March 20, 2014

Application costs part 1 - Just how expensive is it to apply to medical school?

Rob Humbracht

It's expensive to apply to med school. While it's nice to have a wealthy benefactor willing to foot the bill, most of us have to pay from our own finances.

This post aims to calculate just how much money you need to have in the bank, or at the very least, to allow you to tell your benefactor just how much they will need to pay on your behalf.

So let's look at just how much it costs to apply to 25 medical schools, which is a good ballpark number of schools for most applicants. I will put optional expenses in italics.  

Cost #1 - Doing your best on the MCAT - $800-$2300

MCAT registration: $275-$325 (depending on when you register for the exam)  MCAT prep materials: ~$500

MCAT preparation course: $2000 (more or less depending on which you choose and whether you get a discount)

If you're going to spend some additional money on the application, an MCAT course is the first place to do it. These courses should include the cost of preparation materials that you would have to pay for anyway, which cost at least $500 ($250 for practice AAMC exams, and another $250 or so for a full set of prep books online). Plus, given the uncertainty surrounding your chances of getting in, the cost of re-applying, and the cost of re-taking the exam, this investment is worth it to know that you did your absolute best the first time around.  

Cost #2 - Primary application fees - $1000

AMCAS charges: $160 for the first school, and $35 for each additional.   That means that if you apply to 25 schools, your primary application alone will cost you exactly $1000.   AACOMAS charges $195 for the first school and $35 for each additional.  

Cost #3 - Secondary application fees - $1870

The most expensive part of the applications, though, are the secondary essays. I researched a sampling of schools to see if we could get an average price of secondaries.   Results in no particular order:

  • UPenn $80
  • UChicago $85
  • UCSD $80
  • UCLA $80
  • UCSF $80
  • USC $90
  • Miami $75
  • Virginia Commonwealth $80
  • Drexel $100
  • Rosalind Franklin $105

That puts us at an average of $85 for each secondary.  

But don't schools screen before sending secondaries? Might this save some money? Not so much. Only 1/3 of medical schools provide a meaningful screen, so you will get most secondaries automatically. And even for the ones that screen, most schools send secondaries to the majority of applicants, so you should receive secondaries from the majority of schools you apply to if you choose your med schools well (i.e. you don't apply to schools you have no chance at getting into).   So, let's assume that if you submit 25 applications, you will receive, oh, 22 secondaries, for a total cost of $1870.  

Cost #4 - Interview expenses - $2000

This is the hardest part of the cost breakdown to predict, because the number of interviews varies dramatically from student to student. Some students only get one; others get 10 or more. If I had to peg the average, though, I would say it's about 4 interviews per student, meaning 4 separate trips to different parts of the country.  

Each interview will cost approximately $500: $400 for each interview plane ticket, based on the average price of an airline ticket these days, and $100 for each interview in additional cost (cab rides to and from the airport, food while travelling, etc.)   Most medical schools have programs that allow you to room with a current medical student as part of the interview process. I encourage you to take that opportunity, as it presents an excellent chance to learn more about the school and what the students themselves are like. It also saves you approximately $100 for the cost of a hotel.   4 interviews x $500 = $2000. And if you get more interviews and find yourself running short on cash, well, consider that an excellent problem to have.  

The total cost of applying - $5670-$8170

  • MCAT: $800-$2300
  • Primary apps: $1000
  • Secondaries: $1870
  • Interviews: $2000
  • Total: $5670-$8170

Or to put that in chart form:

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