Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Word About Finances

During a conversation with a student yesterday, I was reminded how the financial burdens of medical and dental school are sometimes quickly brushed over when presented to pre-health students. Let me first clearly state that ANYONE can meet the financial obligations to go to medical, dental, or another health profession school if that is their dream. However, it helps to understand what the costs are and how to plan for this.

Medical and dental schools are expensive, as it takes a lot of resources to train the future health care workforce. In-state tuition, fees, and living expenses generally total above $50,000 per year of professional school. This is a lot of money, but you must remember that you are investing in a future career that will provide a high level of income. Most students (~90%) receive some form of financial aid (mostly loans) to finance their education (there are very few scholarships for professional school and those that exist are generally in small amounts). While this may seem like you are entering into an insurmountable amount of debt, you will make enough money as a doctor to make your loan payments (trust us!!).

However, it is important to plan for this debt while in undergrad. If you can avoid taking out student loans (and other loans) while in college please do so. You do not want to go into professional school already thousands of dollars in debt. In addition, when you take out loans for professional school, they will be in your name (and under your credit). Be responsible during college and do not rack up credit card debt!

One area that you should save for is the application process. Yes, it is also expensive to apply to medical and dental school. You will have to take an entrance exam (generally sometime during your junior year) in order to apply. These exams are difficult and expensive. First, you must prepare for the exam. The Office of Minority and Rural Affairs offers a FREE MCAT-DAT Review Summer Workshop. A free program would be my recommendation, but there is limited space in the review (apply early). Other formal reviews include Kaplan, Princeton, and ExamKrackers, which all cost around $2,000. You can also purchase books (~$200) for you to review on  your own, but a formal program is recommended for these exams- you want to adequately prepare and only take them once if possible.

Also, the exams are quite expensive as well. The MCAT currently costs $235 and the DAT $360. Medical school applicants may apply for AAMC's fee assistance program which, if granted will reduce the price of the MCAT to $85 and will allow you to apply to up to 14 medical schools for free. Without fee assistance, AMCAS (medical school) application service processing fee is $160 and includes one (1) medical school designation. Additional school designations are $34 each.

Partial fee waivers for the DAT are available to examinees in cases of severe financial hardship. The waiver is 50% of the DAT fee and includes the fee for the test and the official score reports requested at the time of application. Fee waivers must be requested in writing by the examinee using a financial information form and paper application. You may request the forms at datexam@ada.org or by calling DTS (800.232.2162). Submit the financial information form, the paper application, and your educational institution financial aid award letter. The DTS will review all fee waiver requests and make the final decision regarding the fee waiver. There are only a limited number of DAT fee waivers, so apply very early (practically a year before you plan to take the exam). The cost of the AADSAS (dental school application service) is $235 for the first school and $75 for each additional school. AADSAS does offer a fee assistance program which includes a fee waiver for the first dental school designation (there is no assistance for additional school designations).

After applying through the application services, your applications will be sent to the schools you designated. Almost all schools require a secondary application. Those fees typically range from $25 to $100, so you will need to save for that as well.  In addition, it is important to consider the costs associated with interviewing at schools. If you are selected for an interview you are typically responsible for all associated costs (travel, lodging, food, etc). You will also need to have a suit for your interview. Purchase this ahead of time so that you may find something that fits well (and look for sales!).

While this may seem overwhelming, remember that all pre-health students face these financial burdens. Give yourself an advantage by planning!