Today I’ll break down the costs of getting your pre-requisites out of the way through a post-bacc program. I’ll also suggest a few things to consider in your budgeting process. This step is obviously going to be a little different for everyone depending on your existing educational background, educational benefits, and goals going into the MCAT and application process.
For the purposes of this post I’m discussing post-bacc programs and special masters programs. These programs may be the most efficient way for many veterans to take care of their educational gaps prior to med school (more on the benefits of these programs here). However, they can be expensive, fairly intensive, and geographically restrictive. You can also take a more informal approach by registering for individual courses at a local university or community college, or even online (keep in mind that lab courses must be completed in person). I’ll discuss this more in the next post in the series.
If you’re thinking of a post-bacc program, there are a number of things to consider that will affect the cost of attendance:
Tuition. At the higher end, expect to be responsible for about $30k-$40k per year at a full time private program. Part-time programs will cost less, but remember that they may take more time to complete, balancing the cost. Public schools may be in the same ballpark but could have reduced tuition for state residents. Make some searches on the AAMC’s database of post-bacc programs to see which programs appeal to you and then visit their program websites to see what they charge for tuition. Also realize that there are a lot of administrative costs, lab fees, and supplies beyond the tuition, so check individual programs’ websites and see if that information is available. If tuition and fees are not published on their websites, you can give the program office a call or email and ask for it–never make any assumptions.
Geography. If you’re willing (and can afford) to pick up and move wherever you need to go, you’ll have the freedom to apply to a broad range of programs and maximize your odds of acceptance. Of course, few of us are so lucky, so figure out if you have commitments to certain regions or environments. Also very important are personal and family commitments that may affect your ability to relocate (i.e. Does your partner have a job? Are your kids in school? Do you need to be near extended family?). No matter what your reasons, start narrowing down your geographic restrictions before you start looking at schools. Also be aware that you may not be doing your post-bacc in the same location as you will be attending medical school…meaning both that the change of scenery will not be permanent and that you’ll have to be ready, financially and mentally, to pick up and move as soon as you are done.
Cost of living. When researching schools, be conscious of whether or not the cost of living in certain areas is sustainable for you. If you’re going to spend a year or two in school full-time (not to mention the four years of medical school that will come later), odds are that you will not be generating much of an income. Unless you’re moving back in with your parents, you need to figure out how you’re going to pay for rent, bills, food, etc. The average cost of living in the areas you’re targeting can be a good starting point, and you can also check program websites or contact them directly to see what the typical student is paying in living expenses. Cost of living also depends on whether or not you are single and/or living with a partner or roommate and/or if you have dependents. If you are drawing disability (more on that in a moment), that can go a long way in offsetting these costs.
Don’t panic. If you know you’re probably going to need a little help with cost of living, student loans (either federal or private) have an allotment for cost of living that is prorated on the average living costs in your area. If you choose to use GI Bill or vocational rehab at this time, there are also cost of living allowances based on geographic location.
GI Bill and Vocational Rehab. If you have GI Bill benefits, you can certainly apply them to a post-bacc program. However, keep in mind that anything you use now cannot be used when you actually get to medical school. It might make more sense to you to use you benefits sooner rather than later, or it may make sense to fund your own post-bacc personally and save GI Bill benefits for med school itself.
An important consideration is that not everyone who attends a post-bacc program will actually end up in med school for a variety of reasons–the grades and/or test scores may just not be there or you may start a pre-med curriculum and realize that it’s not for you. In this case, it may be wise to save education benefits for an experience you know that you will actually use, i.e. when you actually get to medical school or, if you don’t, for down the road when you do finally decide what you want to be when you grow up. You may also have the option to transfer your GI Bill benefits to your dependents if they are not used by you.
Disability. Disability is a resource to veterans that should never go untapped. When you are separating, you’ll undergo a head to toe physical and you’ll be questioned about any service-related injuries you’ve sustained to date. This is your chance to tell the doctor EVERYTHING that has ever happened to you while on duty so that it can be documented and evaluated. Don’t feel bad about listing every last thing, even if it seems insignificant. It will all be evaluated further and assigned a rating from 0%-100%. You’d be surprised how much you can receive for some seemingly insignificant injuries that, nonetheless, continue to affect you. Did you ever break an ankle? Dislocate a shoulder? Have a concussion? Suffer from PTSD or trauma? Were you ever hanging around burn pits while deployed? If your medical team assigns a particular injury anything over 0%, you’ll be eligible to receive monthly compensation for the rest of your life. Even if it’s a few hundred dollars, that’s still something!
An important note regarding disability: even if an injury is assigned a 0% rating, it will still be in your official VA record–if, God forbid, there is ever an issue that arises because of that injury, the VA will have you covered in the future. For example, I had a pretty nasty concussion in Airborne school (which I successfully hid and still graduated), and even though it happened way back in 2007, I brought that up during my separation physical. I was given a full neurological exam and asked a battery of questions to make sure I wasn’t having any residual symptoms of TBI–and I didn’t. I have a 0% rating for that injury and get no compensation for it specifically, but if I ever have any issues in the future that can be traced back to that injury, the VA can see that this injury is clearly documented in my record and can use it in any further evaluation without me having to prove anything. Having to retroactively prove that an injury is service-related is extremely difficult…do yourself a favor now and document, document, document.
Yellow Ribbon and school-affiliated veterans’ organizations. When researching individual programs and narrowing down the ones you’re most interested in, visit the school websites and see if they’re Yellow Ribbon schools or if they have affiliated veterans’ organizations. Contact the admissions office or veterans’ affairs offices and simply ask what resources are available to veterans in the post-bacc programs (definitely be clear about this–post-bacc students are often classified as a gray area that’s neither undergraduate nor graduate).
Federal loans. As freaked out as a lot of people get about taking student loans, they are an invaluable resource and given the costs of attending medical school, most people will rely on them to some degree. Be warned, however, post-bacc and special master’s programs are often not going to fall into an “undergraduate” or “graduate” category. Instead, as was the case when I was at Goucher, they are often categorized as “certificate programs.” This has some implications for how much you are eligible to receive in financial assistance, and it is possible that you won’t get the entire cost of your tuition covered. To be as prepared as possible for this scenario, apply and fill out the FAFSA early…as soon as possible after you are accepted…and have a contingency plan for covering anything that is left over.
Private loans. The idea is the same as federal loans, but private loans aren’t usually eligible for as many benefits and repayment programs as federal loans are. Always start with federal, and if needed, you can turn to private loans to supplement any remaining tuition or living expenses. My post-bacc was financed by a combination of federal loans and a loan through Wells Fargo.
Given that post-bacc programs are in a category of their own, there admittedly are not always as many readily-available resources to pay for them like there are for medical school itself. However, you still have lots of options that you should know about along with associated considerations specific to you individually that will affect the cost of your experience. As always, if you have any nagging questions, please contact us and we’ll make sure to get you the best information we can.