4,000 for fees and medical insurance, dodging the cost of tuition is still a big savings. 

Like Kaiser Permanente, NYU is located in an inexpensive area of the country. You’ll have to account for the cost of living in New York City, which is even higher than it is in Pasadena.


Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine

While it technically charges tuition, the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine offers a full-ride scholarship to all of its students. That means that you won’t have to pay for tuition out of your own pocket.

There are other fees you’ll need to cover, as well as living expenses, which the school estimates at about $22,000-$24,000 per year. Applications are also incredibly competitive. The Class of 2022, the college’s 14th class, had just 32 students selected from a pool of almost 1,800 applicants. That’s an acceptance rate of about 1.78%. 


Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons

Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons also charges tuition, but it offers full-ride scholarships by default to students who demonstrate financial need.

As of the 2019-2020 academic year, students with family incomes under $125,000 were not expected to make a contribution toward their tuition costs. Roughly 20% of students qualify for the full tuition scholarship. If you fall below that income threshold, this may be a way to get a tuition-free medical education. Just keep in mind that you will have to pay other fees and expenses.


Harvard Medical School

Like Columbia, Harvard charges tuition but provides need-based scholarships. Any student with a family income under $100,000 will have their parental contribution waived, meaning that Harvard will cover the full cost of tuition and fees.

The aid lasts for up to eight semesters so long as you meet academic and financial requirements. Harvard also offers other opportunities to finance school, such as fellowships and work-study.


Washington University in St. Louis

In 2019, this school joined the ranks of tuition-free medical schools by offering free tuition to 50% of its students. Unlike Harvard and Columbia, Washington University takes both financial need and merit into account when determining whether to waive tuition, making this a potential option for students from higher-earning families.

Even if you don’t qualify for a full ride, you can also get partial tuition awards for academic merit, so good students can avoid paying sticker price even without a full ride. As with many of these schools, you’ll still be responsible for fees and living expenses.


The Bottom Line

Truly tuition-free medical school is exceedingly rare. If you want to avoid loans, you either have to sign away a few years of your time working for Uncle Sam or get into an incredibly competitive program with acceptance rates in the low single digits. You may have a better chance of finding a medical school that will offer scholarships that fully cover or reduce your out-of-pocket tuition costs.

No matter where you wind up, keep in mind that tuition is just one piece of the puzzle. The cost of applying, fees, and living expenses can add up quickly, so you’ll need to have a plan to cover those costs while you’re in school.

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