You love a good bargain. Whether it’s using coupons at the grocery store or bundling insurance plans, you like to do what you can to keep a little more money in your bank account. Why pay more if it isn’t necessary?
Now that you’re thinking about obtaining an MD, cost is on your mind more than ever. You might be tempted to only consider the cheapest medical schools, but not so fast. There’s more to selecting a program than simply comparing tuition.
There are many criteria you should evaluate for each medical school you’re considering. Furthermore, a program’s expenses might not be what you’d expect due to a number of factors. When it’s all said and done, a bargain medical school might not be much of a bargain at all.
Considering the cheapest medical schools? Remember these 5 things
As you start comparing programs, it’s natural to think about tuition. Just make sure you’re looking at the bigger picture. Read on to find out what else should be in the back of your mind as you’re considering the cost of medical school.
1. Fixating on cost ignores quality
Medical school is expensive, but so are many of the major purchases you’ll make throughout your life. Cost is only part of what you think about before making other investments. Why should a valuable education be any different?
“Just like buying a home or buying a car, there are so many factors that come into play."
Obsessing over price could lead you to ignore some of the most important selection criteria. “Just like buying a home or buying a car, there are so many factors that come into play,” says Bob Ryan, dean of admissions at St. George’s University (SGU). “You have to look at the support the medical school provides, their graduate success rate, and the quality of their facilities.”
Remember that medical school is just one step along the path to becoming a physician. Obtaining an MD doesn’t mean much if you’re unable to secure a postgraduate training position or pass the required licensing exams. You should be investigating the residency placement rate and United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) Step 1 pass rate for each school you’re considering.
2. Tuition can vary depending on where you live
If you’ve done any research on the cheapest medical schools, you’ve probably encountered some tuition costs that seem too good to be true. It’s wise to be skeptical. Many online lists focus on in-state tuition, which doesn’t apply to out-of-state students. Data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) shows those two numbers can be significantly different for some schools.
Though attending an in-state school seems like an easy fix, many students attend school away from home. According to the AAMC, nearly 40 percent of US students who started medical school in the 2019–2020 school year went out of state for their education.
Additionally, focusing all your attention on in-state schools is risky. Applying to too few schools, or only reach schools, is one of the biggest mistakes applicants make. It often results in failing to gain acceptance to medical school.
3. Certain costs have nothing to do with tuition
The cost difference between attending one program over another is often less substantial than it first seems. Some expenses are unavoidable, regardless of which institution you choose. Medical students need a fair number of supplies.
“You must buy books, instruments such as a stethoscope, and more."
“You must buy books, instruments such as a stethoscope, and more,” explains Dr. Kim Langdon, retired OB/GYN and medical expert for Parenting Pod.
Cost of living is another factor you should consider. Housing is simply more expensive in certain areas. You might end up saving on tuition by attending a certain school, but pay significantly more for rent. Housing costs can even vary within a city.
“Keep in mind that living near campus and the hospital is more expensive than other places in most communities,” Dr. Langdon points out. With so many variables, it’s easy to see that these unrelated costs must also be considered.
4. Medical school is a serious, long-term investment
Obtaining a medical education builds a foundation that will stick with you for the rest of your life. If you’re considering the cheapest medical schools, make sure you’re truly committed to a career as a physician. Those who are seriously questioning the cost or time commitment upfront might want to consider other options.
“I tell those people to become a physician assistant or nurse practitioner instead,” Dr. Langdon says.
But if you know you’re destined for a career in medicine, then keep in mind that you have plenty of time to tackle cost. Some medical school graduates even postpone loan payments through deferment or forbearance until after they’ve completed residency. Either way, paying off loans is a long-term strategy.
"Financial planning is key."
“Plan on spending at least 10 to 15 years to pay off the debt after you get out of med school,” Dr. Langdon says. “You can pay it off faster, but depending on the interest rate, you might be better off investing to earn more than you’re paying in interest. Financial planning is key.”
5. Some institutions offer students more than others
You’ve probably heard countless people say, “You get what you pay for.” This is truer than ever when it comes to medical school. Some programs have slightly higher tuition rates due to taking extra measures that ensure student success.
St. George’s University (SGU), for example, offers a robust array of student support services that are included in the cost of tuition. Every week, the Department of Educational Services (DES) runs hundreds of workshops that focus on everything from specific subjects to more general skills like time management.
"They start at 7 am and go all the way up until 10 or 11 pm some days."
“They start at 7 am and go all the way up until 10 or 11 pm some days,” Ryan explains. And DES is proactive about getting in touch with students well before they’re having serious issues. “Let’s just say you get a C in that first anatomy quiz,” Ryan offers. “We’re going to reach out to you.”
Pursue an invaluable experience
While it’s understandable that you want to keep your financial burden low, limiting yourself to the cheapest medical schools could be a mistake. Medical education is incredibly demanding. It’s important to attend an institution where you see yourself succeeding, and that might not always line up with the least expensive tuition.
Keep an open mind as you compare medical schools to make sure you’re aware of all the programs that could be right for you. Caribbean schools, for instance, might be a better fit than you realize. Make sure you know the facts by reading our article “The Truth About Caribbean Medical Schools: Debunking the Myths.”
* This article has been updated from a previous version to include current facts and figures.
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