What’s the True Cost of Applying to Medical School?
Money doesn’t grow on trees, but if you’re thinking about applying to medical school, you’ll certainly wish that it did. Medical school is an investment in yourself — an expensive investment. The average amount of medical school debt for graduates in 2020 was $215,900, according to educationdata.org, and that doesn’t include any educational debt prior to medical school (i.e. college, post-bacc, masters programs, etc.).
But it balances out in the long run; the average physician in the United States makes $237,000 in primary care and $341,000 in specialty care, enough money to pay off medical school debt and live a comfortable life.
But what you may not realize is that it doesn’t just cost a lot of money to attend medical school. It costs a lot of money to apply as well. You need to take the MCAT, submit a primary application, submit a secondary application, maybe take a CASPer exam and do an interview — all of which you must pay to do. In what follows, I’ll break down the cost of each of those for you and explain a little bit about each step.
MCAT Registration: $320
The MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) is a standardized exam designed to test your knowledge in biology, biochemistry, chemistry, physics, psychology, sociology, and critical analysis and reasoning skills. You must take this exam to attend a U.S. medical school.
The MCAT is administered at many different exam centers throughout the country over the course of the year. Register for it well in advance, as spots nearby can fill up quickly. If spots fill up and you can’t wait until a later date, you have the added expense of travel costs, including potential hotel stays. And considering how expensive the exam itself is, you don’t want to increase your costs.
Currently, if you register for the MCAT, it costs $320, regardless of how far in advance you sign up. There are no rescheduling fees and full refunds are available. However, these fees are only valid for January and March 2021 MCAT dates.
MCAT scheduling normally includes different prices and different refund/rescheduling policies depending on how far in advance you schedule and how far in advance you cancel/reschedule. Due to COVID-19 they have simplified their policy, and plan to reevaluate this at a later time for the rest of their 2021 test dates. All updates will be reflected on the link cited in this paragraph, so be sure to check back if you plan to take the MCAT after March 2021. In general and regardless of the current policies, you’ll want to create a good, well-thought-out plan for your study schedule so that you are unlikely to need to change your date after you register.
MCAT Preparation: $0-$6,999
While formal preparation for the MCAT is not required, 66% of 2016 test-takers used materials from a commercial company to prepare for their exam. College courses in the subjects tested on the exam are also helpful, but again, not entirely necessary. If you do take an MCAT prep course, the two most popular are Kaplan and Princeton Review, and both come with hefty price tags.
Kaplan has a few options. The most expensive is a comprehensive five week bootcamp for $6,999, while the least expensive is $199 for 3 months access to their Q-bank, which contains almost 3,000 practice questions. Another of their most popular courses is an online group class led by a teacher for $2,499. Can’t decide if an online class would work well for you? They offer a free online session so you can figure that out beforehand.
If you don’t need a teacher and just want access to the self-paced course, you’ll pay $1,799. And if you don’t think you need a course at all, you can access three practice exams for $179 or just the review books for $168.98.
So depending on what your studying needs are, you could spend anywhere from $168.98 to $6,999 on Kaplan products. With a $75 American Medical Student Association (AMSA) pre-medical student membership, you can get 10% off select Kaplan MCAT prep. If you’re interested in a more expensive Kaplan prep option, it’s a worthwhile investment, since you can save a net of $294.90 by having one.
Princeton Review offers just as many options as Kaplan does. There are courses ranging from $2,799 to $6,999, depending on how intensive a course of study you want to take. There is also a self-paced course for $1,699 and you can get a private tutor for $183/hr. If you just need help in one specific topic on the MCAT, you can get targeted help for $399 to $499, depending on the topic.
Don’t want to pay for preparatory materials at all? You don’t need to! Both Kaplan and Princeton Review offer a free MCAT practice exam online. Princeton Review is even offering their entire biology course for free. Additionally, Kaplan also offers other free test-prep materials like a question of the day, and a 20-minute session of MCAT-style questions that they call “20 Minute Workout.”
Another option is Khan Academy’s MCAT prep. They have tons of videos on topics in every MCAT section, along with practice questions to go with them. It’s a fantastic, free resource that anyone can use. However, Khan Academy is retiring this course, and it will unfortunately only be available until September 2021.
Additionally, the AAMC also tells you what material the exam will cover on their site, “What’s on the MCAT Exam.” If you don’t plan to purchase any materials, this is your go-to site for figuring out what information you should be studying on your own.
Primary AMCAS Application: $170+
The American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) opens around May 1st. The application consists of general biographical information, your academic record, short descriptions of your experiences, long descriptions of your most important experiences, a personal statement, recommendation letters, and a list of schools you intend to apply to. You can also include your MCAT scores on the AMCAS, though you aren’t required to do so to submit it. Most medical schools take the AMCAS, so think of it as the medical equivalent to the Common Application for college applications.
There are, however, a few exceptions: several Texas schools and CUNY School of Medicine use alternative application services, as do schools of osteopathic medicine.
Around June 1st, you’ll be able to submit your AMCAS application, after which you’ll wait for it to be verified. Submit it as soon as possible in order to get it verified faster. It costs $170 to submit an application, which also covers the cost of sending the application to the first school on your list. Each additional school costs an extra $41.
The Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Service (TMDSAS) is used for most of the Texas medical schools, including:
- Long School of Medicine, UT Health San Antonio
- McGovern Medical School
- Sam Houston State University College of Osteopathic Medicine
- Texas A&M University College of Medicine
- Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Paul L. Foster School of Medicine at El Paso
- Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine at Lubbock
- University of Houston College of Medicine
- University of North Texas Health Science Center Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine
- The University of Texas at Austin Dell School of Medicine
- The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston
- The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine
- The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
It costs a flat fee of $185 to submit a TMDSAS application. These applications also include biographical information, an academic record, experiences, MCAT scores, letters of recommendation, and a list of the schools you plan to apply to.
The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS) is the application service used for osteopathic medical schools. In terms of content, it’s very similar to AMCAS and TMDSAS. An AACOMAS application is $196 for the first school you apply to and an additional $46 for every additional application.
Secondary AMCAS Applications: $30-$125
If an AMCAS school likes your primary application, they may send you an invitation to fill out a secondary application. This application will ask questions tailored to that specific school. Different schools take different approaches to the secondary application. Some send out secondaries to everyone who applies, some only send them to students who score above certain MCAT and/or GPA cutoffs, and some have other systems.
Regardless of the school’s approach, you won’t begin to get secondary application invitations until after your primary application has been verified — which is why you want to get your primary app in early.
Each school sets its own fee for a secondary application. They can be as low as $30 or as high as $250. The average cost is usually around $100 per school. At TMDSAS schools, secondary applications cost from $0 to $75. AACOMAS secondary application fees vary, but are similar to AMCAS in pricing, at an average of around $100 per school.
CASPer is a standardized situational judgment test that can be taken on any computer. It stands for “computer-based assessment for personal characteristics.” It tests your behavior in hypothetical scenarios and requires very little preparation, assessing things like communication skills, empathy, ethics, professionalism, collaboration, and more. The tests are scored by humans and are excellent predictors of success in medical school.
About 41 schools require or recommend CASPer. If you’re interested in one of those schools, the good news is that it costs just $12 to take the test and $12 to send it to one school. Information on which schools require or recommend CASPer testing can be found on their admissions websites.
Medical School Interviews: variable
Depending on where you live, interviewing might cost anywhere from a few dollars in gas money to a train ticket or plane ticket and a night in a hotel. The applicant must shoulder these costs, as there are no forms of assistance for them. You might also have to purchase an interview suit or other appropriate clothing if you don’t already own any.
However, in the light of COVID-19, many schools have switched to online interview platforms, which save the applicant the cost of travel. Please view individual medical schools’ websites to determine if this is the case for your school of interest.
Between all of these steps and all of these expenses, applying to medical school can seem like an impossible goal. But most of the application services offer fee assistance programs in an effort to make medical school more inclusive. Below, you can read about what those programs entail.
AAMC offers assistance to applicants whose household income falls below 400% of the poverty line. For example, a four-person household in the U.S. mainland (not Hawaii or Alaska) making less than $104,800 per year would qualify for assistance.
This assistance covers many things. Notably, it reduces the fee to register for the MCAT from $320 to $130. You’ll also receive complimentary MCAT prep materials and free access to the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) website. Additionally, the AMCAS application fee will be waived for up to 20 schools as well.
All told, AAMC’s assistance program can save you $1,139 in MCAT and primary application fees. Most medical schools will also waive secondary application fees if you’re a part of the AAMC fee assistance program, which only increases your savings.
TMDSAS no longer offers a fee waiver program.
AACOMAS offers assistance for applicants whose household income falls below 200% of the poverty line. For example, a four-person household in the U.S. mainland (not Hawaii or Alaska) making less than $52,400 per year would qualify for assistance. AACOMAS’s fee assistance waives the initial $196 cost of an application.
However, it does require that you pay the $46 for any additional schools that you’d like to apply to. Also, be aware that these waivers are first-come, first-served, so be sure to apply for it as soon as you create an application.
This is a lot of information to take in all at once. To summarize, here are the kinds of costs you can expect for each pathway:
The cost of an AMCAS application process to one medical school:
MCAT Registration, +/- MCAT Prep: $320-$6,999
Total: $614-$7,393 + about $153 per extra school
The cost of a TMDSAS application process to one medical school:
MCAT Registration, +/- MCAT Prep: $320-$6,999
Total: $589-$7,268 + about $72 per extra school
The cost of an AACOMAS application process to one medical school:
MCAT Registration, +/- MCAT Prep: $320-$6,999
Total: $639-$7,2319 + about $158 per extra school
There’s no way around it — medical school applications, and all that the application process entails, are expensive. But if it’s your passion, then it’s absolutely worth finding a way to make it happen.
Remember, medicine is a lucrative profession in the long term. And while current debt can be very stressful, there will be much guidance throughout your career path on how to manage it. It is certainly an investment, but one with job security and a six-figure salary at the end of the road. So try not to let the dollar signs intimidate you, and if it’s your dream, follow it. Speaking as a current third-year medical student, I’m very happy that I followed mine.