The Student Voice
Applying to Medical School: A Financial Barrier
Ian M. Fowler,
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.
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Created: March 2000 / Updated: Saturday, 24 March 2001