Making Sense of the Rising Cost of Medical School

November 30, 2023 · 6 minute read

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Making Sense of the Rising Cost of Medical School

The costs of medical school are rising at an alarming rate. According to Education Data, the cost of attending medical school rises by $1,500 per year.

Thirty-five years ago, medical students graduated with an average of $32,000 in student loan debt. Now, the average medical school debt for graduates is $202,450, according to the Education Data Initiative, with 73% of students graduating with debt.

The rising cost of medical school, plus the daunting number of years of education and training, is making some prospective medical students ask: Is an MD really worth it? That’s ultimately up to you.

It’s also worth noting that while medical school has traditionally been a path to a lucrative career, the steep up-front costs might be starting to make the endgame look less appealing.

This can be particularly true for would-be doctors interested in working in relatively low-paying fields, such as general practice (as compared to, say, anesthesiology).

While it might be relatively easy to pay down student loan debt for those entering a higher-paying specialty, a doctor going into general practice might take years (even decades!) to pay off their student loans.

To gain a better understanding of how much medical school actually costs, we’ll take a look at the costs of an MD, and some ways young doctors can get out of medical school debt faster after graduation.

How Much Does Medical School Cost?

The average medical school tuition varies depending on factors like whether the student is attending a public or private university.

The average total cost of in-state tuition for a student at a public university is $159,620. At a private school, the average total cost is $256,412.

But that’s only the cost of tuition, fees, and insurance — there’s also living costs to consider, which is why it’s useful to consider the entire cost of attendance (COA).

Each school publishes the estimated costs of attendance for their program, which typically not only include tuition and fees, but also costs like room and board, textbooks and supplies, and travel.

Why Is Medical School More Expensive Than Ever?

The rising cost of medical school tuition is part of a larger trend. It is estimated that the cost of college tuition and fees at private, nonprofit, four-year institutions in America grew at a rate of 3.5% from the 2021-2022 school years.

So what is driving the price increase? In general, college tuition has increased dramatically in the past 30 years, while wages have grown at a much slower rate. But what’s behind the dramatic uptick in college prices? The potential answer is two-fold. One factor is the demand for a college education has also dramatically risen over the last three decades.

Another factor more pertinent to public universities: a decline in state funding. It’s been observed in multiple states that as the education budget gets stripped, tuition costs paid by students also rises. And while lawmakers likely understand such a correlation exists, as long as federal financial aid is so freely available for students, there is likely little incentive to digress from such cuts.

How Long Does Paying for Med School Take?

So why do med students often go into so much debt?

It’s partly because the grueling requirements of their programs don’t often allow for part-time work. As a result, many students apply for financial aid to cover their college price tag, which means they graduate with significant amounts of student loan debt.

How long does it take to pay back the debt? Much of this depends on the student, the career path they take, and the medical loan repayments they make. However, the relatively low salaries young doctors earn during their residencies don’t typically allow for much opportunity to pay back loans until their first position after residency.

Let’s say, hypothetically, a borrower has federal Direct Loans, such as Stafford, PLUS, or a Direct Consolidation Loan. And let’s also say you can prove you have partial financial hardship (PFH), and qualify for an income-driven repayment plan.

In that situation, the monthly repayment would be capped at 10-15% of the borrower’s monthly discretionary income for a period of up to 25 years. After the 25 years, whatever hasn’t been repaid is forgiven (although that amount may be taxable).

However, if after residency, the borrower in question gets a position with an income that removes them from the PFH tier, they could switch to the Standard Repayment Plan for federal student loans and potentially pay off the loan more quickly.

Is It Possible to Shorten the Medical Debt Payment Timeline?

Here are some tips for those interested and able to shorten their repayment timeline, which can lower the amount of student loan interest paid over the life of the loan.

Repaying Loans During Residency

It is possible to start paying down medical school debt in residency. While some students may be tempted to put their loans in student loan forbearance in their residency years, doing so can add quite a bit in compounding interest to the bill.

Instead, consider an income-driven repayment plan to start paying back federal loans with an affordable payment. Another option is to look into SoFi’s medical residency refinance options to compare. Keep in mind, though, that if you choose to refinance your federal student loans, you will no longer be eligible for federal benefits and protections, including income-driven repayment plans, deferment, and student loan forgiveness.

Making Extra Payments

Another tactic to help pay off student loans faster is via simple budgeting. After getting your first position post-residency, consider committing to living on a relatively tight budget for just a few more years. Putting as much salary toward extra student loan payments as possible could potentially help cut time — and interest payments — off the repayment timeline.

Speeding Up Med School Debt Repayment With Refinancing Student Loans

If you refinance your medical student loans, iit may be possible to secure a lower interest rate and/or a lower required monthly payment – depending on the terms you choose, your credit score, and other factors.

A lower interest rate could help reduce how much money is paid in interest over the life of the loan. Extending your loan term could mean a lower monthly payment – but keep in mind that you’ll most likely pay more in interest over the life of the loan.

While refinancing could help borrowers save money over the life of the loan, it does mean giving up the benefits that come with federal student loans, like income-driven repayment, deferment, forbearance, and student loan forgiveness specific to physicians.

But for borrowers who don’t foresee needing these services, refinancing might be a viable option.

The Takeaway

The cost of medical school has risen in the past 30 years, and so has the amount of debt med students take on to pursue a career as an MD. But a career in the medical field can potentially be both lucrative and rewarding, so for some, medical school can be worth the time, effort, and cost.

Borrowers who are repaying student loans from medical school may consider strategies like income-driven repayment plans, making overpayments, or student loan refinancing to help them tackle their student loan debt.

With SoFi, refinancing is fast, easy, and all online. We offer competitive fixed and variable rates.

SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.

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Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


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