The Complete Guide to Medical School Financial Aid Options

October 16, 2023


Reviewed by:

Akhil Katakam

Third-Year Medical Student, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Reviewed: 10/16/23

The average four-year cost to attend a public medical school in the U.S. ranges from  $155,788 to $244,092. For those attending private medical school, the cost is even higher, at around $363,836 according to the AAMC. There are ways to get to medical school if you are not financially wealthy, but you need planning to navigate the path to medical school financial aid successfully. 

You will have to do a lot of research to discover the many loans, scholarships, grants, bursaries, awards, fellowships, and private monies available to you, a deserving medical school applicant. 

First, think about which medical schools you’re hoping to attend. Would it be cheaper to go to medical school in your home state? Are some medical schools less expensive than others?

For example, Texas Tech medical school is more affordable than many other schools, and it has a good reputation as a research school. Baylor Medical School is considered one of the least expensive private medical schools in the U.S.

Is it easier to get financial aid at specific medical schools? 

You want to give yourself the best chance to attend medical school by paying as little as possible out of pocket. Also, you must be self-aware and realize what burden of debt you are comfortable carrying. Medical school will be challenging. You don’t need the added stress of worrying about money!

So, in this guide, we’ll go through all the medical school financial aid options available.

image of dots background

Need For Medical School Financial Aid

It is a well-known fact that medical school is expensive. Many prospective potential medical students are intimidated by the thought of the gross debt that will be a part of their life at the beginning of their careers. Do they want to have to work for years to pay a huge debt off, even if it is in a job they love?

Let’s look at some statistics. According to the  AAMC, 71% of all medical students graduating reported leaving medical school with student loan debt. The percentage has decreased in the last few years, those who do borrow for medical school face big loans: the median debt is $200,000 presently.

This statistic means that financial aid is needed and is an essential part of entering medical school. Good marks are imperative but don’t forget about determining how you’ll pay for medical school once you’re there.

According to the AAMC, “If you have identified a handful of medical schools you are interested in, try to get in contact with the financial aid officers and make an early connection.” They can be a valuable source of information for you.

An article in U.S. News stated that the most expensive private medical schools in the U.S. charged over $65,000.00 for medical school tuition and fees.

As a doctor, you are going to make a good income eventually. Why rely on future income and assume you will be earning a high income relatively quickly out of medical school? Better to not count on high future earnings and be more realistic in your planning.

However, there is no need to go heavily into debt if you can take advantage of existing programs to help you. If you can creatively plan for medical school financial aid, it will be better. Use scholarships, grants, free tuition, savings from summer jobs, and whatever vehicle you can utilize not to take on debt.

Types of Medical School Financial Aid

Types of medical school financial aid

There are a few different medical school financial aid options. According to the AAMC, you should review a school’s financial aid policies before choosing where you want to apply. 

There are four types of Federal Student Loans, according to the U.S. Department of Education federal student aid website:

  • Direct Subsidized Loans - these are loans given to you when you are an undergrad student. You must show that you need financial help. You will be given loans to help you pay for higher education at a college or a career school.
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans - these loans are given to you if you are an undergraduate, graduate, or professional student. However, these loans are not based on financial need. 
  • Direct PLUS Loans - these are loans given to you if you are a graduate or professional student. These loans can also be given to your parents if you are a dependent undergraduate student. They will help pay for your educational expenses that are not covered by other financial aid. The eligibility for this type of loan is not based on your financial need, but you will require a credit check. If you have an adverse credit history you must also meet additional requirements to qualify for these loans.
  • Direct Consolidation Loans - these convenient loans allow you to combine all of your eligible federal student loans into one single loan with one single loan servicer.

According to the AAMC, “There are two types of Direct Loans – subsidized and unsubsidized. Medical students and other graduate/professional students, are only eligible for unsubsidized loans. Direct Unsubsidized Loans accrue interest from the date the loan is disbursed until the loan is paid in full.”

Direct and Direct Plus Loans

Once you start looking at financial aid, look at loans. Do you want to get a loan that you make payments on as you go to medical school? Do you want deferred loan payments that you do not start paying back until you graduate from medical school? Can you get a co-signer such as parents, relatives, a sponsor?

You can defer these loans later on under certain circumstances. The U.S. government pays the interest while you are in school or during the grace period. You can take a break and reduce the amount of payment. There is more flexibility for you with this type of loan, rather than private loans.


A direct loan is either a subsidized or unsubsidized loan. It is usually low interest and does not have the criteria of financial need attached to it. So you can apply for it without having to show financial need. The interest will accumulate on the loan as you are in medical school.

It comes from the U.S. Department of Education directly, hence the name Direct Loan. You have to start repaying this loan six months after graduation. The Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan is sometimes called the Stafford Loans.

Direct Plus

Federal Direct Graduate Plus loans are a federal direct loan program available to grad students who have maxed out their annual or lifetime Direct Unsubsidized Loan and Subsidized Loan limits. It is like a private loan with all the benefits of the federal loan program.

Some of these benefits are forbearance, consolidation, deferment, and the federal government can cancel the loan if you become disabled or die. A promissory note from you, called the Master Promissory Note, is required. You need a good credit rating, and if your parents are applying, they also need a good credit score.

“Once you graduate, drop below half-time enrollment, or leave school, your federal student loan goes into repayment,” according to the Federal Student Aid website. However, if you have a Direct Subsidized, Direct Unsubsidized, or Federal Family Education Loan, you have a six-month grace period before you are required to start making regular payments.

Keep in mind that there are programs available to help you pay off your debt once you’ve graduated. For example, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is the U.S. Department of Education’s program that will erase the remaining balance of your loan after you’ve made 120 on-time payments.

In return, you’ll work full-time in the public service sector. This program creates a win-win situation.

Private Loans

Loans taken out from financial institutions like Sallie Mae are considered private loans. They used to be considered student loans, but later on, they were deemed to be personal loans.

You need a good credit rating, and you have to pay back this type of loan with no forgiveness options. You may wonder, are federal loans better than private loans? Usually yes, federal loans are better than private loans.

Why would you choose a private loan? You might use a personal loan if you are not eligible for a federal loan. Or, if the private loan rate is less than the federal loan rate, though this would be extremely rare.

If you are coming into some income, like an inheritance or a year-end job bonus, and you know you will be able to pay it back aggressively, you might choose a private bank loan. 

Are the interest rates higher on private loans? Usually yes. Federal loans have low-interest rates because the government sets the rate, and it remains the same for the life of the loan.


Scholarships are free financial assistance given to you based on select criteria such as academic achievement. There are hundreds of scholarships for students with an excellent grade point average.

You may get a scholarship because of financial need, because of your background or based on your extracurricular involvement and commitment in a particular area that shows you are deserving and will be a good student. 

For example, the military will pay for medical school. In return, you must promise to stay on active duty service for several years.

As noted by the AAMC, “For students willing to serve the country as a military physician or who practice medicine in underserved areas, opportunities for scholarships and loan forgiveness abound. The Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) offers medical trainees a full tuition scholarship in addition to a monthly stipend, in exchange for a specified term of commitment to a branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.”

Some medical schools will pay for medical school for you if, in return, you will work in an underserviced, usually impoverished, rural region for several years after graduation.

For example, there may be criteria you do not even know about, such as The Dr. Marie E. Zakrzewski Medical Scholarship. It is mentioned on the Polish Youth Association website. 

Sometimes you may apply for larger well-known scholarships and fail to learn of the lesser-known opportunities. Don’t forget to look into your local area and see what financial aid there is. Local associations such as the Rotary Club will often sponsor you because you are a community student.

In recent years, Women in Medicine “(WIM) will present two, $5,000 LGBTQ Leadership Scholarships for female medical students enrolled in in their first, second or third year of allopathic, osteopathic, or naturopathic medical schools in the United States or Canada in 2021.”

There are also merit-based scholarships offered at some medical schools, including at the top medical schools in the U.S. They are looking for medical school applicants that they are confident will be brilliant, outstanding doctors in their career.

Below are a few of the top scholarships in the U.S. Some have no particular criteria in order to be eligible, and others want an essay showing what area of medicine you want to practice in and why.

Grants, Bursaries, and Awards

Grants are free money that does not have to be repaid. There are grants for low-income students and others.

For example, there are research medical student grants. One such grant is “designed to encourage students who have interest in the field of radiology...Recipients will also be expected to participate in a research project for 10 weeks."

Many organizations such as clubs, fraternities, sororities, religious organizations, athletic associations, and organizations associated with indigenous people, LGBTQ persons, and other special interest groups have grants to offer you for medical school. 

The Indian Health Service Corps offers financial aid in return for your service working with American Indians and Alaska Natives throughout the U.S. and Alaska.

The American Medical Student Association, for example, offers “local Project Grants that distribute annual awards to more than two dozen student projects that focus on community-based medicine.”

There are many awards set up from private families, such as the William and Charlotte Cadbury Award in the state of New York or the Wayne Anthony Butts Scholarship from the National Medical Fellowships organization.

The Professional Student Exchange program offers students in 10 western states a chance to receive financial support when attending selected medical school programs that are not available at public institutions in their home state. 

Some years ago, the amount of support given each year for allopathic medicine (M.D.) was about $32,000 and around $21,000 for osteopathic medicine (D.O.).

According to the website WICHE (Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education), "Most (but not all) WICHE PSEP states/territories have a contractual service-payback obligation, whereby you must return to your home state after graduation and practice in your chosen field for a designated number of years–or else reimburse the support paid on your behalf by your state, plus interest penalties."

How To Apply for Financial Aid

You must look for financial aid opportunities early. Fill out the FAFSA form right away!

The form entitled FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA form. 

FAFSA It is a loan program through the U.S. Department of Education called the Title IV Aid Programs. The U.S. Dept. of Education selects a few agencies and assigns the direct loan to a particular agency to handle. The best type of loan to get is a federal student loan. One reason is you do not need good credit to qualify like you do for private loans.


1. Should you set up private loans before you are accepted?

No, it is better to get scholarships, grants, or federal loans over private loans. Fill out the FAFSA form and wait for medical school financial packages to arrive.

2. Should you look for smaller grants and bursaries?

Yes, this is a good strategy. These smaller grants and bursaries will most likely be less competitive than the larger ones that are available to students. Smaller grants and bursaries are still great to obtain and can quickly add up if you get multiple of them.

3. Would it be possible for you to fundraise under a service club to raise money to attend medical school?

Yes, you could accomplish this on an individual basis. Depending on where you live, if you know people in your close-knit community, it would be possible to put something like this together.

4. Do I have to accept a medical school’s financial aid package? 

No, the financial aid packages you receive are not final. Financial aid packages will come at the same time as your acceptance letter. It would be best if you compare packages from the other schools where you have been accepted. Perhaps your circumstances have changed.

It is acceptable to negotiate the medical school financial aid options based on your specific need. According to MSCAR, “Your offer will list various forms of financial aid you are eligible to receive; however, you will need to decide if you want to accept all the aid offered."

5. How much does medical school cost each year?

According to AAMC, the median amount of debt for the class of 2020 was around $200,000. The median 4-year cost of attendance for the class of 2021 was about $260,000 for public schools and around $345,000 for private schools.


According to The White Coat Investor, about 25% of doctors graduate medical school without any student loans. This lack of debt is because these students have secured scholarships and grants instead of loans.

Loans are considered a last resort. If securing early financial aid alleviates the intense pressure on you, all the better. Having financial aid taken care of will help you immensely.

In a ten-year period, “the average level of debt for medical students increased by more than 50%,” according to a Tufts University blog. The Scientific American says that “each year a class of new doctors graduates with a total of $2.6 billion in loans, with a median student debt of $194,000.”

There is a misconception that doctors become rich right out of medical school. That is not true in many cases.

In addition to earning an undergraduate degree, you spend four years in medical school, followed by about three to seven years as a resident, during which you train under attending physicians’ supervision. Even though you’re officially an M.D., as a resident, you earn relatively low wages.

Therefore, it is so vital to secure medical school financial aid. Start to plan early and strategize. Plan a few different paths to medical school financial aid so that you are not ‘putting your eggs all in one basket,’ so to speak. 

Since most medical students graduate with debt, you can take the most crucial action to fill out the FAFSA form immediately and then start looking for financial help! There is a lot of competition for financial aid, so start immediately to check for medical schools that offer free tuition, full scholarships, and any other financial assistance available. 

Try to diversify in looking for medical school aid. Maybe you can combine two or three different types of medical school financial aid and end up with hardly any debt when you graduate. Explore all options.

If you end up working as a doctor in the military or for a non-profit missionary foundation after graduation, it will be worth it in the end. You have probably dreamed for many years of becoming a doctor. As a new doctor with less debt, you’ll be able to focus on your dream career and be a better doctor because of it!

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Schedule A Free Consultation

Plan Smart. Execute Strong. Get Into Your Dream School.
Get Free Consultation
image of dots background

You May Also Like