financial aid award

I got my financial aid award letter this past weekend and when I saw how much I had to take out in loans, the impact of going to medical school really hit me. This is what I want, we all want, but oh boy, does it come at a price.

If you haven’t gotten your letter yet, I would suggest you sit down and make sure you had something to eat earlier because you might pass out.

I might be overreacting but I don’t know how you can’t.

Does anyone have any stories from when they first opened up their letter?

The fun part is the letters you get periodically as you go through school, helpfull totting up your total debt for you.

Just don’t look.


Yes, it is the unfortunate reality & something we all have faced that only seems to be getting worse. When I graduated, in 2003, the average debt for a state-program grad was ~125k range & private-grads in the ~200k range. I read something yesterday, in a physician’s rag, that average debt-load for private-grads is now well in excess of $200k and there are cases of $500k debts. Utterly shocking!

Essentially, a med school graduate will now have the equivalent of two mortgages - two NICE homes worth - assuming they purchase a home right out of training. This endebtedness certainly applies pressure to med students to look toward the higher-earning specialities instead of the sorely needed, populationwise, primary care disciplines. Frankly, someone who owes $300k in loans simply will not be able to make ends meet as an FP or, even worse, as a pediatrician, who frequently make ~$100k/yr.

The flipside of the coin - the scenario I am struggling to survive financially - is that all of your loan deferment & forebearance programs target training lengths of only 3 years, which is the length for all of the primary care discipline. For any specialist, even worse for subspecialists, the training is 4 to 9 years. For me, I will be double-boarded Anesthesia/Critical Care - 5 years of post-grad training. That means I have been having to make “payments” on my med school loans since the end of my PGY-3 year. Yeah, there are ways of minimizing payments, but when you owe in excess of $250k, even interest only payments eat the ass-end out of your resident/fellows pay, which is shit! In the end days, where I am now, I have run out of deferment/forebearance options…I am no longer even able to secure ‘economic hardship’ postponements! And, lovely & understanding Sallie Mae calls me in excess of 6 times per day to “speak to me regarding my payments & to try to make payment arrangements to assist me in coming back to current”. Even though the story does not change, sure as hell doesn’t in the time between the 1st & 6th call per day, they persist. Initially, I would answer their silly, repetitive questions & go through my whole sob-story, until it dawned on me that they paid no attention to the entries in the ‘puter, they just wishe to harrass & punish me for being an unethical vagrant who does not make payments…never mind the fact I’ve spent 13 years training to be a physician and merely need 4 measley months of slack.

There are periodically bills before Congress to revamp the student loan system some of which may benefit & others probably harm us, the ones who depend upon the loan programs. I have never had time to sit and ponder about a solution…maybe next year.

Anyhow, for those of you seeking to enter or are about to enter medical school - this is the financial reality. Med school tuitions are becoming absurd in the extreme. There are programs out there who charge in excess of $50k in tuition alone - that does not include books, fees, room or board. And, with the Fed loan programs, unless they have increased the caps, there is a $38,500/yr limit on subsidized + unsubsidized loans. So, all monies above that limit will have to be private loans. Private loans usually mimic the provisions & restrictions of the fed loans; however, they are not legally bound to do so, which means that can change tangent upon the economic climate.

In summation, this journey represents a tremendous financial risk. A smart business person knows precisely what point in the project that debt becomes prohibitive…in med school, that ain’t too damned far! Used to, if you made it through, you could be 200% confident that you could pay off your loans & live a grand lifestyle. In modern times, physicians’ incomes have actually decreased significantly when indexed against inflation & versus income growth of most other positions. However, if you play your cards correctly - meaning you are financially responsible - you can still have a superb lifestyle, but it is highly unlikely you will truly “wealthy” from your physicians income alone. And, if you are irresponsible with your income, you can get your ass in a monetary crack that you cannot extricate yourself from - living check to check & in debt up past your eyeballs.

I am not trying to discourage anyone, but you all deserve to know the reality of things. Do not expect life to be a big bowl of cherries & money once you get out. And, if your motivations are grounded in money &/or prestige, find something else to do for a living. Only undertake this journey is you are damned sure you want to be a physician because it is your calling.

I thought what you said was great Dave and actually echoed some of what I was thinking privately to myself. Even though I have always maintained that I will keep my options open for what kind of physician I would be, after seeing how much I would have to take out in loans, I am considering specializing. Financially speaking, my goals as a doctor was not to become rich but rather economically stable but I am not even sure if thats really possible for at least ten years. I knew it would be expensive but I don’t think I fully appreciated how expensive until I received a letter which required my signature at the bottom.

The biggest loan I ever signed for was for my car a few years ago. It is less than half of what I will need for my first year, AND, I am still about a year from paying it off completely. Absolutely crazy man.

Just wait until you start getting those letters with your estimated monthly payments.

Also, the federal limits have gone up slightly. For the 2006-2007 year they were 40,500, which is still less than the budget at my state school. I have heard that some schools also have slightly higher limits due to cost of living and the like in those areas. Your financial aid office should be able to provide that information to you.

The limit at my school is something like 42-43K, and then we can dip into Grad Plus loans, which I haven’t done yet.

I find one troubling thing is I have gotten my award letter yet they will not set tuition prices until July. I can’t even properly budget until a month before classes begin.

  • samenewme Said:
The fun part is the letters you get periodically as you go through school, helpfull totting up your total debt for you.

Just don't look.

Initially, those update letters are alarming. However, as the debt piles on to absurd levels, they become a source of entertainment & outright belly-laughs, esp when your Fin Aid officer is fretting over $1000 advance. While $1000 is a substantial sum, it is a pittance vs. the $200k+ you are likely to owe in the end.

OldManDave is right on about the hideousness of med school debt in the 21st century.

The saving grace, for me, is the excellence and wide availability of loan forgiveness programs available to PCPs.

Yeah this is why I almost just joined the Navy. No joke. But after many discussions with my family and a meeting with our accountant and a financial planner, we realized that the sweet deal the military offers comes at too high a potential price, for us… not to discourage anyone who’s going that route. But I am a mom of three and I am just too scared I’d have to leave them for months or even years.

So now I’m really thinking about going into research… the NIH has loan forgiveness programs too!

Has anyone here used the FAP through AAMC? Also, for those that have matriculated, is providing family financial information requirement to getting financial aid? If one is estranged from family/parents, is there anyway to get around that? I have no way of getting that info even if I wanted to.

  • anonymous Said:
Has anyone here used the FAP through AAMC? Also, for those that have matriculated, is providing family financial information requirement to getting financial aid? If one is estranged from family/parents, is there anyway to get around that? I have no way of getting that info even if I wanted to.

Hi anonymous,

I was in a similar situation as you and this is what I was told by the financial aid office at UMDNJ - you do not need the information but it may help you get more aid. I actually got the maximum amount of federal loans without submitting any of my parent's paperwork. If you or maybe someone else on the board wants to submit their parent's paperwork it will help them no matter what age - whether they be 45 or 21.

Regarding FAP, I am not sure what that is.

A lot of school-based aid such as scholarships requires that you provide parental information, but you do not need to submit parental information to qualify for Federal student loans such as the Stafford loans.


Yikes! How much can a person borrow? I already have debt from the first medical school I attended 10 years ago.

After leaving medical school (in good academic standing) due to a personal/family crisis, I did not return fearing that I had lost my chance. I pursued different science related fields instead. However, the call to become a physician has remained in my heart. Recently, I have had a “spiritual awakening” of sorts and my call to become a healer has resurfaced.

Currently, my student loan debt (remember, I am not yet a medical student) is greater than my mortgage. Is it possible that I will be denied acceptance because of my inability to take out more loans? If this seems improbable, is anyone out there familiar with scholarship programs or can you suggest medical schools that offer financial assistance to students like myself?

BTW…I want to practice preventive medicine. I want to earn enough money to support my family (which includes me and my 4 dogs/2 cats) and to be able to donate some of my time and money to my loved ones and the less fortunate. Thanks for your input!


You won’t be denied admittance to medical school based on your ability to get loans/pay for it. However, I highly recommend you contact a med school financial aid office and find out if you are going to be able to finance your education. There are limits on federal subsidized/unsubsidized loans - so you may well find yourself not having much room on those. If you are close to the federal limit, you would need to borrow using private lenders, which are often credit based.

A good financial aid officer ought to be able to help you out with some numbers.

My school absolutely will withdraw admission to people who cannot qualify for loans to pay for it, though they don’t care whether those loans are federal loans. They also require a copy of the admittee’s credit report shortly after admission in case the student runs over the federal limit and requires private loans. They are not kidding. Other schools may be different.

It’s good to contact schools or your local financial aid office of a university where you may go to school to get more information. I’d also strongly suggest contacting your former school, especially since you left in good standing.

That’s interesting to know, Denise. I had never heard of schools withdrawing admission from those who they thought couldn’t pay for it, but it makes sense to weed those folks out earlier rather than later.

I was actually planning on applying to my former school. I left in my second year. I have completed much of the basic science coursework; however, I am sure I will have to repeat much (if not all) of this. Do you think they may waive some of my cost?? I know I definitely need to contact them about this, but I am afraid they will laugh at me (I just assumed I would have to start from scratch).

I will say that after reading some of the comments on this board, I am now very worried and wondering if I should continue to study for the MCAT. I found this website after purchasing all of my MCAT study materials. I suppose it is good to know just how much harder it is to apply now compared to when I had an advisory committee guiding me along the way. I am worried that my LORs will not be of the correct type and I am worried that I may not have enough money to pay for medical school if I get accepted. Thanks for all of your comments, but I am beginning to think me returning to medical school is a lost cause.


You are also going to want to know what kinds of hoops you will need to go through since you’ve already matriculated once at a med school. Many (most?) med schools will want a letter from the dean of that original med school indicating that you left in good standing.



Patty -

You absolutely need to contact your former school and sit down with them. Depending on the outcome of that meeting, you may also want to contact a few other schools about your situation and see what they have to say.

Good luck!