Applying to Medical School: How I Was Left With $3

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The real cost of applying is something to plan for when applying for medical school.

Two weeks ago I returned home from another round of interviews, in fact it was a multi-flight interview expedition starting from California to Boston, to Michigan and Chicago and back. I had an interview just about every other day for a week, so it allowed some time for me to both enjoy a post interview celebration beer and figure out how to get to my next destination. All and all, I’d say the interviews were moderately successful all of the programs were sending good vibes, though admittedly the Chicago interview was a little tough because I was surprised by the format — my interview was first thing in the morning, usually schools feed you and do some icebreakers before running you through the meat grinder. The cheapest way to travel to these three cities, and return home was to take seven flights in a week; I dare say I’m a airport screening professional now.

Again, you may be wondering why would anyone throw so many interviews together, well it’s pretty simple: pure finances. The process of playing to medical school is rather expensive, as applicants should pay for the MCAT prep materials (cost varies by person), MCAT test registration (hopefully only once), primary applications, secondary applications, flights, hotels/motels, rental cars, bus/taxi/train fare, food, missed time from work, it’s a large investment. An applicant can easily spend 2-7 K all depending on their individual situation. Of course there are those who pay significantly less: Fee Assistance Program receipts, and the brave souls who sign up for early decision may end up paying significantly less if all works out. But there are also those who pay significantly more: additional MCAT prep (~1-2K), MCAT tutors (40-100/Hr), admissions advisory companies (sky’s the limit) etc. My fees fell somewhere in the middle as I didn’t take a prep course, nor did I receive professional advising, but I did have to pay for the MCAT twice. I only took it once actually, but I didn’t consider that my legal name is actually misspelled on my license until it was too late to change the information without getting a refund — my fault, lesson learned.

It’s a good idea to purchase the MSAR

You can save money during the primary application by purchasing full access to the Medical School Admissions Registry (MSAR, it’s the best ~$25 you’ll ever spend). It has genuine data straight from the horses mouth, the schools themselves. By the MSAR when you’re planning your school selection list. You want to know what the lowest GPA and highest GPA Stanford accepted last year? Check the MSAR. Curious how many admitted students performed research? MSAR. The MSAR will also tell you things like the previous year’s: class size, interview/acceptance ratio, out-of-state vs in-state acceptance data, tuition, mission statement, links to housing and student clubs, it’s pretty useful to say the least when trying to find a program that fits you.

Be aware that some schools just automatically send you a secondary after your primary and haven’t actually checked or screened your application in any way.

You can also save a lot of money and anguish by seeing which school’s automatically send you a secondary and those who screen you first. I made sure to apply to some schools that didn’t screen (roll of the dice) and other schools who did screen me first (my canary in the cave). It worked out, I bought the MSAR after I paid for my primaries, so I used it to focus on what secondaries I should focus on when they started rolling in. I knew I made it past the initial score hurdles when I received secondaries from schools who screened first. I knew they already liked me by the time I was doing their secondaries, subsequently all three schools that I was accepted into right off the bat were schools that pre-screen their applicants primary to making you complete secondaries. It should be noted that I was also handed down a rejection by a pre-screening school. I was also invited for interviews to schools who didn’t pre-screen, but I’m actually waiting to hear back from several schools still. I believe focusing on schools that fit me, and schools that pre-screened saved me a lot of money.

Though, there is a benefit to not getting screened, you might land a good interview surprisingly. I won’t know my acceptance status of my top choice until January, but it was from a good program that didn’t screen; so rolling the dice is sometimes worth it.

If the school offers a hosting program sign up as soon as possible, it’s a pretty awesome experience and saves money. Notice I said “if”. 

I’m not sure how but I literally had the best hosts in the world. My host in Boston set up the logistics of my stay from afar, all while being consumed by doctor stuff on his clerkship. Our schedules didn’t work out, but our phone conversations and outlook on being a physician told me more about the program than any tour could do. My other hosts in Michigan were so welcoming, accommodating, and forthright honest that I really started to wonder how one is reasonably supposed to select a medical school — along the way you meet great people, and you just want to stay there. They may be your future classmates, so learn from them what the program is like, the pros and cons, what the school considers important etc. And of course not fronting for room and board is pretty great on your wallet. It’s also pretty great because they can take a lot stress off of you on interview day by telling you how to actually get to your interview. Be sure to buy them a beer if possible because they just saved your life.

If you’re sticking in state then a lot the room and board problems won’t exist. Interestingly, Californians are rather competitive candidates out of state, but not that competitive in-state. Usually, states are pretty generous to their own, so a lot of people choose to save money with travel and tuition fees by applying in state.

Planes Trains and Automobiles  

If you have to travel to other states like I did, then you’ll find websites that do rate comparisons to be pretty essential, personally I used Priceline for all of my flights, and I stuck with one carrier the whole time. I tried to buy multi-flight tickets, because it’s much cheaper than doing one trip at a time, for example my Boston-Michigan-Chicago trip, flying out of southern California, cost $805, compared to perhaps costing $400/500 each (early ticket prices). To save money I never checked bags (it costs about $25-$35 per bag, per flight), you can bring two carry-on’s: one must be stored in the bin above you, and one can fit under the seat in front of you. I found it was okay to fold my suit neatly as long as my hotel had an ironing board.  The window for cheap tickets for a single round trip flight seems to be about 6 weeks. Sometimes you’ll take a smaller plane with inadequate bin space, and you’ll have to do some ‘last second’ bag check, it’s free though somewhat of a hassle. I never checked my bags because I’d be pretty screwed if the lost my suit and dress shoes, so it was like a suitcase full of gold to me. You can also check into your flight online, and send your boarding passes to your phone, this saves you a lot of headache.

Upon landing at my destination I needed to already have a idea of if I wanted or even needed a rental car. Cars give you an ability to control your fate in an unknown environment, but it’s just another expense to tack onto your bill, so if you can get around with buses, trains and an occasional taxi then you probably should just go with that. But, you’ll have to plan ahead, if it’s a $70 dollar cab ride from the airport to your hotel then you probably should just opt for the car in my opinion because it might be as low as $25-45 a day to rent it if you shop around.

In general, you’ll save a lot of money if you plan ahead and cut costs where you can, but do remember if you go too cheap you’ll be in a foul mood and possibly late to things.

Did you get accepted? GREAT! Now pay a deposit. You need to drop a refundable deposit for most schools, it’ll range in costs from $100 to $500 (ouch).

So the good news of spending several hundred dollars more is admittedly better than not getting offered anything at all. The bad news is that you’re paying deposits, and if you’re paying them mid-interview season then you’re probably going to be hurting because most deposits are due two weeks are less after you receive an offer of admission. For very early applicants an acceptance will roll in at the earliest October 15th (perhaps earlier for those who applied for the early decision process), so you’ll need to plan for deposit money in case you receive an early interview plus good news. The deposit are purely symbolic because you’ll get all the money back on May 15th, it prevents applicants from hoarding acceptances, and thus frees up space for those on the waiting list.

In the end, despite my frugal spending, and planning I was left with $1 dollar in my checking and about $2 dollars in my savings account. They say medical school is an investment, they aren’t kidding.  But, at least my pre med days are over.

Update December 24th

So far I have received four US MD acceptances , and awaiting one more result in the beginning of January. So, now, with the power of foresight I’d say it was all worth it. Hang in there premeds.

Update April 16th

So, I was accepted into 5 schools (yay!), I was sent 8 interview invites, and declined 3 after the acceptances were rolling in and the money was rolling out. It seems that I am settled on Boston University School of Medicine. It was well worth the gamble!

Nothing risked, nothing gained.


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19 thoughts on “Applying to Medical School: How I Was Left With $3

    paintedshepherdess said:
    December 5, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    Already budgeting for this… AACOMAS application fees, Supplemental fees, Interview attire & traveling & lodging, and deposit… Good grief!

      masterofsleep said:
      December 5, 2013 at 4:09 pm

      Applying for medical school feels like walking on that invisible bridge on Indiana Jones.

        paintedshepherdess said:
        December 5, 2013 at 4:52 pm

        With the boulder chasing you.

        masterofsleep said:
        December 5, 2013 at 5:59 pm

        And bushmen shooting poisonous darts at you.

        paintedshepherdess said:
        December 5, 2013 at 7:23 pm

        With a useless sidekick alongside…?

        masterofsleep said:
        December 5, 2013 at 10:04 pm

        And you drop you hat along the way, and you have go run back to pick it up….

      premedmachine said:
      July 27, 2014 at 7:32 am

      Hi, congratulations again for MedSchool journey 👍. I want to know what does “early acceptance” means? That you talked about in your post.

        doctororbust responded:
        July 27, 2014 at 8:20 am

        Hello, thank you for your comment. “Early acceptance” wasn’t a special term in its context. It just alludes to the idea if you apply early (with quality), return secondary in reasonable time, quickly schedule the early interview, then you may have an early acceptance. Sorry if my usage was confusing, I’ll consider rewording it soon. Hope that helps!

        premedmachine said:
        July 27, 2014 at 8:22 am

        Yes it’s clear now! Thank you.

    Emma said:
    December 9, 2013 at 12:08 am

    After paying 1,000+ for the application process fees I have to say that the only payment that felt good to me was the acceptance deposit. lol

      masterofsleep said:
      December 9, 2013 at 1:06 am

      Haha, yeah, I’m with you on that one! The only way to apply for medical school is to do it with bravado.

    MSAG: Don’t Apply Without It « doctororbust said:
    March 28, 2014 at 10:18 pm

    […] any premed, or advisors to pick it up, it’s a great reference! I spent more of less over $7,000, and this $15 and another ~$25 for the MSAR were the two best investments I made during my […]

    […] worked out financially. Now, this may seem counter intuitive, especially considering how much I spent on applying. But, I think if anyone is going to use that annoying YOLO, it should be a medical student. You […]

    serend1p1ty said:
    April 23, 2014 at 11:24 pm

    Hey D, do you happen to know if there is an MSAR-like site for DO schools? I tried combing the AACOM site for any clues, but so far no luck – I want to make sure I spend application money wisely!

    MSAR for DO Schools? « doctororbust said:
    July 27, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    […] previous reply to post […]

    […] but its important to think about because it’s a rather expensive process (see my article “How Applying to Medschool Left Me With $3“). There are three phases of the application, if you’re not wait listed: 1) the […]

    […] More on Costs, and How I Went Into [more] Debt Just to Apply! […]

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