How to Choose a Medical School: Get the Best Bang For Your Buck

March 15, 2014

The Best and Cheapest Medical Schools

It’s a fact that not all medical schools are created equal, and one of the key differences is in the amount of debt with which newly minted MDs leave their training. MDs from the Class of 2013 departed medical school with nearly $2 billion in student loan debt. That’s about $170,000 per student on average. It’s almost impossible to fully fund your medical school training through scholarships, though the opportunities for a free ride through medical school do exist.  It pays to be a prudent medical school shopper and know which programs provide the biggest bang for your buck.  You’ll be surprised to know it’s not what you think!

The Mayo Medical School: Yes, the home of the world-renowned Mayo Clinic is also one of the most outstanding and affordable medical schools in the US. Mayo is highly selective and boasts a high first-choice residency placement rate. Graduates of Mayo Medical School have the lowest student debt rate at under $100,000 and are provided with a significant advantage in training, placement, and reputation. Sure, it’s quite cold in Minnesota, but if Mayo sends you an acceptance letter, you’ll want to say YES to this opportunity.

The School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill): If you want to attend one of the top ranked primary care medical schools in the nation, and graduate with a relatively low student loan debt load of $100,000, then UNC is the place for you. In addition to primary care, specialties in AIDS and rural health are well established and highly ranked.  UNC is also situated near Research Triangle Park, a source of innovation for medical professionals and opportunities for medical students.

Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania:  You might find it incredible that an Ivy League institution is one of the greatest bangs for your buck, but it’s true!  Graduates of Penn’s medical school leave with a little more than $100,000 in debt and experience a wealth of highly-engaging professional medical scenarios during the course of their training.  Students can earn any number of combined degrees during their tenure at Penn, including an MD/MPH, MD/PhD, MD/JD, MD/MBA, and MD/MSEd. In addition, Penn is one of the highest ranked research medical schools in the country, and medical school students will have the opportunity to work Ready for surgeryalongside leading experts in the field. This urban medical school provides students the chance to work with professional sports teams as well as with community-based clinics. The diverse city of Philadelphia provides medical school students with the chance to enjoy city living on an affordable budget while earning an affordable MD degree.

The Medical School at Harvard University: Another Ivy tops the list of lowest student debt load for its medical school graduates.  Harvard is the quintessential old-world scholarly setting and one of the nation’s oldest medical schools.  Its graduates leave with approximately $100,000 in debt, and in return, they join an alumni of over 100,000 graduates.  Like Penn, Harvard is one of the leading research medical schools in the nation, but it also boasts a wealth of diverse experiences for its students.  Multiple joint degree programs are available, including MD/MBA, MD/JD, MD/PhD, and a unique MD and health technologies degree option.  The Medical School at Harvard University has a rich tradition of entertainment for and by its medical students, including a White Coat Ceremony, First Year Adventure Trip, and Second Year Musical. Finally, to keep living costs low, medical students have the option to live on campus on a med students only residence hall.  Sure, it’s highly competitive, and even the most perfectly qualified candidates get rejected, but admission to Harvard’s Medical School is a golden opportunity, and a surprisingly affordable one at that!

Baylor College of Medicine:  Outstanding medical schools dot the country, and Texas is home to one of the most affordable medical schools in the nation, Baylor College of Medicine.  Graduates leave with their MD and a student loan debt load of well under $100,000.  Call Houston home for four or five years, and you’ll have the opportunity to work in the one of the country’s most highly regarded Pediatrics departments. Dual degrees are available in multiple forms, including an MD/MPH, MD/JD, MD/PhD, and MD/MBA.  To unwind after a long day of work, the surrounding area offers thousands of acres of open water and public parks. You might not want to leave after graduation, as Houston boasts and affordable cost of living and quality of life for its residents.

The School of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University:  JHU is a hard hitter with strong criteria for any medical school candidate – low student loan debt load, highly ranked research, massive grant funding from the National Institutes of Health, and small city-living. Baltimore provides the perfect learning environment and playground for medical students; community-based medical experiences are plenty, and the JHU medical school hosts numerous activities for its medical students.  Like the previous, highly-ranked medical schools, dual degrees are plentiful and affordable. If you decide to special in internal medicine, know that JHU ranks near the top in training and residency placements in this specialty.

You might be surprised by the list above, as many people do assume that the higher a medical school’s prestige, the more expensive it will be to attend.  However, the private medical schools listed above often have generous financial aid packages for incoming medical Obstetrics and gynaecology doctor shadowingstudents, and have recently instituted policies about student loans and how to effectively decrease the amount of debt that students leave with.  It is a misnomer to think that public, state schools have the better tuition rate, though that is often the case, but they do not necessarily have the endowments to offer generous financial aid packages to their students. 

Be wary of medical schools that are known for leaving their students with over $200,000 in student loan debt.  This is a tremendous burden for any field, and the medical profession is not immune to wage fluxuations that make paying back these loans difficult for students.  The most well known medical schools whose students are often on the hook for over $200,000 in debt are West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, University of New England, Drexel University, George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and Tufts University School of Medicine.  These schools have higher admissions rates for incoming medical students, but there’s surely a steep price you’ll pay for that acceptance letter.  Be informed, do your research, and make the best choice for you! — Post by Madelaine Kingsbury.