The Student Voice
Applying to Medical School: A Financial Barrier
Ian M. Fowler,
Bachelor's degree candidate at
University of Southern California
For more than a year, a large part of my time has been spent
applying to medical schools. I have dedicated much energy to
prepare for and take the Medical College Admissions Test
(MCAT), obtain multiple letters of recommendation from my
professors, interview for a health professions committee
letter of recommendation from my university, complete and
submit the applications, and interview at various medical
schools. Although this process proved to be a positive
experience, the extraordinary cost of applying to medical
schools poses a danger of limiting individuals with limited
financial resources. Moreover, the lack of scholarship or
loan programs to assist students with the application process
further contributes to this danger.
One of the first hurdles of applying to medical school is the
MCAT. Although many students prepare for this exam on their
own, a large portion of students choose to take preparatory
classes offered by various private test preparation companies.
These courses, which often cost in excess of $1000, teach
students not only the basic concepts covered on the MCAT,
but also helpful test-taking techniques unique to the MCAT.
Thus, these preparatory classes may provide students with
helpful advice and knowledge unavailable to those who cannot
afford the classes. I attribute much of my success on the
MCAT to these helpful hints; furthermore, many of my fellow
pre-medical colleagues, who were unable to take the preparatory
classes because of financial constraints, scored poorly on the
exam. Hence, I believe MCAT preparation courses significantly
increase one's probability of performing well on the MCAT, and,
since these courses are out of reach for many pre-medical
students from lower to moderate income families, a financially
limiting situation exists.
In addition to preparatory classes, the actual application costs
to medical schools represent another financial hindrance. Under
current application procedures, a student must initiate the
process by submitting one application to a centralized application
service known as the American Medical Colleges Application Service
(AMCAS). In the application, the student indicates the medical
schools to which he or she wishes to apply, provides academic and
personal information, writes a one-page statement of purpose, and
submits a fee of $55.00 for the first medical school with a sliding
fee scale for the remaining medical schools. Since most pre-medical
advisors recommend students apply to ten or more medical schools,
the expense of this initial application usually costs in excess of
$400. Furthermore, most medical schools send out secondary
applications, which require submission of an additional fee in the
range of $25 to $100 directly to the medical school. Thus, a student
applying to ten medical schools may spend nearly $1000 in application
fees. Although a fee waiver or reduction is available to some
students in dire financial circumstances, most applicants are expected
to pay the full amount. Therefore, these steep application costs may
prevent dedicated and qualified students from applying to medical school.
Once an applicant successfully completes the MCAT and applications,
medical schools many invite him or her for an on-site interview.
Interviews, which nearly all medical schools claim are a vital part
of the application process, require the student to travel to the
particular school of medicine. Although some students may solely
interview at medical schools within their state of residence, most
applicants interview at schools across the United States. Thus,
the applicant must pay for airfare, hotel, local transportation,
and food costs out of his or her own pocket. For example, on a
recent interview trip from Los Angeles to the East Coast, I spent
approximately $500. A successful applicant may interview at two or
more distant medical schools and, therefore, spends $1000 or more
in travel costs. Hence, although interviews provide applicants with
the opportunity to articulate their interests and desires in medicine
to the admission committees, they represent a severe financial barrier
for many pre-medical students.
In contrast to my belief that medical school application fees are
extraordinary, some of my fellow pre-medical colleagues believe that
if one cannot afford to apply to medical school, then that person cannot
afford to attend medical school; however, this belief is flawed.
Once medical schools admit an applicant, they provide an enormous
amount of financial aid counseling and extensive loan and scholarship
information to the student. Hence, the admitted pre-medical student
has the opportunity and means to finance his or her education via loans
and scholarships, while the current applicant lacks the availability of
such financial resources for application fees and interview expenses.
Therefore, an applicant who cannot afford to apply to medical school
can afford to attend medical school.
Financial expenses should not impede a student's desire to apply to
medical school and achieve his or her goal of becoming a physician.
Although AMCAS and some medical schools have attempted to alleviate
this problem by providing fee waivers or reductions, these efforts
fall short of solving the problem of financial impedance to medical
applicants. Many students from moderate income families cannot receive
these fee waivers; moreover, their families cannot provide the $2000 to
$3000 necessary to apply to medical school. Thus, I believe that the
Department of Education, in conjunction with private loan companies,
should provide low interest, medical school application loan programs.
Through these loan programs, qualified students who lack necessary
application funds, may rightfully apply to medical schools without
facing the exuberant and potentially limiting application fees.