How I got out of Pre-Med Without Debt

So I was reading an article about student debt recently and it says that for medical students the average student loan debt is about $241,600. On top of this, 43.2 million student borrowers are in debt by an average of $39,351 each. The current demographic of my blog is either going to college, thinking about college, or parents of those who are going to college. In fact, most of the people who are watching my channel are probably interesting in going to medical school or a post-graduate school after college as well.

You know what all of those medical paths have in common? And no, it’s not a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, although there are a lot of those. It’s money. And it’s a scary amount of money, especially because you have no way of paying it back if you don’t have any help or financial management sense. It’s actually staggering because 30% of students who were entering college took out loans, with an average debt of $38,792. As a BS/MD student, even if you’re getting scholarships, that’s still seven years of payments that you’re going to have to make in order to go to school.

It impacts burnout

In fact, when surveyed about burnout, physicians cite their student debt as one of the reasons they wouldn’t cut down their work and continue to work in an unhealthy manner. Most physicians are able to pay off debt by the time they are an attending, however, with a lower debt burden you may be able to pay off all your loans even before you get the salary bump.

Even if you do want to go to medical school, it doesn’t have to be as expensive as you think. If you’re willing to follow some simple steps, you can at least get an undergraduate degree without going into too much debt. I just want to make sure that if you’re thinking of cancelling your medical school dreams because you think it’s too expensive, you don’t have to and this could help you save a lot of money in the future. Just reading this blog post could save you thousands of money which you could invest in the next Bitcoin to become the millionaire of tomorrow. If you found these tips helpful definitely comment below, and let’s get started.

I Chose My School Very Carefully (one I could afford)

The first way to get out of your pre-medical studies is to choose your school very wisely. Every BS/MD program and undergraduate degree are different, having different research experiences, different campus amenities, and of course, and different sticker prices. Just look at the numbers. When you go to a private university, your cost of attendance is almost triple that of a public university. This rate is abysmal.

If you’re a BS/MD student caliber material you can probably get scholarships at a lot of these schools, and this is what allowed me to get through college. If you’re wondering why your scholarship package as a BS/MD student may be lower at some colleges and higher at others, this is why: some schools like public universities which have a BS/MD program are funded by tax dollars and subsidize their education, whereas private universities have donors and cannot subsidize their cost of attendance.

Also, I chose to go to a BS/MD program where I had an in-state advantage and was able to take advantage of that tuition cut. Private schools such as Boston University or Washington St. Louis require donors to help out so they have a greater loan burden for people, and you have to pay for that. Also, the dorms or apartments around the university may have a high cost of living, so you have to add that to the expenses, which may total $10,000 per year or more.

It may not help to go to an expensive Ivy League School

You may think that going to a more expensive school such as an Ivy League school may help your chances at getting into a better medical school, and you’ll probably be correct. However if your financial goal is to get a better residency position, you would be wrong. Most BS/MD programs which have graduates who match into great residency programs.

Even with the recent change in STEP 1 scores going pass/fail, I still think that most of the BS/MD programs have a great chance of matching in a regional program which will get them a specialty of their choice. As an undergraduate, I think that an Ivy League school can help you for a T10 school because they always like to have a Harvard or Stanford name, but it won’t help you if you get a poor score on the MCAT anyway. But again, if your goal is to get a residency program, I don’t think that it is worth it to go to an Ivy League school over a state school which is significantly cheaper.

See, a study which was done in 1992 which followed graduates from the Penn State accelerated BS/MD program (which at the time was 6 years) and their findings were pretty surprising.

The authors decided to track those who entered the 6 year program and compared their NBME scores and their pre-medical GPA to those who didn’t enter the program. Now, if the Ivy League degree made that much of a difference, then it would be apparent in the the study showing better rates of matching. But what it showed was that graduates were as prepared as traditional students in medical knowledge, data-gathering skills, clinical judgement, and professional attitudes and even matched at comparable rates to MD graduates, and matched at comparable rates.

From the Discussion section of the paper
Another table from the section, showing no difference between Freshman GPA, Sophomore GPA, Junior Written Examinations and NBME Pt II

This showed that people who chose the program had the same outcomes in terms of being a successful physician as a person who went to another private institution or an Ivy League school and came to that medical school.

This suggests that the individual attributes of a student is what matters the most, and that you shouldn’t choose a school based on what you think is going to get you into the best medical school. Therefore, choosing a school which is the most affordable, like I did through the BS/MD program route (but could have also gone through the four-year university route) would be the best course of action if you want to graduate without debt.

Get Some Community College Credits

In high school, I was able to co-enroll in college classes at my local community college in order to test out of credits in my undergraduate institution. This allowed me to save big when it came time for college. This is one of the choices that is so under appreciated and so underused but it can save you a lot of time and money, and I’m more surprised that more people don’t go down this route when you’re trying to save money for college because it just makes a lot of sense.

The price of attending a community college on average is $4,800 per year for in-state public community colleges. That’s about one fourth of the cost of going to a public university and one-tenth of the cost of going to a private university. That’s a massive savings right off the bat for going to a two-year university just to get it out of the way.

And just before the haters type: you never went to a community college it’s not easy at all to get into medical school from there. I was able to take a few courses in community college while I was in college during my summers, which would have taken me two semesters to complete, which allowed me to save $8,000 in tuition at my four year university. You’re mostly taking the general education classes anyway, and if you can get them out of the way before you transfer to a public school for the rest of your pre-med curriculum, you’ll be golden.

Make sure you check the credits transfer

If you’re in a program, make sure you look at the fine print, and which classes transfer and which ones do not. (I used NJTransfer for this purpose)

Ah, what a godly website

The last thing you want to do is pay for a class which doesn’t transfer over to the college you go to. Even if you’re not in a program, I would still suggest taking a community college path and then transferring to a four-year college. This will allow you to take courses at a steeply discounted rate, establishing your extracurriculars, doing well on the MCAT, and hitting that like button for good luck when submitting your AMCAS and you should be good to go. Even if you get into a four-year university, you can really expedite your graduation date by taking courses in the summer.

Community colleges also allow you more flexibility. The classes that I took in high school were night classes, and the ones that I took in college were only two to three days a week. With the extra time I was able to go to research and also work a part time job as a tour guide for my university. In that summer that I took science classes at a community college, I was able to walk away net positive in terms of the money that I spent to the money that I earned. All of this bodes well for the community college path, which I suggest to pre-meds who are not ready or do not have enough capital to finance a four year university.

Use Your Time in College Wisely

No matter which college you attend or where you are going for college, I think it’s important to using what you have which is using your time wisely. Instead of living alone in a studio apartment, make sure that you have a roommate or multiple to make sure that your cost of living is low. I used to ride a bike around campus when I lived on campus, and I tried to minimize meals out when I lived off campus or ate at home. Instead of buying books, I was able to download inexpensive versions or share them with friends and I was able to buy equipment used for classes.

One thing that I am thankful for is that the university which I went to did not hamper students unnecessarily and the classes did not require textbooks and professors were understanding when we were sharing textbooks. Also, one thing that I did notice was that when planning events with friends we didn’t really go out much because there wasn’t much night life around the university and a lot of people commuted to school. This was helpful because there wasn’t a high cost of living and the time that I spent having fun with friends was mostly with board games or other activities which didn’t require too much spending money. By doing that I was able to get the same experience at only a fraction of the cost.

I didn’t do this, but I wish that I was able to apply for more scholarships before I entered university so I could have saved more time in school. I would have been able to eat healthier by preparing more food in bulk and taking more time to go to the free activities that my college offered instead of working on campus. The events on campus would allow you to make new friends and more importantly get free food but it would definitely help you out when trying to save money for medical school. Time is the greatest resource that we have and when you don’t have money, you can exchange it for some for more time down the road.

I Lived At Home

This wasn’t so helpful to the social situation, but one of the big costs of college is the living situation. While I lived at school the first year, I think it was a mistake. I think I could have gotten the same social experience while living at home and commuting to school. Moving off campus could save you a lot of money and in the 2020-2021 school year, students spent about $10,000 on room and board costs alone. Thats almost a thousand dollars going to housing only, not to mention books, transportation, and other supplies which can all add up.

How To Designing A Home? 6 Steps To Design Your Dream Home | Foyr
It’s not the same as a frat house, but it will do for lodging during college.

If you can tolerate your family and live with them, it would help you a lot. If you combine that with the community college classes I mentioned earlier, it would be even more of a boon. This is how I was able to save my cost of tuition in the second year I was at the university and was able to come out net positive in my second year of going to college.

These few years that I was able to live at home set me up massively for my financial future, and continues to pay dividends. I was able to save enough from my job, and work a little overtime, to save for the future. If I invested that money and kept it growing at a 7% return, that would give me $130,000 when I retired rather than spending the $10,000 now on housing. I would much rather want that but I guess to each their own.

If that’s not an option for you, you should try and see whether you can live off campus rather than on campus and living on the dorms. You could look for roommates and split it four ways and then use that house to live in which would halve your costs and you can still get the same college experience.

I worked a job

As we know, colleges have opportunities for jobs, and colleges have a lot of jobs where you can trade time for money, and this means that there is another way to cut costs. To start, the bureau of labor statistics found that about 81 percent of part time college-goers and 43 percent of full-time college-goers are employed, which is insane. Now some colleges have programs where you can apply for jobs on campus by becoming an RA, but I decided to do something different and apply for the college job which payed more and was a bit more fulfilling as a tour guide. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time behind a desk playing a game and look at where I am now—doing Anki behind a computer.

Only by working a job during the summer was I able to pay for college, and sometimes balancing two by getting a research stipend and working on campus for a different campus organization. I was able to save the cost of tuition for freshman year by working during the summer before college, and if you consider a part time job during the school year, this allows you to make college much more affordable and may give you some spending money as well.

Use your campus resources

If you can’t find a job on campus, you can also find one on Handshake, where you can find jobs which are specifically tailored for your university and alumni can post looking for other alumni. If you are at a state school, most of the jobs will be local. I applied to a few jobs on here however I found one on campus so I declined all of the interviews. And as we all know, if you have a job, then you’re getting money in your pocket, which allows you to spend on things which are not just tuition but also on your living expenses as well.

Third, with a job, you can use it for medical school applications if you’re not in a program and you’re working your way throughout school. This is a really good thing to have on your application because when it comes time for clinical rotations, having a job and working with people and working overtime can really help you when you’re working overtime. One thing that medical schools always emphasize is professionalism and if you’re working a job with deliverables you definitely learnt hat skills. It is not unusual at all for an undergraduate student to come to medical school with the academic load as well as a job and do really well during their clinical rotations.

Fourth, with a job, you can use it to network as well. A job in a healthcare setting can help you network with physicians who you could shadow later on. If you’re a phlebotomist or a nursing assistant you could consult with some physicians and get your shadowing hours done after your shift.

Taking Out Debt for Medical School

This tip is just a word of advice, not necessarily how I paid for my pre-medical years. if you’re taking loans for medical school, take out the maximum loan possible as a senior undergraduate student to decrease how much you borrow as a first year medical student. Not only do undergraduate loans carry lower interest than graduate school loans, but they are also subsidized, which means that you will not have to pay interest while you are in school. You will want to exhaust this option before taking on an unsubsidized loan, because those ones accrue interest as soon as you get them, because colleges are evil and want to scam you out of your money.

If you’re not in a BS/MD program, you should try and apply for NYU, Columbia University, and other schools which offer free tuition and apply for as many scholarships as you qualify for. If you’re married, you can even ask your spouse to work for the university and see if you can get a discount on tuition. Although you don’t want to trade time for money as you grow older, some contract scholarships like those with the military such as the Health Professions Scholarship Program, National Health Service Corps, Indian Health Services, or state primary care programs may be of use in order to subsidize your tuition.

I might get some hate on this one and you obviously should only do this if you’re financially responsible and you have some self-control, and you’re going to be paying for medical school anyway, but you can use 0% credit card offers to further delay when you’re taking loans because when you sign the contract for the loan amount, you are on the hook for paying that interest which starts collecting as soon as the loan disburses. You should obviously not do this if you don’t know how to properly handle a credit card, but you can do this if you’re financially savvy. I would not recommend it for the financial novice, and I personally have never tried this route.

Conclusion

The only reason I was able to pay for my pre-med education without taking any loans was a combination of loop-holes, working throughout school, and waiting until the last possible minute to get loans for medical school. Even if it means living at home for longer than you anticipated, and transferring some credits from a community college to a state school, and living with roommates, this will help you massively. The choices you make now will follow you throughout life and physicians are rarely taught about this. You’re not taught about this in high school either and it can definitely help you out massively when you’re applying to medical schools to be financially savvy. If you’re thinking about medical school, consider all of the ways that you can reduce your student loan burden in the future.

With that being said, thanks for reading. Also feel free to add me on Instagram I make funny cartoons which I post from time to time and you can message me for any tips to apply for BS/MD programs. You can also sign up for my newsletter and the first ten people who sign up after this post get a free read over for their medical school essay.

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