Dreaming of attending med school but overwhelmed by the financial burden? Not to worry. There are plenty of ways to afford your continued education, including federal student aid, available to qualifying students who complete the FAFSA. If you’re wondering if you need to file the FAFSA for medical school, the short answer is yes.
What Is the FAFSA?
Short for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the FAFSA is how the federal government determines student eligibility for financial aid.
As a medical student, you’re considered independent for financial aid purposes. Your parents aren’t required to help complete the FAFSA, and the FAFSA formula doesn’t assume they will contribute to your medical school costs. However, the Association of American Medical Colleges notes that medical schools may require parental information to consider students for institutional aid.
Check if your school requires your parents’ information on the FAFSA to be eligible for financial aid offered through the school.
You can find and complete the FAFSA online at FAFSA.ed.gov.
Is the FAFSA Applicable to Med School?
Yes. You must file a FAFSA for medical school to access any federal student aid, including federal student loans. Many medical schools also use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for institutional aid they award, such as scholarships, grants, or research opportunities that offer student aid.
The FAFSA opens Oct. 1 for the following school year; you can even fill out the FAFSA if you’re still applying to schools.
Double-check and meet student aid or FAFSA deadlines set by the medical schools to which you’re applying.
Medical schools draft financial aid award letters based on FAFSA information. Loan and scholarship amounts will vary, depending on your financial situation and the specific educational institution.
Federal Loans for Graduate or Medical Students
The federal government offers different types of loans to graduate students.
Direct Unsubsidized Loans
The federal government offers unsubsidized loans to help defray the costs of post-secondary education. Unlike subsidized loans, you are responsible for paying interest that accrues while you are in school. You are not required to show financial need to obtain an unsubsidized loan, though your school will determine how much you can borrow (based on attendance costs and any other aid you receive). Unsubsidized loans carry a fixed rate of 4.30% for the 2020-21 school year, with a one-time fee of 1.057% (for loans disbursed on or after Oct. 1, 2020).
Direct Unsubsidized Loans do have annual and aggregate borrowing limits ($20,500 annually, up to an aggregate limit of $138,500). But medical students may be eligible to access higher limits (for example: $47,167 annually, up to an aggregate limit of $224,000).
Talk to the financial aid office at your medical school for information about annual and aggregate borrowing limits for your field of study.
Grad PLUS Loan
You could qualify for a grad PLUS loan, also called a Direct PLUS loan, as a medical student if you don’t have an adverse credit history. Even if you do have some blemishes on your credit report, you might still be able to get a grad PLUS loan with an endorser. You can borrow up to the cost of attendance, less any financial aid you receive.
Grad PLUS Loans have higher rates and fees than other federal student loans. The rate is 5.30% for the 2020-21 school year, the fee is 4.228% (for loans disbursed on or after Oct. 1, 2020). Due to these higher costs, grad PLUS loans are best used to bridge gaps between your total costs and other forms of financial aid.
Repayment periods can last up to 25 years for Direct Unsubsidized and PLUS loans. You may also be eligible for mandatory forbearance if you’re in a medical or dental internship or residency program.
Additional Financial Resources for Medical School
Completing a FAFSA application is a great start to making your dreams of med school a reality. But if you fail to receive a large-enough federal student aid award or want to limit medical school debt, there are additional ways to finance your education.
Private Student Loans
Generally offered through credit unions, banks, or online lenders, private student loans can help close the gap if you don’t receive enough federal student aid. The interest rate is determined by your credit history, so the ideal applicant has a good credit score and proof of financial stability. You don’t need to file the FAFSA to get private student loans.
Some lenders offer generous repayment terms, such as in-residency deferment options and interest-only payments, which could make certain private loans more attractive than federal loans to highly-qualified borrowers.
Sign Up for a U.S. Service Program
Another possibility to pay for medical school is participating in a service program with the federal government, such as the National Health Service Corps, Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, or through the military. If you serve for a specified amount of time in one of these programs, the government can help pay for all or some of your medical school costs, or repay or forgive a portion of your medical school debt.
Work for the University
You can start paying for your education while taking courses by working at your college. Medical school is demanding, so not every student is able to balance work with studies. But some medical schools offer opportunities, such as research assistantships, grants, or stipends. Fill out the FAFSA to be considered for all available opportunities.
Scholarships make college a possibility for many medical school students. Once you complete the FAFSA application, schools determine your eligibility for institutional scholarships. (You may need to include your parent's financial information on the FAFSA to qualify for some scholarships; check with your school.) You can also search and apply for private scholarships from professional societies, nonprofits, and other sources.
There are scholarships and grants based on both academic merit and financial need. Apply for as many as possible for the best chance of receiving aid.
The Bottom Line
Medical school is often costly, but with the help of financial aid, you could be on the path to a dream career in the health care industry. Apply for the FAFSA to access federal student loans and institutional aid for med school. Take the time to research all financial resources available to you, including private loans, to find the ones best for your situation.