In part 1 of our series, we examined the cost of applying to 25 med schools.
In part 2, we consider the hidden expenses of applying to medical school. Why are they hidden? Because most students don't think about these expenses in advance, even though they should.
My best advice is: Don't Be Cheap. The single biggest cost-related mistake pre-meds make is they try to save money in dumb ways (e.g. by not returning certain secondaries, by skimping on MCAT prep). As a result, they often have to re-apply, consider a post-bacc program, or go to a worse medical school, all of which make little economic sense.
Getting help with your application - $0-$5000 This entire category is optional, depending on how much support you need. Many colleges have wonderful, free pre-med advising and application support, and if you happen to attend one of those schools, then you should utilize those services to the fullest extent. For those of you who don't have much support at your college, consider getting professional help. Think about your writing skills, your interviewing skills, and your knowledge of the admissions process. Then think about your network - do you have an excellent writer among your friends and family who will be willing and available to help you? Do you know many current med students who can give you straight advice? If you think you have enough support among your network to put your best foot forward, then you may not need to hire a professional. But if not, or if you want to make sure your application is as good as it can be, you should seriously consider hiring someone. Think of it as an investment in making sure you don't have to apply twice. Or think of it as an investment in getting into a better medical school than you would have otherwise been capable of.
The costs of re-applying: $4870 (or $2776 expected cost) More if you have to re-take or re-prep for your MCAT. You can either think of this as a possible, optional cost. Or you can think of this as a cost that most applicants have to pay and calculate your own share of that cost. With a 43% acceptance rate into medical school, there's a 57% chance that you will have to pay this cost. 57% * $4870 = expected cost of $2776. This expected cost is one reason you should do whatever it takes to make your application as good as possible the first time around. That includes ponying up for an MCAT prep course and getting help with your application.
The costs of a post-bacc program: $30,000+ These programs help boost your GPA, and the best ones often have tuition and living expenses of $30,000 a year (and some are two year programs, so $60,000). And while that is incredibly expensive, these programs could mean the difference between getting into an allopathic med school or not. If your grades are on the low side (3.4 or lower), you should consider a post-bacc program.
The costs of attending a med school that gouges out-of-state students The average tuition for out-of-state students at US medical schools (both DO and MD) is $48,426 for the 2012-13 cycle. Some med schools, however, charge double the tuition for out-of-state as they do for in-state students. Among the most flagrant are: Michigan State DO ($80,000 for out-of-state vs $39,000 for in-state students) South Carolina ($77,000 vs $35,000) Illinois ($74,000 vs $37,000) Wayne State ($65,000 vs $32,000) Toledo ($62,000 vs $32,000) And there are many more. These med schools would argue that charging more for out-of-staters allows them to please their primary constituents, in-state students and taxpayers, and hey, pre-meds gladly continue to pay these rates, since they don't get in anywhere else. From the out-of-state applicant's perspective, though, you should do whatever it takes to avoid attending these schools, as your debt will be significantly higher than it would be otherwise. If taking an MCAT prep course raises your score a few extra points and allows you to attend a school that doesn't gouge, you may have just saved yourself somewhere in the ballpark of $100,000.
The cost of medical school itself - $219,000-$287,000 All of the application costs pale in comparison to the average cost of medical school. The average indebtedness of graduates is $175,000 for the class of 2013.
Don't get me wrong; application costs are expensive, and I respect just how many applicants out there are scraping and saving to get by. But given the enormous expense of medical school, it seems to make sense to do what it takes to get yourself into the best possible med school so that you pay as little med school tuition as possible and get into the best possible residency program. I'm sure your head is spinning at this point, but the more you plan for the costs of applying to (and attending) medical school, the better off you'll be.