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USC Keck School of Medicine: Is Tuition Worth It?

Pretend that you get an acceptance letter for USC Keck School of Medicine in Southern California. You’re ecstatic. Finally, you can realize your lifelong dream of becoming a physician. How much will USC Keck cost? We find the reality is that the price tag is far higher than what you can find in major publications.

If you have debt from Keck School of Medicine tuition, the average stats probably do not tell the full story. Our projected cost for a student entering in the fall of 2019 predicts she would leave with almost $500,000 in student loans.

The average debt reported by USC to US News for its class of 2015 was only $216,134.

Keck med school’s financial aid site predicts a total cost of attendance of around $400,000. The confusion that exists in what you’ll actually owe is why physicians turn to us for student loan advice after getting their MD.

What is USC Med School tuition?

Referring to the USC financial aid site above, they cite $62,964 as the tuition for the 2018-2019 cycle. The school lists this tuition for Years 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Of course, anyone who’s gone to med school knows that the tuition does not stay the same. The school simply doesn’t know how much they’re going to raise it by, so it lists the same number for each year.

What is the total cost of attendance at USC Keck?

I hate when schools do this, but it’s common practice at many med schools to list the budget for living expenses based on the curriculum length for the year instead of 12 months.

In USC Keck’s situation, they have a 10.5-month first year, 12-month second and third year, and a 10-month fourth year.
Hence, the school prorates living expenses accordingly. Room and board cost $23,736 in years 2 and 3, but only $20,769 in year 1 and $19,780 in year 4.

I’ve yet to meet a landlord who allows you to sign 10.5-month leases.

To USC’s credit, they do a decent job of highlighting the loan origination fees. Not every med school does that. At least there is some attempt at transparency in that regard.

USC Keck Med SchoolEstimated cost
(2018-2019)
Year 1$97,518
Year 2$101,000
Year 3$101,412
Year 4$93,767

Extra costs of Keck school of medicine tuition

USC Keck is not committing some unusual misrepresentation. Most med schools do not list the true cost of attendance if you’re financing your education. Of course, some med schools do provide scholarships that don’t show up as well.

Since you cannot borrow for all four years at the same cost, assume that USC Keck raises tuition at 3% per year. Also assume that room, board, and other expenses increase at this same rate.

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Pretend you borrow at 7% interest. As I write this, the Stafford loan rate is 6.6% and the Grad PLUS rate is 7.6%, so this estimate is reasonable.

Tuition inflation simply means that in your fourth year of med school, tuition will run $70,866 instead of $62,964. Hence, you would have to borrow an additional $7,903 to cover this difference that USC Keck doesn’t show.

Cost of living inflation means a similar thing.

Accrued interest is the cost of borrowing that accumulates while you’re in med school. While the interest does not compound, each year you’re charged the interest on the current year’s debt and the debt from the years before. That’s why you’ll have almost $30,000 of interest charges in year 4.

USC Keck extra costsTuition inflationCost of living inflationAccrued interest
Year 1$1,889$1,037$7,031
Year 2$3,835$2,316$15,001
Year 3$5,838$3.57$23,271
Year 4$7,903$3,866$29,550

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Real projected becoming a Keck trained physician

Once you add all these extra costs up, here’s the new cost that I calculate you’d experience at USC Keck if you finance your whole education.

USC Keck Med SchoolEstimated cost
(2018-2019)
Year 1$107,475
Year 2$122,152
Year 3$134,087
Year 4$135,086
Total$498,799

Notice that I didn’t even include the 12-month version of living expenses in years 1 and 4. I also used a tuition inflation rate that’s lower than the historical norms for med schools.

Hence, a rising first-year med student at USC Keck in fall 2019 could easily incur over $500,000 of medical school debt by graduation.

By the end of residency, that figure could be over $600,000.

Currently, we’re advising physicians that borrowed at 2006 to 2018 prices. That means even our more accurate data is out of date. Even so, we routinely run into physicians with $400,000 sized debts who trained in Southern California.

Why Does USC Keck Have a Huge Gap in Reported Debt Versus Your Projections?

I would expect the statistics presented to major media outlets have some biases present in them. These include but aren’t limited to students receiving

  • Scholarships
  • Parental or partner support
  • Self-support, such as savings or investments

If you do not have wealthy parents, a high-income partner/spouse, or huge savings, then the average reported debt figure could be totally inaccurate for you if you do not get any scholarships.

Does it make sense to go to USC Keck Med School?

Even if you owe a huge sum of money from Keck School of Medicine tuition, you can still make financial decisions today to ensure financial security.

For example, you could pursue Public Service Loan Forgiveness over 10 years, IDR loan forgiveness over 20-25 years, or enter a high paying specialty and refinance.

Either one of those paths could leave you better off than earning a low wage as a corporate desk-bound employee. You just need to have the right student loan plan to ensure you don’t waste a year or two of earnings on the wrong approach. Reach out with the button below if you'd like to learn more.

What did you think your debt was going to be when you graduated from USC Keck? What are you doing to make sure the financial investment in your med school education pays off? Comment below.

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