By Joe Dyton, WCI Contributor
Just like when you choose a college for your undergraduate studies, choosing a medical school will be a critical factor in your continued education. And because it’s such an important decision, you should consider a number of factors, including the cost of medical school.
While it’s tempting to apply to the most prestigious medical schools, you would be better served to apply to med schools that are the best personal fit (and if they're relatively cheap, that's even better). Now, if the top schools are a good fit for you, that’s fine. Just don’t put status ahead of fit. That’s because fit, not school ranking, will help ensure you get the best medical school education for the best price and that you’ll also have the best possible experience. Keep reading to learn which factors to consider and what questions you should ask as you choose a medical school.
Ask Questions About the Medical School Cost and How to Choose the Right One
You should do your homework before you apply to medical school, not after. Doing so could save you a lot of time (application process) and money (application fees). Here are some questions to ask when you’re deciding what medical school to attend.
What’s the Overall Cost of the Medical School?
Medical school is likely going to be expensive wherever you go, but some institutions cost more than others. As you consider schools, don’t just look at the price tag but also what options are available to help you pay for your education.
Student loans will always be there, but you should also look into financial aid that you don’t have to repay (especially given that the average public medical school debt for the class of 2021 was $194,280 and that 74% of public medical school students said they had education debt, according to the AAMC). Meanwhile, 14% of med school students said that their average student debt between medical school and pre-med education was $300,000 combined. Instead, look for scholarships or grants that your desired school might offer or that you could apply for on your own.
Where you choose to attend medical school could also impact your costs along with your acceptance chances. In terms of getting into a med school, look at the institution’s in-state and out-of-state acceptance rates and see if there’s a big difference between the two. If so, you’ll know if your acceptance odds are better or worse depending on if you live in a school’s respective state.
Location can also factor into the cost of attending med school. A public in-state school is likely your best bet for keeping your costs down. If you’re considering out-of-state public med schools, just know that the tuition is on par with that of a private school.
Of course, attending an in-state public school might not be an option for you, either because you have your heart set on other schools or because there aren't medical schools in your state. If that’s the case, secure as much financial aid to offset the additional tuition you’ll be charged by attending medical school out of state or at a private institution (or both).
Between merit-based and need-based scholarships, private awards, military grants, and student loans, there are a number of ways to help pay for your med school education. There are also med schools that cover their students’ tuition completely to help lower their attendance costs, leaving them to just pay for administrative and living expenses.
What Are the School’s Admission Requirements?
After you determine if you can afford to attend a specific med school, you need to be honest about whether you’ll be accepted. It does not make sense to apply otherwise. Find out how many credits each school you’re looking at requires for your various science-related subjects.
Required coursework varies by school, so don’t assume that the classes you’ve taken will satisfy every med school on your list. Also, check out the average grade point average (GPA) and medical college admissions test (MCAT) scores for each school’s accepted students.
What Is in the School’s Curriculum?
While you’re likely to gain the same skill set regardless of where you go to medical school, how you gain it will vary. Some schools offer a flexible curriculum, while others present the chance to go through a dual degree program. Depending on where you go, you might experience clinical training in your first couple of years of med school rather than waiting until the end. Are you grades-obsessed? If so, you might want to avoid schools that use the “pass/fail” option.
Study the curriculum of each school you want to attend carefully to ensure it contains what you want to study, offers opportunities that interest you, and matches your learning style.
What Is the School’s Student Success Rate?
You want to attend a medical school that develops successful physicians. First, find out how many students complete each med school’s program that you’d like to attend and compare that number to the US average med school graduation rate, which is between 82%-84%.
You also want to know you will have someplace to work and continue learning after you graduate from medical school. Find out how many students at your desired schools were placed into a residency program and obtained residency positions. The higher the number, the better/more respected the school likely is.
What Is Life at the Medical School Like?
A medical school’s offerings should also play into your decision-making process. It’s great to know you’ll get a residency at the end of your schooling, but you also want to thrive and learn as much as you can while you’re in school. Inquire about the school’s faculty-to-student ratio. Find out how many research opportunities might be available to you.
It’s also good to get a feel for student life at any med school you’re considering. See what there is to do in and around the campus during those rare occasions when you’re not studying. If you plan to live on campus, check out the quality of the school’s student housing. What type of extracurricular activities will be available to help you decompress if needed?
Also, what’s your appetite for pressure like? Your answer may dictate what medical school to choose since they all have different levels of competitiveness.
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Talk to Current Students
You should gather as much information as possible about every medical school you’re thinking of attending. What better way to get intel than to talk to people who are already on the journey? First-hand accounts about the quality of education, research opportunities, student life, competitiveness, financial aid, etc., can help you narrow down your med school choices.
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Think About Who to Turn to in Times of Need
Even the less “cutthroat” medical schools will yield a tough environment. During those hard times, who can you go to for help and/or support? Potentially your classmates can provide that, but how certain can you be about that? After all, they will likely have their own struggles to deal with. If you’re the type of person who needs support during tough times, consider programs that are closer to home, friends, and family. Burnout is one of the greatest dangers to your future earnings, and it's best to find ways to mitigate that before you graduate and head into residency.
Decide If the Med School Aligns with Your Passions/Values
When it comes to school and medicine, what matters to you? Do you want to thrive in a highly competitive environment, or are you looking for a more family-like atmosphere? What field of medicine do you think you want to specialize in? Is your heart set on helping underserved communities? Whatever matters to you should also matter to the medical school you attend.
Give Medical Schools a Second Look
Medical schools will often offer recently accepted students a chance to revisit the campus, meet with faculty, and talk with current students. If one of your desired schools does this, seize the opportunity! The second look gives you a chance to ask all the questions you might have about that school before making your decision. Plus, you’ll be among other recently accepted students, giving you a chance to see how you fit in with your prospective future classmates.
The second look is also the time to inquire about the school’s curriculum and student services and to get tips from current students. Financial aid opportunities, residencies, and specialty selection are among the other things you can find out about during this time.
Where you choose to go to medical school will be one of the most important decisions you make in your burgeoning medical career. It should not be taken lightly or based on what you or anyone else deems to be the “best” medical school. Instead, look at how much it will cost you to attend that school, if the curriculum matches what you want to learn and your learning style, the chances for success and residency placement after graduation, the student support system, and more.
You’re going to spend four years in medical school. Make sure you choose a place that will give you a great education in a location where you’ll want to be for that chunk of your life.
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