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How About The Cost Of Applying To Medical School?!

September 9, 2008

Several articles appeared today discussing the exorbitant cost of attending medical school.  Maggie Mahar at the Health Beat Blog discusses free tuition and the need to control medical school costs here.  I have addressed this issue here.

What struck me about Mahar’s discussion of the subject was a quote at the end of her article:

According to the NEJM, a recent national survey of under-represented students reveals that the cost of attending medical school was the number-one reason they did not apply.

I have no doubt that many under-represented students hear figures like $140,000 in debt and plainly quiet any inner voice telling them to pursue a MD.  However, I also wonder how many students do the math, realize that the tremendous earnings potential of a physician would help pay off that mountain of debt, but also realize they can’t even afford to pay to apply to medical school.

How much does it cost to apply to medical school?

At a minimum, $370.  This covers ONLY the MCAT fee ($210) and the AMCAS fee for one school ($160).  This does not include any sort of preparation material for the MCAT, fees for applying to more than one school (rarely would a person put in the enormous amount of effort to simply reach the application process for medical school–4 years of hard science–and put all their eggs in one basket by applying to one school), secondary application fees (which are generally about $100 per school), or travel expenses for visiting a school for an interview.

MIT’s Career Office conservatively estimates the cost of applying to 15 medical schools to be between $3,414 and $4,290 (see slide 29; also note–this estimate doesn’t include any prep materials for the MCAT which can cost up to $2,000 alone).

Those familiar with the process will say, “Wait!  There’s a Fee Assistance Program to help these kids cover those costs!”  Yes, it’s true, there is a Fee Assistance Program for qualifying student.  This program, however, only reduces the costs of the MCAT and AMCAS application.  Some of the other big ticket items are not covered under any assistance program; no assistance program that I’m aware of will provide for travel costs associated with interviewing at different schools.

Under some fairly reasonable and conservative assumptions, simply applying to medical school could cost upwards of $5,000. This alone represents a substantial barrier for under-represented students.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. MS2 permalink
    September 15, 2008 4:27 pm

    The price of airfare has gone up so much that it adds a significant amount to the cost of applying. Especially if one is from an region with few medical schools (Western US sans California).

  2. September 15, 2008 6:55 pm

    Agree with all points and was my own personal experience 18 years ago.

  3. Scott permalink
    September 15, 2008 11:07 pm

    I think if you’re humoring the idea of paying exorbitant out of state tuition at some far away (or sometimes not so far away) public school, a few extra bucks on travel is the least of your worries.

  4. September 16, 2008 5:44 am

    This is something I’m struggling with right now. I will be applying to medical school next year, but am having trouble covering the cost of living and trying to save at the same time. I live a very frugal life, but unfortunately my job doesn’t pay much. Any ideas?

  5. GreenWeaver permalink
    September 16, 2008 8:56 pm

    YES. This is so true and really crappy to deal with.

    Scott: Oh, please. Even if you are lucky enough to have a state school or more than one nearby, it’s going to be hugely expensive to attend. No one is planning to be able to pay for actual medical school without a royal ton in loans. The application process you have to pay for with money you have already before actually getting into school and qualifying for the loans you will use to pay for that later. Applying to med school while a student or recent college grad with a low-paying job can make it next to impossible to apply to medical school without help from your family.

  6. Frank permalink
    September 16, 2008 10:15 pm


    1. Do not apply to 15 med-schools; apply to 5 LIKELY to accept you. You have now reduced those costs by 67%.

    2. Does Kaplan-prep help? Perhaps at the margin — 3% to 5% improvement. So would not partying on weekends, fixating on Facebook, and wasting time watching ESPN. For the record — none of my Ivy-level friends took Kaplan — we didn’t have the money and we just sucked it up. As in, studying like MFs.

    If you think you are a victim — you are. And everyone will know it.

    • Theresa permalink
      April 13, 2011 1:40 am

      So what, your solution is to have no life? I wish that I was such a robot that all I did was study all of college, but instead I made friends, was a part of the band, and made some amazing memories. I skipped plenty of parties, and have in fact had a part time job all of college so that in a month when I apply to medical school I actually can. HOWEVER, at my career center appointment they told me to apply to at MINIMUM 15 schools, and I didn’t work this hard to mess it up by not applying to enough places. The fact of the matter is, adding up all the costs I wonder how I am going to pay for food the month after I apply to medical school.

  7. Luca permalink
    December 3, 2008 2:26 am

    well I better start saving now LOL ( sophmore year in college – age 25, late bloomer )

  8. April 8, 2011 11:48 am

    I’m currently grappling with the costs of applying to med school. The costs have only gone up since this posting. 😦

  9. Jackie permalink
    May 5, 2012 2:59 am

    Apply or not apply to med school? Big question! I am so confused. Medical School is EXPENSIVE! Total cost is outrageous! Is it worth it though???? Oh, my! I need to make up my mind quick!

  10. Recently Accepted permalink
    May 15, 2012 7:11 pm

    Some tips:

    1) Apply early. Submit your primary as early as possible in June, and your secondaries as soon as possible. The prompts are often repeated year to year, so you might be able to pre-write your essays before your primary has even been received. The earlier you apply, the more choices you’ll have in selecting your interview dates—meaning you can tackle two or more schools in one trip. An East Coaster, I was able to interview at my California schools in one trip. In general, I was able to group my regional travel with relative success.

    2) If you have received the FAP, it never hurts to ask for assistance if you really, truly need it. A midwestern school I applied to reimbursed me for my airfare for a Friday interview. I then bought a $30 Amtrak ticket to another school nearby, where I interviewed the following Monday. Two schools for the price of (almost) none! Other schools, like Duke, offer a Skype alternative to students whose travel costs might be prohibitive.

    3) Find student hosts, or use free websites like Though I have CouchSurfed in the past, I was able to secure housing with student hosts and friends from college. Didn’t cost me a dime—unless you count the thank-you cards and little gifts I made and bought!

    I applied to almost 30 schools with the FAP (and filled out each and every secondary, all of which were free under the FAP). I went to 13 interviews, only two of which were in my current state of residence. The total cost incurred was under $2200, less than $500 of which was related to application fees. Though it wasn’t easy in the least, I found this to be very reasonable—especially considering my future loan situation! Other factors: I got MCAT prep books from friends, found a suit on the cheap, and borrowed a carry-on for travel purposes. Don’t underestimate the utility of a hard case when it comes to storing your suit/ties/blouses!

    Good luck,
    Recently Accepted


  1. Cheapest Way to Apply to Medical School « Number Needed to Treat
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