Saturday, October 25, 2008

#24: The cost of tuition

While most pre-med students can tell you that getting a medical education will be "expensive," they have no real understanding of the magnitude that the word "expensive" actually implies. However, they can tell you that medical school will be expensive because "everyone says that it is." In this sense, they are slightly more evolved than parrots, able to regurgitate key phrases to their superiors in exchange for a few month-old saltines and a bit of yarn (a skill that will be most useful in medical school).

Simply put, most pre-med students have no standard against which to realistically compare the cost of a medical education. On a day-to-day basis, they are concerned with the price of a can of Campbell's condensed tomato soup ($1.65), which isn't really comparable to the cost of four years of tuition at a private medical school ($139,000).

(For those of you playing along at home, the amount of money you would spend on tuition payments for four years of medical school would buy you 84,242 cans of Campbell's condensed soup.)

Making sense of tuition costs is irritating. Tuition costs vary greatly from school to school; there is no standard tuition that all medical schools adhere to. However, many medical schools with similar characteristics can be grouped together, so that general trends emerge. For example, a private medical school will charge around the same amount to all students (regardless of state residency), while a public medical school will charge in-state students massively less than non-residents for attending their school. For completion's sake, here are some figures:
  • Average cost of a year of tuition at a public medical school (in-state student): $16,690
  • Average cost of a year of tuition at a public medical school (non-resident): $34,900
  • Average cost of a year of tuition at a private medical school: $34,749
Of course, these are just generalizations. Medical schools reserve the right to do what they want, so they can buck these trends as they see fit. For example, the University of Colorado (a no-name public medical school) charged non-residents $75,700 for a single year of tuition!

Please notice that these figures do not include anything outside of the base tuition cost. Books, school fees, living costs, prescription drugs, non-prescription drugs, illegal drugs, and health insurance all have associated costs that are entirely separate from the cost of tuition, so having enough money to cover all of those expenses is also important.

All of this has the added benefit of adding another layer of complication onto your decision about which medical school to attend.

However, there are a few things you can do to help lower the cost of tuition:
  • Be a minority: Many medical schools have scholarships set aside specifically for minority students, so by fulfilling the criteria for these scholarships, you can make life much, much easier for yourself.
  • Have a recently-deceased relative: Medical schools need a certain amount of bodies for dissections for the first year students, and every year, they scramble to meet the number that they need. Medical schools may be flexible in offering some sort of compensation for an anatomical donation. (Note: do not actually do this.)
  • Have rich parents: This one is self-explanatory.
Most students, however, will need to take out loans in order to cover the cost of tuition for medical school. If this is you, remember that most doctors make very large sums of cash upon exiting medical school (not including those who go into family medicine), so this mortgaging of your present against your probable future income will generally work out in the end.