What Does it Cost: Applying to Medical School

What Does it Cost: Applying to Medical School
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Becoming a medical doctor is both noble and lucrative. However, there's a long, arduous and expensive journey to achieve this career goal. It takes more than keen intelligence and good study habits. You'll also need a large bank account.

What Is the MCAT?

Medical schools require the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) as part of their application processes. Although there are a handful of schools that don't have this requirement, they're rare exceptions. If you want to go to medical school, plan on taking the MCAT.

The MCAT has been used for the last 90 years. It is designed to test the analytical skills and knowledge of future medical school students.

Administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the MCAT is divided into four sections and is multiple choice. Various subjects covered are:

  • biological and biochemical foundations of living systems
  • psychological, social and biological foundations of behavior
  • chemical and physical foundations of biological systems
  • critical analysis and reasoning skills

The MCAT takes more than seven hours to complete. Most of the subjects on the test are knowledge-based. The critical analysis and reasoning portion is meant to test not only reading comprehension but also analytical skills.

There are testing centers all around the United States to accommodate the numerous med-school hopefuls who want to take the MCAT. The AAMC suggests you register early for the date and center you want. If the test center is full on your desired date, you may have to travel to another one. That travel could add to the cost of taking the MCAT.

Study Time Costs

The MCAT is an intense exam. The subjects are extensive. It is estimated that the average student will spend 10 to 15 hours a week over the course of six months preparing for the MCAT. For many, that's the equivalent to a part-time job. But of course, it also means lost wages because you're not working. So, what does this cost the prospective student?

If we multiply a $10 hourly rate by 390 hours, we have just under $4,000 in lost wages. And if you make more than a $10 hourly wage, your lost wages will be more significant.

Keep in mind that this doesn't count driving to tutors, libraries, the testing center, etc. This is just the study time.

Books and Practice Tests

Because the MCAT has distinct sections, there's a book or books for each one. Plan on spending around $40 to $50 per book. Kindle versions will save you a little. But the downside to an e-book is you won’t be able to annotate.

You can also buy bundled books. Kaplan has a book bundle of all the sections that includes six full-length practice tests for less than $300.

One important way to study for the MCAT is through practice tests. Most people take seven to 10 practice tests. But they cost.

The AAMC has practice tests available for sale. They were written by the same people who developed the MCAT. The cost is currently $35 per test and you have access to it for a year from the purchase date.

Altius is a practice test supplier. They offer bundles that can save you money:

  • $40 for one test
  • $175 for five tests
  • $300 for 10 tests

Blueprint is another practice test supplier that offer bundles:

  • $99 for four tests
  • $149 for six tests
  • $249 for 10 tests

These are just a few examples of sources available. There are numerous companies waiting to sell you practice tests. And when you’re doing seven to 10 tests, the cost adds up quickly.

MCAT Private Tutor Cost

The stakes are high when going for admittance to medical school. And since the MCAT is a vital element to acceptance, you might consider going the private tutor route.

There are several advantages to a private tutor:

  • being able to concentrate on your weakest areas rather than having to sit through material you already know
  • more opportunity for in-depth study
  • individual attention
  • schedule flexibility
  • more time to ask questions

There are also disadvantages to a private tutor:

  • having to supplement tutoring lessons with self-study
  • cost

MCAT tutors make a good living. The average tutor earns just under $59,000 a year. This means you'll need to factor in at least $30 an hour. If you want five to 10 hours of tutoring a week, budget around $300. Depending how much help you need, private tutoring can take a chunk out of your bank account.

MCAT Course Cost

Competition for admittance to medical school is fierce. The mean MCAT score is 500. The highest score possible is 528. But most students who make it into medical schools have scores of 505 to 510. Any points that you can squeeze out over that mean score helps. MCAT courses tout, and in some cases guarantee, they can get you to 505. But that comes at a cost.

This cost might very well be justified because these prep courses are comprehensive and dig deep into the material with various types of resources:

  • live instruction
  • on-demand videos
  • books and manuals
  • practice tests
  • four-week boot camps

The majority of these courses give you access to materials for a year.

Most of the companies that offer courses make several plans available. They can run anywhere from $1,500 to around $6,500. You’ll notice that the higher priced the plan, the higher the score promised. Most online MCAT prep courses offer financing, including some of the most well-known:

It's a good idea to shop for prep courses that not only meet your study needs but fit your budget.

MCAT and Primary Application Fees

At this writing, the MCAT registration fee is $325. This includes distributing your scores to your selected schools. Besides the registration fee, you also will be charged a primary application fee.

Most medical schools use the AAMC's American Medical College Application Services (AMCAS) to process all applications. It's convenient for you and the colleges.

You only have to submit one set of application materials that are then forwarded to each medical school you request. It costs $170 for the first school plus $42 for each additional school.

Considering that the average student applies to nine schools, the total primary application fee will probably be $506. Add that to the MCAT registration fee and you're at $831.

The AAMC does have a fee assistance program for those who need financial assistance to take the MCAT. This reduces the cost of the MCAT to $130.

Secondary Application and Registrar Fees

Once you pay your MCAT and primary application fees, you're still not finished. You'll also need to pay the secondary application fees. Each school you apply to charges a fee, and that can run between $75 and $150 per application.

Students who meet eligibility requirements for the AAMC fee assistance program may have the secondary application fees waived. This depends on individual colleges.

Some medical schools also charge a registrar fee to transmit your letters of recommendation and transcript. This can cost around $10.

Med School Interview Costs

Another step of the medical school admittance process is the interview. If you receive an invitation to interview at a medical school, you must pay to be interviewed.

The average cost of a medical school interview is $400, but because the average applicant has four to five interviews, the cost would be $1600 to $2000.

And paying for the interview is just part of it. You still must travel to the interview and possibly set up lodging. This adds to your interview bill.

So, if you live in California and want to fly to New York for a Columbia University interview, figure spending at least $1,000 on airfare, lodging and food. Add that to the average $400 interview cost and for one interview, it'll cost you roughly $1,400.

If you're very fortunate, the medical school will foot the transportation bill, but that's an exception and not the norm.

Acceptance Rates

You're probably wondering if you spend all this money applying to medical schools, have an excellent GPA and score high on the MCAT, what are your chances of being accepted to a top school or any one for that matter?

If you don’t want to go to a tropical island for medical school, you’ll be facing some stiff competition. Most acceptance rates in the U.S. are in the single digits. The average acceptance rate for medical schools in the U.S is 6.3 percent. But it can be much lower:

Not all medical schools have single digit acceptance rates. There are a few that are a little easier:

Because acceptance at a medical school is competitive, most students apply to numerous schools.

Acceptance Deposits

You might get accepted into a medical school that isn’t your first choice, and you'll want to wait to see if you'll get into your most-desired school. Or perhaps, you might be accepted to multiple schools.

You can hold your spot until May while you decide where to go. But you'll have to put down a deposit. Unfortunately, this deposit isn't always refundable. Medical schools require anywhere from $500 to $3,000 for this privilege. However, the upside is that it gives you time to think about what the right choice is.

Application Prep and Interview Help

If all this seems too confusing, you can hire help to navigate the process. There are online companies that will provide consulting and other various services:

  • mock interview prep
  • essay review
  • waitlist advising
  • personal statement reviews and feedback
  • one-on-one consulting for a limited amount of hours

Many of these companies have different packages available, which can run from $2,000 to $5,000. And most offer financing.

Conclusion

There’s a lot that goes into the study of medicine. You not only need to hit the books, you must also hit the bank. If you’ve had your finger on the calculator, you've probably determined that it could cost upward of $10,000 to apply to medical school.

A medical degree is a monumental investment, both from an intellectual perspective and a financial one.