Before heading off to medical school, make sure you know how much it will cost to attend — tuition, books, room and board will all factor into those costs. More importantly, you will also need to know how much you might need to borrow.
The median medical student loan debt was $200,000 in 2018 — the average four-year cost for public med school students was $243,902 and $322,767 for private school students.
Depending on your field and which medical school you attend, your earning potential as a physician could help you eliminate your student loan debt faster than other professions. To help you decide whether med school is worth it, Student Loan Planner ranked six types of medical schools based on how much, or little, they will destroy your finances.
Each school’s cost of attendance is listed with it; this includes tuition (the cost of being a registered student) as well as other potential expenses like room and board, books, health insurance and medical equipment.
Best option: Free or nearly free medical schools
The less borrowed money you can use to pay for medical school tuition, the lower your student loan debt will be when you graduate. Medical schools like New York University, Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Pennsylvania are wealthy courtesy of endowments, and they can afford to offer scholarships to most accepted students.
For example, NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine awards full-tuition medical school scholarships to all of its current and future matriculated MD students regardless of merit or their financial needs. Students just have to maintain satisfactory academic progress based on the school’s academic progress policy.
Washington University in St. Louis offers merit- and need-based scholarships. The school’s need-based borrowing is currently capped at $31,000 per year. So, if an eligible student had no resources to pay for their education costs, they could borrow the maximum amount and receive the rest ($56,578) in scholarships.
The University of Pennsylvania offers approximately 30 full-tuition scholarships every year through its Twenty-First Century Scholars Program. Every student accepted into the university’s Perelman School of Medicine is considered for the program.
Covering tuition is a great way to keep your total medical school cost of attendance, as well as your student loan debt, low.
Here’s a breakdown of the money medical students attending NYU, Washington University in St. Louis and University of Pennsylvania could save if their respective schools paid all or part of their tuition and the students only had to pay for the remainder of their cost of attendance:
|School||4-Year Cost of|
|COA with |
Tuition Covered (or
|Washington University |
in St. Louis
Next best: In-state, public medical schools
Staying close to home — or at least in your home state — is your next best bet for keeping your med school student debt low if you weren’t accepted into a well-financed school. For example, at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, the difference in tuition between residents and non-residents is almost $28,000 per year. University of Michigan medical students who live in-state can expect to save $20,000 more annually than their non-resident classmates.
Medical school tuition is by no means inexpensive, but it can be manageable with the right financial decision. If you have a quality medical school in your state, consider applying to and attending it if you’re accepted. You could be looking at significant tuition savings as opposed to getting the same education elsewhere.
|School||4-Year Cost of |
Savings potential: Out-of-state, public medical schools
If you decide to attend medical school out of state, still keep your eye on public schools. There’s the off- chance you could secure in-state tuition, but even if you can’t, out-of-state public medical school cost of attendance is still likely lower than a private school’s tuition.
Let’s say you want to attend medical school in Philadelphia. The public Temple University Lewis Katz School of Medicine out of state annual tuition is $56,628. Meanwhile, private Drexel University’s medical school program costs $58,106 per year before expenses like room and board are thrown into the equation.
If you’re going to attend a public medical school, it makes sense to stay in state to leverage the savings. If you’re determined to get further away from home, or other circumstances are taking you out of state, look at public schools first. There’s still an opportunity for you to pay less for tuition than you would by attending a private school.
|School||4-Year COA for |
Out of State
California – Davis
More expensive: Private med schools without tuition endowments
Private medical schools without tuition endowments can be somewhat of a rough combination. We’ve already covered that private medical school tuition can be more expensive than their public counterparts; however, some of that expense could be offset if the university used some of the endowment funds it receives toward scholarships to lower tuition.
If a private school opts not to do that, then you’re left to figure out how to tackle the price tag on your own, which will likely include taking on student loan debt. If you’re looking to attend a private medical school, look at schools that offer some sort of tuition reduction like New York University does.
Expensive and low earnings: Private osteopathic medical schools
Osteopathic medical school students earn a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) and go into specialties that focus more on wellness and prevention than symptom treatment. DOs are fully-licensed physicians, but they typically go into lower-paying specialties than allopathic medical students who become MDs do.
There’s nothing wrong with earning a DO, but if your student loan debt is playing into your decision-making process, keep in mind a majority of osteopathic medical schools are private, which will make them more expensive. So, you could be looking at the possibility of coming out of school with more debt than if you went to a public medical school and not being able to pay it back as quickly due to a potentially lower salary. Here are three examples to consider:
of Health Sciences
Last resort: For-profit medical schools (allopathic and osteopathic)
There’s nothing wrong with keeping all of your options open as you look into medical schools, but for-profit institutions should be your last resort if you can help it. The issue is these schools accept a lot of prospective med students to increase profits, but the schools don’t have a high residency acceptance rate. That means a lot of students are leaving the program with six figures of student loan debt and no medical degree.
Attending a for-profit medical school is a true “buyer beware” scenario — only do it if you have no other options or if you’re fully confident you’ll be at the top of your class and will land a residency. Otherwise, you’ll be saddled with a mountain of debt and nothing to show for it. Here are two for-profit institutions for comparison with other schools:
|Rocky Vista University||$379,366|
|St. George's University||$379,460|
Is medical student debt worth it?
If you want to become a physician, yes the medical student loan debt is worth it. Not only are you entering a rewarding profession that’s focused on helping others, but your potential salary could help you wipe out your debt in less time than you think. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2018 median physician salary was $208,000 per year.
Another positive is physicians are almost always in demand, so if you do well in medical school, you should have a fair share of job opportunities. The BLS projects physician and surgeon employment will grow 7% through 2028, which is faster than average.
There’s no way around it — you could be looking at a six-figure student loan bill after you finish medical school. The good news is you have some control over the size of that bill if you consider cost-of-attendance and other factors when you’re selecting your medical school.
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