You’ve never been one to max out your credit card on pricey shopping trips and fancy dinners. You like to make a well-informed decision before purchasing anything, especially an investment as significant as higher education. Your fiscally savvy nature will definitely come in handy as you work toward your goal of becoming a doctor, because medical school is undeniably costly.
The good news is that just because you have to make a substantial investment doesn’t mean you need to take on the full cost of tuition in debt. Medical school scholarships range from hundreds of dollars to the full cost of your education. Join us as we take a closer look at how to begin your search and explore some of the great options you can – and should! – take advantage of as a medical student.
Medical school scholarships: How to get started
Sifting through medical school scholarships can be a bit overwhelming when you realize how many are available. You can make things a lot easier on yourself by getting started early. Kevin Ladd, COO of Scholarships.com, suggests starting your search while you’re still earning your undergrad. “The longer you spend reading about it and thinking about it, the less intimidating it’s going to be,” he says.
"The longer you spend reading about it and thinking about it, the less intimidating it’s going to be."
You don’t need to go crazy when looking into scholarships. You’ll be better off if you strike a balance between living your life and researching opportunities. “Just take half of whatever you’re doing for social stuff and put it toward researching,” Ladd recommends.
Even if it seems like you’re only uncovering smaller scholarships that offer a few hundred dollars, take advantage of them. Every little bit adds up to make your financial situation more stable. Ladd says you should go in with this attitude: “I’ve got a mountain of debt — now let’s see if I can make it a molehill of debt.”
The one note of caution is to stick with researching rather than working on applications when you’re still trying to get into medical school. Dr. James Dahle, an Emergency Physician and founder of The White Coat Investor, says you should focus your efforts on securing a seat in medical school first. “Once you’re in, then start working on scholarships,” he advises.
"Once you’re in, then start working on scholarships."
5 Medical school scholarship options
Now that you have an idea of how to approach your search for medical school scholarships, you should think about the different types available. Whether it's a full ride scholarship to medical school or smaller ones to help with the cost, chances are there is one (or two) that fit your needs. Take a look at some of the ones we’ve highlighted below.
1. Military service scholarships
You may be familiar with college scholarships available to students who opt to enroll in the military, but did you know medical students have similar options? The Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) is one of the most competitive options, because it covers the full cost of attending medical school and even provides a monthly stipend for other expenses. Applying for this program, of course, means you’ll also be enlisting in the military. It’s offered by the US Army, Navy, and Air Force.
There are additional options, depending on the branch of military you’re considering. If you think you might want to pursue this route, talk to a recruitment officer about your eligibility for financial assistance. Just be sure you know what you’re getting into. Dr. Dahle points out such scholarships are really contracts that require military service. It’s a significant commitment, but one that will definitely pay off if you’re serious about serving.
2. Merit-based scholarships
Some medical schools will extend scholarship offers to outstanding students. A significant number of these are based on undergraduate GPA and MCAT scores. There are also ones that reward applicants with desirable characteristics or those who’ve demonstrated a vision for the work they plan to do in the future. St. George’s University (SGU), for example, offers a Humanitarian Scholarship to assist students who have shown a commitment to humanitarian causes in their communities.
It’s a good idea to have an open mind about which medical school you want to attend. Ladd says there’s always a chance a school will offer you some sort of financial assistance to draw you toward their program. As long as you determine the program to be a good fit, you’d be wise to take them up on the offer.
3. Organization and personal provider scholarships
Financial assistance from organizations and personal providers is going to require the most research, but there are also a lot of opportunities. You’ll see scholarships from local organizations, national organizations, and individuals or families who champion a specific field of study.
You should start by using an online tool that allows you to run a filtered search to make sure you’re eligible for the medical school scholarships you’re considering. Ladd recommends sticking with free scholarship searches. “You’re paying enough money just trying to go to medical school,” he says.
"You’re paying enough money just trying to go to medical school."
Ladd also suggests you do some networking to learn about options you might not otherwise find. He says you should consider reaching out to people who have recently entered the field. “They might have a better idea of the pulse of the current state of education and financial aid,” Ladd explains.
Be sure to talk to financial aid offices at the schools you’re considering to find out about additional options. Dr. Dahle started The White Coat Investor Scholarship in 2015 to give back to the website’s community, promote financial literacy, and “directly and dramatically reduce the financial burdens of a few medical students.” Despite notifying every medical school in the US about the scholarship, The White Coat Scholarship received fewer than 400 applications. “I suspect most scholarships see even fewer applicants,” Dr. Dahle adds.
"I suspect most scholarships see even fewer applicants."
4. Medical service scholarships
Students who commit to act as a primary care physician in an underserved community for a specific amount of time can receive substantial scholarships. The National Health Service Corps Scholarship Program (NHSC SP) is one of the most competitive, because it covers the cost of tuition, fees, and educational expenses. There’s also a monthly stipend to assist with cost of living.
Some schools offer their own versions of similar programs, often designed to assist rural or urban areas. Not everyone is eligible for these scholarships, so consult with the financial aid office to find out if you qualify.
5. Need-based scholarships
You may be eligible for need-based scholarships based on your family’s financial situation. You’ll first need to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which will ask for your school code. The information on your FAFSA is used to assess your financial need, which determines eligibility for both grants and loans.
Many schools also offer additional need-based grants as well as scholarships. Because schools award funding based on information provided in your application, you don’t need to do any additional work. If you have any questions about what is available at your school, contact the financial aid office.
You will need to formally reply to your award letter to accept need-based offerings, but make sure you’ve exhausted your other scholarship options first.
See how you can save
You now have a better idea of how to make your journey toward becoming a doctor more affordable. Even if you aren’t eligible for some medical school scholarships, there’s no need to panic. “The world is not going to come to an end if you don’t get this or that accolade or scholarship,” Ladd says. “There will be another way.”
You should also consider everything that’s included in the cost of tuition for each medical school you’re considering. You might not realize just how much your program offers. SGU provides support services to all students free of charge. See how the school helps guide students toward a successful future by reading our article, “10 Student Support Services You Didn’t Know SGU Offered.”
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