Tuition-Free Medical School: Become a Doctor without Debt

Before you give up on your dream, check out how you could earn your medical degree for (nearly) nothing!

Tuition-Free Medical School: Become a Doctor without Debt

Before you give up on your dream, check out how you could earn your medical degree for (nearly) nothing!

Free Medical School Tuition
Free Medical School Tuition
Free Medical School Tuition
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A medical school degree is worthy of the highest praise. Years of hard work and sacrifice are rewarded with the certificate you hold on graduation day. But for most medical school graduates, the cost of obtaining that degree is burdensome. According to the most recent AAMC report Physician Education Debt and the Cost to Attend Medical School 2020 Update, 73% of all graduates leave medical school with educational debt, with a median debt load of $200,000. Although this has surprisingly DECREASED slightly since 2012 (down 13%), the reality is that entering the workforce with a 6-figure debt is a daunting position to be in.

So, the question remains: how can a student tackle the challenge of medical school without walking away deep in debt? The answer may surprise you: Tuition-free Medical School. Yes, you read that right. There are (valid) medical schools in the United States where you can earn your degree without building up an immense amount of debt. Let’s look at the top universities offering tuition-free (or reduced tuition) options for qualifying medical students:

TUITION-FREE MEDICAL SCHOOLS TO CONSIDER

Acknowledging the skyrocketing costs of a medical degree, NYU was one of the first major medical schools to offer a tuition-free education as well as the most prestigious medical school on the list. Their website offers clear details about the tuition-free program, offering both a traditional 4-year and a “fast tracked” 3-year program at the same rate.

For the most recent year (2021-2022), the $58,226 tuition fee is waived, and additional estimated costs like fees, supplies, housing and living expenses are provided to help prospective students plan their financing needs. The NYU tuition-free program is offered to any admitted student, regardless of their academic standing or financial need (granted they have been accepted). Students are still encouraged to apply for traditional financial aid and scholarships.

This prestigious school just placed number 4 (for Research) U.S. World Report’s Top Medical Schools and was the first medical school to offer a free education. Establishing the Vagelos Scholarship program in 2017, Columbia has pledged to meet qualifying low income students’ total financial need (tuition and fees, educational supplies, and housing). Supported in part by an endowment and from other funding sources, the Vagelos Scholarship helps qualifying students focus on their education, giving them the opportunity to not just pursue their education, but the freedom to choose their specialty based on their love rather than loan repayment potential.

Although medical program budgets vary depending on the specific program, the current (2021-2022) tuition and fees cost is approximately $73,500. In addition to the tuition-free scholarship program, Columbia provides applicants with resources for both need- and merit-based scholarships, as well as a variety of state, federal, and private loan programs available.

Located in NYC and amid one of the largest collections of research institutions, in 2019 Weill Cornell established the WCM Financial Aid need-based financial aid program for qualifying students. Like other tuition-free financial aid programs, the WCM is an annual program for which students can re-apply and qualify for each year of medical school. The entire program is funded by private philanthropy.

The new grant program offers students with financial need the opportunity to have the approximately $61,000 (2020-2021) tuition and fees covered, along with room and board, depending on their individual need. With a long history of exceptional instruction (the medical school has been training doctors since 1898) and satellite sites in 6 countries worldwide, Cornell continues to confirm itself as a pinnacle of diversity and sound medical training.

To help fight concerns about high medical school debt and to increase diversity in its student population, Washington University School of Medicine joined the ranks of other medical schools in enacting a scholarship program designed to attract and support exceptionally talented, lower income medical students to its ranks. Unlike other programs, Washington University has combined both full- and partial-tuition programs to expand its support and allow as many as half of its students to benefit from the generous scholarship.

Understanding that debt plays a crucial role in medical school choice for many potential doctors, the university has dedicated this investment to developing diverse medical leaders. The school’s alumni already stand apart from other medical schools at graduation in terms of low medical school debt, consistently ranking as one of the lowest national medical school debt loads for graduating students. Both merit- and need-based scholarships are offered, giving students more options for medical school funding. Average tuition at the university is $64,500.

Living in California is expensive, and so is medical school at the prestigious David Geffen School of Medicine in Los Angeles. However, thanks to a continuing donation by the school’s billionaire namesake, merit-based scholarships are available to approximately one-fourth of all UCLA students. The award covers in-state tuition (and can be awarded as a one-time scholarship for out-of-state students) and provides a stipend to help pay for additional fees, supplies, and living expenses. There is a growing physician shortage in the Golden State, and these awards help UCLA attract bright medical students who can make a difference in the southern California medical community. The current cost of attendance (tuition, fees, additional expenses) at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine averages $76,000.

With a focus on training future doctors in scientific investigation, Cleveland Clinic has been ranked a top hospital by U.S. News & World Report for many years, known worldwide for many medical breakthroughs. Since 2008, Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine has been committed to providing outstanding medical school candidates with the ability to focus on their education without the financial burden which normally comes with medical school. The scholarship is offered to all students for tuition and fees. Students may apply for other financial aid, including scholarships, grants, and loans, to pay for additional required expenses. One way the school ensures students “pay back” their financial benefit is by committing to their 5th year of medical school as a designated “research thesis” year. During this year, medical students are asked to pay a continuation fee, equal to 5% of the cost of tuition; for the 2020-2021 academic year, tuition averaged $67,400.

This new facility announced in 2019 that it would waive all tuition and fees for the first five graduating classes of students (fall 2020 through 2024) with its nationwide network of healthcare facilities to offer students the benefit of access to a diverse group of hands-on environments. The school actively promotes diversity in its student body as it emphasizes the affordable healthcare which has been a Kaiser Permanente cornerstone since its founding during WWII.

The “waived tuition cost averages $54,000; however, one caveat to attending the Kaiser program is its location—Pasadena, California is notoriously expensive, and the school advertises living expenses (not covered by the fee waiver) at $34,500 annually.

OTHER “FREE” OPTIONS

Another option for free (or nearly free) medical school is to consider entering a service program after graduation. If you feel a calling to use your medical degree to serve specific communities or the nation through military service, you could have your educational loans forgiven. Here are a few programs to consider:

Whether you are looking at medical schools, already a student, a resident, or even a practicing physician, there are opportunities to serve and benefit from student loan forgiveness. The Health Professions Scholarship Program provides funding for civilian medical school costs, and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (established as a “West Point for doctors”) offers a full medical education, complete with all the benefits of military service like pay, health and retirement coverage and housing. Medical students can also join the Reserve or Guard and receive a monthly stipend to help offset the costs of a civilian medical school education.

For residents, there is the Financial Assistance Program, in which residents earn a monthly stipend and annual grant in exchange for a service commitment; and, like the Reserve or Guard service option for medical students, residents can participate in the Specialized Training Assistance program or the Training in Medical Specialties program to earn a monthly stipend in exchange for part-time service. Finally, full- fledged physicians can serve full-time as a military doctor, or as part of the Reserve or Guard, maintaining a private civilian practice while earning extra money for only one weekend a month and a 2-week annual service. Each of these military options do require a commitment—often 3 years—but the financial rewards can be significant.

In several civil service programs, medical school graduates with an M.D. or D.O. degree and one year of post-graduate medical training can gain a significant chunk of student loan forgiveness by serving the nation in public health. The amount of loan forgiveness varies from up to $40,000 through the Indian Health Service to $60,000 with the National Health Service Corp. The CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service Program provides federal loan repayment amounts based on fund availability. Each of these programs require a 2-year commitment, but offer additional perks like health and dental care at no- or low-cost, tax-free housing and meal allowances, and the benefit of a retirement pension plan.

One reason doctors consider participating in one of these programs is the immense variety of cultural and socio-economic experiences they gain. From tribal locations to international communities, doctors work in traditionally under-served populations, deepen their knowledge of current medical issues, and gain valuable insight into public health needs.

For anyone willing to join and serve in this international organization, there are several routes to some portion of loan forgiveness. They range from a percentage of federal student loans canceled to a 3-year deferment while you serve. So even if you don’t have your loans completely forgiven you may be free from payments while you are working full-time for the Peace Corps.

For doctors passionate about improving the health of developing countries and societies, volunteer work with the Peace Corps provides incomparable experience in educating, helping, and drastically improving the lives of families and communities in need. Additionally, the Peace Corps experience opens

up not only the eyes of health care workers to international health crises, but can allow you to travel, gain unique skills, and change your personal approach to health care for the rest of your medical career. Most Peace Corps positions require a minimum 2-year commitment.

GETTING YOUR MEDICAL DEGREE WITHOUT DROWNING IN DEBT IS A REAL POSSIBILITY

From tuition-free medical schools to opportunities to serve society (which is part of the drive to become a physician), there are many options for obtaining your medical degree without a burdensome debt load. Take the time to investigate which ones may work for you. Even if you choose not to commit to an option which removes or forgives 100% of your medical school debt, the U.S. Department of Education allows medical students to borrow the full amount of a medical school education, so you can still earn your degree. Whether you complete your education with a full load of debt, some student loans, or debt-free, know that your career choice offers unmatched financial and professional opportunities.

A medical school degree is worthy of the highest praise. Years of hard work and sacrifice are rewarded with the certificate you hold on graduation day. But for most medical school graduates, the cost of obtaining that degree is burdensome. According to the most recent AAMC report Physician Education Debt and the Cost to Attend Medical School 2020 Update, 73% of all graduates leave medical school with educational debt, with a median debt load of $200,000. Although this has surprisingly DECREASED slightly since 2012 (down 13%), the reality is that entering the workforce with a 6-figure debt is a daunting position to be in.

So, the question remains: how can a student tackle the challenge of medical school without walking away deep in debt? The answer may surprise you: Tuition-free Medical School. Yes, you read that right. There are (valid) medical schools in the United States where you can earn your degree without building up an immense amount of debt. Let’s look at the top universities offering tuition-free (or reduced tuition) options for qualifying medical students:

TUITION-FREE MEDICAL SCHOOLS TO CONSIDER

Acknowledging the skyrocketing costs of a medical degree, NYU was one of the first major medical schools to offer a tuition-free education as well as the most prestigious medical school on the list. Their website offers clear details about the tuition-free program, offering both a traditional 4-year and a “fast tracked” 3-year program at the same rate.

For the most recent year (2021-2022), the $58,226 tuition fee is waived, and additional estimated costs like fees, supplies, housing and living expenses are provided to help prospective students plan their financing needs. The NYU tuition-free program is offered to any admitted student, regardless of their academic standing or financial need (granted they have been accepted). Students are still encouraged to apply for traditional financial aid and scholarships.

This prestigious school just placed number 4 (for Research) U.S. World Report’s Top Medical Schools and was the first medical school to offer a free education. Establishing the Vagelos Scholarship program in 2017, Columbia has pledged to meet qualifying low income students’ total financial need (tuition and fees, educational supplies, and housing). Supported in part by an endowment and from other funding sources, the Vagelos Scholarship helps qualifying students focus on their education, giving them the opportunity to not just pursue their education, but the freedom to choose their specialty based on their love rather than loan repayment potential.

Although medical program budgets vary depending on the specific program, the current (2021-2022) tuition and fees cost is approximately $73,500. In addition to the tuition-free scholarship program, Columbia provides applicants with resources for both need- and merit-based scholarships, as well as a variety of state, federal, and private loan programs available.

Located in NYC and amid one of the largest collections of research institutions, in 2019 Weill Cornell established the WCM Financial Aid need-based financial aid program for qualifying students. Like other tuition-free financial aid programs, the WCM is an annual program for which students can re-apply and qualify for each year of medical school. The entire program is funded by private philanthropy.

The new grant program offers students with financial need the opportunity to have the approximately $61,000 (2020-2021) tuition and fees covered, along with room and board, depending on their individual need. With a long history of exceptional instruction (the medical school has been training doctors since 1898) and satellite sites in 6 countries worldwide, Cornell continues to confirm itself as a pinnacle of diversity and sound medical training.

To help fight concerns about high medical school debt and to increase diversity in its student population, Washington University School of Medicine joined the ranks of other medical schools in enacting a scholarship program designed to attract and support exceptionally talented, lower income medical students to its ranks. Unlike other programs, Washington University has combined both full- and partial-tuition programs to expand its support and allow as many as half of its students to benefit from the generous scholarship.

Understanding that debt plays a crucial role in medical school choice for many potential doctors, the university has dedicated this investment to developing diverse medical leaders. The school’s alumni already stand apart from other medical schools at graduation in terms of low medical school debt, consistently ranking as one of the lowest national medical school debt loads for graduating students. Both merit- and need-based scholarships are offered, giving students more options for medical school funding. Average tuition at the university is $64,500.

Living in California is expensive, and so is medical school at the prestigious David Geffen School of Medicine in Los Angeles. However, thanks to a continuing donation by the school’s billionaire namesake, merit-based scholarships are available to approximately one-fourth of all UCLA students. The award covers in-state tuition (and can be awarded as a one-time scholarship for out-of-state students) and provides a stipend to help pay for additional fees, supplies, and living expenses. There is a growing physician shortage in the Golden State, and these awards help UCLA attract bright medical students who can make a difference in the southern California medical community. The current cost of attendance (tuition, fees, additional expenses) at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine averages $76,000.

With a focus on training future doctors in scientific investigation, Cleveland Clinic has been ranked a top hospital by U.S. News & World Report for many years, known worldwide for many medical breakthroughs. Since 2008, Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine has been committed to providing outstanding medical school candidates with the ability to focus on their education without the financial burden which normally comes with medical school. The scholarship is offered to all students for tuition and fees. Students may apply for other financial aid, including scholarships, grants, and loans, to pay for additional required expenses. One way the school ensures students “pay back” their financial benefit is by committing to their 5th year of medical school as a designated “research thesis” year. During this year, medical students are asked to pay a continuation fee, equal to 5% of the cost of tuition; for the 2020-2021 academic year, tuition averaged $67,400.

This new facility announced in 2019 that it would waive all tuition and fees for the first five graduating classes of students (fall 2020 through 2024) with its nationwide network of healthcare facilities to offer students the benefit of access to a diverse group of hands-on environments. The school actively promotes diversity in its student body as it emphasizes the affordable healthcare which has been a Kaiser Permanente cornerstone since its founding during WWII.

The “waived tuition cost averages $54,000; however, one caveat to attending the Kaiser program is its location—Pasadena, California is notoriously expensive, and the school advertises living expenses (not covered by the fee waiver) at $34,500 annually.

OTHER “FREE” OPTIONS

Another option for free (or nearly free) medical school is to consider entering a service program after graduation. If you feel a calling to use your medical degree to serve specific communities or the nation through military service, you could have your educational loans forgiven. Here are a few programs to consider:

Whether you are looking at medical schools, already a student, a resident, or even a practicing physician, there are opportunities to serve and benefit from student loan forgiveness. The Health Professions Scholarship Program provides funding for civilian medical school costs, and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (established as a “West Point for doctors”) offers a full medical education, complete with all the benefits of military service like pay, health and retirement coverage and housing. Medical students can also join the Reserve or Guard and receive a monthly stipend to help offset the costs of a civilian medical school education.

For residents, there is the Financial Assistance Program, in which residents earn a monthly stipend and annual grant in exchange for a service commitment; and, like the Reserve or Guard service option for medical students, residents can participate in the Specialized Training Assistance program or the Training in Medical Specialties program to earn a monthly stipend in exchange for part-time service. Finally, full- fledged physicians can serve full-time as a military doctor, or as part of the Reserve or Guard, maintaining a private civilian practice while earning extra money for only one weekend a month and a 2-week annual service. Each of these military options do require a commitment—often 3 years—but the financial rewards can be significant.

In several civil service programs, medical school graduates with an M.D. or D.O. degree and one year of post-graduate medical training can gain a significant chunk of student loan forgiveness by serving the nation in public health. The amount of loan forgiveness varies from up to $40,000 through the Indian Health Service to $60,000 with the National Health Service Corp. The CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service Program provides federal loan repayment amounts based on fund availability. Each of these programs require a 2-year commitment, but offer additional perks like health and dental care at no- or low-cost, tax-free housing and meal allowances, and the benefit of a retirement pension plan.

One reason doctors consider participating in one of these programs is the immense variety of cultural and socio-economic experiences they gain. From tribal locations to international communities, doctors work in traditionally under-served populations, deepen their knowledge of current medical issues, and gain valuable insight into public health needs.

For anyone willing to join and serve in this international organization, there are several routes to some portion of loan forgiveness. They range from a percentage of federal student loans canceled to a 3-year deferment while you serve. So even if you don’t have your loans completely forgiven you may be free from payments while you are working full-time for the Peace Corps.

For doctors passionate about improving the health of developing countries and societies, volunteer work with the Peace Corps provides incomparable experience in educating, helping, and drastically improving the lives of families and communities in need. Additionally, the Peace Corps experience opens

up not only the eyes of health care workers to international health crises, but can allow you to travel, gain unique skills, and change your personal approach to health care for the rest of your medical career. Most Peace Corps positions require a minimum 2-year commitment.

GETTING YOUR MEDICAL DEGREE WITHOUT DROWNING IN DEBT IS A REAL POSSIBILITY

From tuition-free medical schools to opportunities to serve society (which is part of the drive to become a physician), there are many options for obtaining your medical degree without a burdensome debt load. Take the time to investigate which ones may work for you. Even if you choose not to commit to an option which removes or forgives 100% of your medical school debt, the U.S. Department of Education allows medical students to borrow the full amount of a medical school education, so you can still earn your degree. Whether you complete your education with a full load of debt, some student loans, or debt-free, know that your career choice offers unmatched financial and professional opportunities.

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