You’ve been diligently focused on completing and submitting applications for months, but now you’re ready to start thinking about how to pay for your medical education. While there are probably a few questions you have planned for medical school financial aid officers, you may not know exactly what you should be asking. Diane Beltrani, director of financial aid at St. George’s University (SGU), has a number of suggestions on the types of questions you’ll want to inquire about. Take a look at these recommended questions to help you prepare for your upcoming conversations about medical school costs.
8 Questions pre-meds need to ask medical school financial aid officers
You know the basics like, “Do medical schools offer financial aid?” so you’re ready to advance to these eight questions. Once you start discussing med school financial aid, you’ll probably come up with even more.
1. What is the full cost of attendance at your medical school?
There’s more that goes into the overall cost of attending medical school than just tuition and fees. The estimated cost of attendance considers things like housing, books, and more when calculating the total value. And don’t worry about the number itself—think of it as a useful tool to determine your needed financial assistance for medical school.
2. Do you provide financial aid for medical school? How do I apply for Medical School Loans?
Many students become familiar with the financial aid application process during college, but Beltrani says some medical students are borrowing for the very first time. If you’re in this boat, know that it’s quite straightforward to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for medical school loans.
“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?
You’ll likely find it’s easy to meet the basic financial aid eligibility criteria to receive federal financial aid: US citizenship, no existing loan defaults, and so on. It’s also important to know that some medical school 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.”
Parental income doesn’t necessarily affect you, either, because students pursuing a master’s or doctoral program are considered independents on the FAFSA, according to the graduate school financial aid information from the US Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid. That said, Beltrani says some medical schools ask for this information if the institution has endowed money or need-based scholarships to offer.
4. Will it be reasonable for me to repay my medical school 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?
Your income changes drastically from postgraduate medical resident to fellow to practicing physician, which is great news. “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.”
"There are all sorts of different income-based repayment plans, as opposed to plans based on your debt level."
It’s also worth familiarizing yourself with things like loan forgiveness, consolidation, and refinancing. Knowing about these options can help you start thinking about what repayment method will work for you.
6. What sorts of scholarships are available?
Aside from loans, financial assistance for medical school exists in the form of scholarships. Many government and nonprofit entities also offer loan forgiveness programs. And some schools offer their own institutional scholarships. Beltrani says SGU typically communicates their opportunities to interested students and works to eliminate additional applications when possible. You’ll even find important announcements and updates on social media, so make sure to join relevant groups.
Because options vary from one school to the next, it’s a good idea to thoroughly research what’s available 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 says.
7. Is there anything I can do to save money during my education and training?
Most programs are happy to provide students with resources to help them become more financially savvy, so make the most of it. “Check out the schools’ websites and see what types of support they provide to help you with budgeting and managing funds,” Beltrani says.
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?
Even MD program graduates who are well-equipped to make payments often still have questions. You might want to find out whether a given school is able to assist alumni 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
Paying for your medical education is completely manageable, and you’re already on the right track by thinking about what school financial aid questions you should ask. It’s also a good idea to start digging into scholarship options a little more. Learn more about what’s available by checking out our article “The Medical School Scholarships You Haven’t Considered.”
*This article was originally published in May 2019. It’s since been updated to include information relevant to 2020.
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