[Editor's Note: This guest post was submitted by Jacob Sorenson who is currently a first-year medical student at the University of Arizona, Tucson. He wrote the following in an email to me: “I first found the podcast for The White Coat Investor about a year ago which led me to purchase the book. I’ve always been inclined to know more about finances, but it was always difficult to get a simplified guide. The White Coat Investor book broke finances down for me and taught me how it applied specifically to my profession. I don’t come from a wealthy family, but I worked hard from the start of my academic journey. I earned many scholarships throughout my undergrad, the largest being a national scholarship from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation that awarded me up to $40,000 a year for my undergraduate degree and then $75,000 for medical school. I am lucky to have a beautiful, hard-working wife that is supportive of my goals. Without her, this article wouldn’t be possible.” Approximately 1/4 of medical students graduate debt-free. Some of those have major commitments (like the military commitment I had) that are pretty much the equivalent of financial debt. Others come from a wealthy family. But I thought this post was worth running because Jacob was in neither of those categories. We have no financial relationship.]
I would like to preface with saying I know I am only a first-year medical student and I know very little when it comes to financial topics and investments. One thing I do know and understand is how to not lose money. I obsess over not losing money in everything that I do. This does not mean I don't spend money on things I want or need, but it means I do everything in my power to use my money wisely and not accrue debt. This tends to be one of the biggest issues a college and medical student can and should focus on. I want to share my story and hopefully, to inspire others to work hard during their undergraduate careers. I figure I can either sacrifice and work hard while I am young, or live a difficult life in the future.
My Two Goals
#1 Graduate Undergraduate School Debt Free
I don’t come from a wealthy family by any means and I married young. I am pretty sure the day we got married, my wife and I had a collective bank account of about $1000. The future was scary and exciting, but I had a vision for where I wanted my life to go. My two main goals once I began college were to graduate debt free and enter medical school. SCHOOL IS EXPENSIVE and I was terrified of debt. I wanted nothing to do with student loans. Despite being told by many people that beginning in community college would basically ruin all chances of entering medical school, I figured going into debt for the same type of education was beyond stupid. I did not have the financial means to enter a university and pay for it without student loans. Beginning with community college ultimately was the best decision I made.
#2 Enter Medical School
Don’t get me wrong, I had to work awfully hard in order to stand out, but every second of volunteering, studying, and participating in extracurricular events set me apart as a scholarship applicant, as well as a medical school applicant. Grades throughout my undergrad were a steady 4.0 GPA. I did not want to give anyone an excuse as to why I was not a qualified student and medical school prospect. This hard work translated to over 35 scholarships totaling over $300,000 that fully paid for my undergraduate degree and living expenses. At a certain dollar amount, I hit a cap and was not allowed to receive any more funding, but the connections I made through these scholarships put me on a new level.
I am now an allopathic medical school student at my state school. I ultimately chose this school because of the great education and experiences I would receive, and also the attractive in-state tuition was hard to overlook. I had scanned over the match lists from previous years and saw that students went to top residency programs on a yearly basis and that I would not be at a disadvantage going to a school that is ranked in the middle on the U.S. News and World Report. Again, it made no sense to go to a private school or pay out-of-state tuition if I had all the opportunity in the world at my state school. To top it off, my wife was offered a job at the university I will attend and I now am eligible to receive spousal benefits. This knocks down my tuition from nearly $32,000 a year, to only a few hundred dollars in lab fees! I also was offered a graduate scholarship from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation that grants me $75,000 for the four years (and, granted me $40,000 a year for my undergraduate degree), along with other minor scholarships. If we live and plan correctly, we will come out making a few thousand dollars each year, rather than taking out tens of thousands of dollars each year in student loans. We can potentially graduate DEBT FREE FROM MEDICAL SCHOOL.
How You Can Graduate Med School with Minimal Debt
#1 Anyone Can do This
I am not an outlier. I am an average student who happened to work extremely hard and smart. I honestly believe and know that if you want to graduate debt free, there are vast amounts of resources at your school and online.
#2 Find Scholarships
#3 Community College over a University
Don’t be afraid to begin at a community college if that helps you graduate debt free. The myth that you cannot enter a great medical school is merely a myth. I believe it is also easier to stand out in community college, but it does take work. That leads me to my next point.
#4 Choose the Less Expensive Medical School
I know here at the White Coat Investor it has been pointed out, but it is a true statement. You will not be at a disadvantage going to your state school for in-state tuition. If you are worried about two schools, look up their match list, I can almost guarantee people have matched at phenomenal residency programs in-state.
#5 It Doesn’t Take Much to Stand Out
Another physician mentor of mine told me, “In today’s world, it does not take much to stand out.” The truth to this statement is so blatantly obvious to me now, but I never realized it until he said it. A little work goes a long way and those that put in the time and effort now are guaranteed a reward later.
#6 Thoughtfully Enjoy Your Money
This does not mean saving every penny you ever earn. One of my dear mentors, a highly successful physician who created an entire healthcare company once told me, “Do not live a life that puts a burden on your wife.” At one point, I tried to save everything we had without enjoying the life we were creating. Don’t do what I did, but also don’t spend money on unnecessary items.
#7 Enjoy your life
Have fun! I know, I know, how cliché of a comment can this be? But I have lived a fulfilling and happy life throughout the last four years, even with the hours of work it took to attain what I have today. I played video games, golfed every now and then, won softball championships, hiked on almost a weekly basis with my wife and golden retriever, and frugally traveled to many places in the world. There is a balance in which you can reap the rewards of your hard work and also live life to the fullest.
Future Implications of Having No Student Loan Debt
The future implications of graduating debt free go much farther than the surface level of not stressing about loans to pay off. I now have a worry-free education where I can choose a specialty of my choice not based on average salary. Too many students go into hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt and sometimes choose to go into a specialty that they may not love, but enter in order to make more money. Also, from the day I enter residency, I will be able to finally start saving and investing. Based on the principles and information from The White Coat Investor and other financial resources, I have a solid foundation on how to become financially successful.
My two main goals as a fresh college student were to enter medical school and graduate my undergrad with zero debt. I never imagined I would be able to graduate medical school without a dollar in student loans. You never know what will come of the hard work you put in now! Be smart from the beginning. Have that vision for where you want to go. Then go out there and get it. I hope this post helps students to make the decisions early in life to be financially free from the beginning. You may be in a completely different situation, but I expect that you use this article as an inspiration to graduate debt free in your own way. It is possible no matter where you are from, how much money you have, or what obstacles you face.
What do you think? Do you think it's possible for most docs to graduate from medical school debt free? What advice do you have for finding scholarships? Did you (or others you know) attend a community college before acceptance into medical school? Comment below!