Anyone who’s ever moved to a new home knows how daunting it can be to get settled in. When facing a seemingly endless to-do list, you simply have to start at the top. Making sure the electricity is set up clearly needs to happen before you can even think about arranging furniture. The medical school admissions process requires a similarly ordered approach.
While your focus has rightly been on completing and submitting applications, you need to begin planning next steps as you get closer to becoming a medical student. That means it’s time to start thinking about how to pay for your education. You’ll want to get in touch with medical school financial aid officers sooner rather than later.
While there are probably a few questions you know you want to ask these individuals, you may not understand exactly what you should be asking. That’s why we reached out to Director of Financial Aid at St. George’s University (SGU) Diane Beltrani. She shared some great suggestions on the types of queries you’ll want to include on your list.
8 questions pre-meds need to ask medical school financial aid officers
While every student is different, it’s always wise to ask these questions. You’ll likely come up with even more once you start these conversations.
1. What is the full cost of attendance at your institution?
It’s obviously important to ask about tuition, but there’s more that goes into the overall cost of attending medical school. The estimated cost of attendance considers things like housing, books, and more when calculating the total value. And while the number itself can be intimidating, you need to know what you’re getting yourself into before committing to an MD program.
2. How do I apply for financial aid?
Many students become familiar with the financial aid application process during college, but that’s not true for everyone. Beltrani says some medical students find themselves borrowing for the very first time. If you are in this boat, know that it’s not as complicated as you may think.
"We tell them it’s very simple—and it is."
“We tell them it’s very simple—and it is,” Beltrani emphasizes. “It’s all electronic applications, so you just need to visit a website to apply.”
3. Is there anything that could affect my ability to borrow?
The basic eligibility criteria to receive federal financial aid are pretty standard. You need to be a US citizen, not in default on existing loans, and so on. One thing you might not be aware of, though, is that some loans are credit-based. You’ll want to pull a credit report to make sure you’re not delinquent on any payments.
“That would affect your ability to borrow,” Beltrani explains. “In these cases, students may need to secure a cosigner for their loans.”
"In these cases, students may need to secure a cosigner for their loans.”
It’s also worth noting that parental income doesn’t necessarily affect you. Students pursuing a master’s or doctorate program are considered independents on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). That said, there are instances when you may need to provide their information separately.
“Some medical schools will require students to submit parental information if the school has endowed money or a scholarship they want to offer based on need,” Beltrani reminds.
4. Will it be reasonable for me to repay my loans?
While most students are quick to ask about cost, they don’t always think to ask about the practicality of paying for medical school. “One of the questions we think students should ask is, ‘If I’m going to incur this debt for medical school, will it be reasonable for me to repay these loans?’” Beltrani offers. “The answer is yes.”
While it can be a little scary to borrow so much money, many practicing physicians find their payments are perfectly manageable. Need more convincing? Dig a little deeper with your next question.
5. What sorts of repayment options exist at different stages of my career?
The journey from student to practicing physician is long. After obtaining your MD, you’ll spend a minimum of three years as a medical resident. Highly specialized fields require more than a decade of postgraduate training. Your income will change drastically in this time, and that’s actually good news.
"There are all sorts of different income-based repayment plans, as opposed to plans based on your debt level."
“There are all sorts of different income-based repayment plans, as opposed to plans based on your debt level,” Beltrani says. “You have the ability, as you earn more income, to pay off your debt quicker.”
It’s also worth familiarizing yourself with things like loan forgiveness, consolidation, and refinancing. Simply being aware of these options can help you start thinking about what repayment method will fit your lifestyle.
6. What sorts of scholarships are available?
There’s no denying that scholarships for medical students are less abundant than those for college students. That said, there are options. Some institutions even offer their own awards. Beltrani says SGU typically communicates these opportunities to interested students and works to eliminate additional applications when possible. But it’s a good idea to thoroughly research options at every program you’re considering.
“Students should be looking at the schools’ websites and seeing what’s available or asking the financial aid officers what the schools offer in scholarships.”
Beltrani also notes you should pay attention to email communications to ensure you don’t miss out on programs at your school or outside scholarship opportunities. It’s also wise to make use of social media.
"Join the Facebook groups, because a lot of information is shared that way."
“Join the Facebook groups, because a lot of information is shared that way,” Beltrani adds.
7. Is there anything I can do to save money during my education and training?
Because medical school requires a substantial financial investment, it’s wise to start thinking about how you can spend smarter as a student. Most programs are happy to provide students with resources to help them become more financially savvy.
“Check out the schools’ websites and see what types of support they provide to help you with budgeting and managing funds,” Beltrani says. She adds that some programs even include spreadsheets to help students determine how much discretionary money they’ll have in a given time period.
You should also find out whether there are any workshops or events you could attend while in school. SGU, for example, holds presentations that discuss everything from limiting borrowing to how interest grows.
8. Does the school offer any financial assistance to graduates?
While most graduates make payments without any trouble , some run into issues. It’s not a bad idea to ask whether a given school is able to assist graduates with loan repayment options and questions.
"Many financial aid offices do have staff that are well-versed in the federal loan repayment plans."
“Many financial aid offices do have staff that are well-versed in the federal loan repayment plans and can assist students in navigating these options,” Beltrani offers. “SGU has dedicated staff members available to assist our current students as well as our alumni with guidance on loan repayment.”
Be a money-savvy medical student
While thinking about paying for your education can be a little intimidating, planning ahead can make it more manageable. Asking the right medical school financial aid questions is the first step. Doing so can help you set yourself up for success through medical school and beyond.
It’s also a good idea to start digging into scholarship options a little more. You may not realize just how many options there are. Learn more about what’s available by checking out our article “The Medical School Scholarships You Haven’t Considered.”
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