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Cheapest Way to Apply to Medical School

September 16, 2008

As a follow-up to my previous post on the exorbitant cost of applying to medical school–and in response to some reader interest–I will detail some specific ways to reduce costs for applying to medical school.*

First and foremost, we have to know what costs to expect:

  • MCAT
  • AMCAS Application Fee
  • Secondaries
  • Interviews

Perhaps the first cost hopeful pre-meds face on their long journey to medical school is the cost of preparing for the MCAT.  Many students choose to take a three or four month long prep course through Kaplan or Princeton Review.  These classes are now running close to $2,000.  The best way to save money here is to simply not take one of these courses.  If you have a strong sciene background (which you should if you’re applying to medical school), you may do better to simply purchase online practice tests from the AAMC and spend most of your time taking and reviewing practice tests.  If you still feel like you need the structure of something like a Kaplan class, find somebody who recently took one of those courses and try to purchase their books from them to review on your own.

Your first strategy when it comes to taking the MCAT and actually applying is to get into the Fee Assistance Program provided by the AAMC.  This is an excellent program that will virtually eliminate all costs associated with the MCAT, AMCAS, and Secondaries.  However, this program may be difficult for some students to get into:

FAP eligibility decisions are tied directly to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ poverty level guidelines. For the 2008 calendar year, applicants whose total family income is 300 percent or less of the poverty level for their family size will be approved for fee assistance.

According to the HHS website, for a one person household, that threshold would be $31,200.  However, regardless of financial support from your parents, you are required to report their income as well.  For a family of four, the threshold would be $63,600 (and I believe this is based on Adjusted Gross Income, which is probably lower than the total “salary” people usually think of).

For the present, we will assume you can get into the Fee Assistance Program.  Getting into this program will reduce your MCAT cost from $210 down to $85 and eliminate any AMCAS fee for the first 13 schools you apply to.  Additionally, most schools will waive their secondary applications fee (usually around $100) for students in the FAP program.  Doing this will reduce your combined costs for the MCAT, AMCAS, and secondary fees from $2,030 down to $85 (if we apply to 13 medical schools).

Your next step in the application process would be interviewing.  This can come at substantial cost, especially if you have to fly across the country for the interview.  Here, you have to employ simple money-saving strategies applicable to everyday life:

  1. Reduce the number of schools you interivew at.  Reducing the overall number simply reduces the number of nights you have to spend in a hotel and the number of meals you would have to eat out.  It will also reduce travel costs.
  2. Only interview at schools close to your current location.  Being able to avoid long flights–or flights at all–will greatly reduce the cost.
  3. Stay with a friend.  If possible, stay with a friend and not a hotel.  Medical schools will also provide affordable options for accommodations–generally a cheap hotel nearby, a special rate with a hotel they have a relationship with, or even staying with a current medical student or alumnus of the school.
  4. Borrow your interview attire or buy it at a second-hand store.  Purchasing clothing for the interviews can be a substantial cost.  However, this is a fixed cost for something you will be able to use many times, so investing some money here may be beneficial.

What if you can’t get into the Fee Assistance Program?

The best strategy to reduce costs if you’re unable to get into the FAP program is to simply reduce the number of medical schools you apply to.  Without the FAP, the cheapest one may be able to apply to medical school is probably $370.  This assumes you only apply to one medical school, which would be your state medical school and they waive your secondary application fee (either because they waive it for all residents or because you can convince them that you are unable to pay for it).  This also assumes you live close to the medical school and wouldn’t incur any costs in spending a day there for the interview.

What if you can’t get into the FAP and you have to apply to many medical schools?

Rob a bank and make sure you get at least $3,000 or $4,000.**

*All facts and figures presented in this discussion are for illustrative purposes only.  Although the greatest care has been taken to make sure they are accurate, their veracity cannot be guaranteed–especially regarding eligibility for the Fee Assistance Program.  Please explore all options when applying to medical school.

**Don’t rob a bank.  It’s much harder to get into medical school when you have a felony on your record.

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