First off, congratulations to the Class of 2025 for getting into medical school. With the pandemic restrictions lifting, enjoy the next few months doing the things you love because medical school will take an emotional and financial toll on you. According to AAMC, the median debt for medical students in 2019 was $200,000. Unfortunately, fundraising for scholarships was difficult for many organizations due to the pandemic despite more students seeking out scholarships. Luckily, more anonymous generous donors have helped the next generations of physicians in recent years, but what happens if you are not as lucky to go to one of those tuition-free schools? Frankly, your options are limited. You can invest, work, apply for scholarships. While I am not an expert in the first two, I would consider myself knowledgeable on the last topic. I started undergraduate with only 25 percent of my tuition covered. Medical school offered me nothing. As a third-year medical student, I fully self-funded my undergraduate tuition and am steadily working towards funding my medical tuition through just scholarships. I wanted to share with you some tips on decreasing your debt:
1. Check locally. Fewer competitions, less well-known. The amount may be smaller, but it does add up in the end. I often keep a mental note of organizations I drive by to see if they offer some kind of scholarships when I get home.
2. Check with organizations you are a part of. Banks, sports leagues, parents’ companies, honor societies: The list is endless!
3. If you are still in undergrad, just apply. If you are an undergraduate and you are reading this, this should be your biggest takeaway. I constantly look back and wish I had applied to more because it would help me with the cost of medical school. Even if your tuition is covered, the extra scholarship will help cover part of your first year, if not more.
4. Be on a scholarship search engine listserv. Before you skip this tip, hear me out. I realize scholarship search engines are notorious among some of us. We apply, apply, and apply, but we never get anything. That’s why I had avoided it all these years and only tried this when I became desperate during medical school. I signed up for Fastweb’s listserv (not sponsored by them), and although I would get a notification saying I am eligible for more than 40 scholarships, I filter out most essay-only scholarships and sweepstakes. I would then do a web search of the organization’s name and rely on my instinct if it is authentic before applying.
5. Use dates when doing a web search. I have tried this recently. I would type “’Scholarship’ AND ‘Month’ AND ‘Year.’” For example, “’Scholarship’ AND ‘March’ AND ‘2021’.” Most scholarship website deadlines are not updated until one to two months prior to the deadline. Scholarships tend to be due on the 1st, 15th, 30th, or 31st of the month, so you can integrate the specific days, but I think just having the month and year is sufficient. You can also include keywords like “women” and “medicine” to narrow down your search.
6. Use keywords when doing a web search. Many scholarships are dedicated after someone who wanted to make a difference. When doing a search, I would type “‘First Name’ AND ‘Memorial Scholarship.’” Again, you can include keywords to help you narrow down the search.
7. Connections matter. I can attribute at least 12 grand to people who told me about scholarships they heard. I can also attribute at least 40 grand for not applying because I was too tired and did not research the scholarship until the deadline has passed. (Still not bitter.) They did not have any influence on the decision-making process. However, they made me aware the scholarships existed. If they believe you are qualified, apply.
8. Graduate early. I do know this is not a scholarship tip, but if you can graduate early, do so! My school does not offer a 3-month summer break like other schools, so my classmates often opt to graduate either one or two terms early, saving us over $10,000 per term.
Disclaimer: I do realize this is time-consuming. Not only do you have to find the appropriate scholarships, but your CV should be competitive. Self-funding undergraduate was hard, but fully self-funding medical school is extremely difficult, especially if you were not awarded a full-ride or did not sign up for a service scholarship. Just like medical school, funding your tuition is a marathon, not a sprint, but I hope my tips will help you save some thousands of dollars.
Trisha Chau is a medical student.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com