The Cost of Pre-Med
At the tail-end of every summer, thousands of ambitious and gifted students enter colleges across the country with one goal: attend medical school. Ahead of them is a long and demanding path that requires exceptional grades, strong test scores, exciting clinical research, interesting activities, and profound communication skills. This path, commonly referred to as “the pre-med track,” can be incredibly rewarding — both emotionally and financially — for those who choose to embark: wonderful relationships with professors, fulfilling volunteering experiences, and an economically secure adulthood await. But the pre-med track is not without its costs, as with such a path comes academic rigidity and fiscal burdens that can limit the potential of many students. Due to high expectations (amongst other factors) set forth by themselves, their parents, and even their peers, many pre-meds fail to properly gauge the costs and benefits of this intensive pre-professional lifestyle.
So how can we quantify the many advantages and disadvantages of such a path? The most obvious answer is financially. A quick Google search will tell you a year of private medical school will cost upwards of $66,000. Multiply this by four, and the $264,000 price tag may seem like a drop in the bucket for the future salary of a pre-medical student. If one digs a bit deeper, however, they will realize just how misleading that number is.
The table above attempts to take a more detailed look into the cost of medical school. While the numbers are alarming, the table makes quite a few assumptions for the sake of simplicity. The “Average Cost of Undergraduate University” considers only tuition, room, and board. Other costs, such as textbooks and spending money, are not accounted for. Many students, however, have part-time jobs, scholarships, and financial aid that can help drastically lower these costs, depending on factors such as their household income. MCAT preparation finances may be much higher as many will opt to buy review books from unofficial companies (such as Kaplan Test Prep, with a list price of $259.99) and attend MCAT preparation classes at their respective institutions (at Boston College, for example, MCAT preparation courses will run you $1350). Similar to The Common Application, a majority of applicants and medical schools use the AAMC American Medical College Application Service® (AMCAS®), which includes an initial $170 fee for one medical school and $39 fee for each subsequent school. Many students apply to at least 15 schools. Furthermore, many medical schools offer secondary applications that come with additional fees and interviews which include travel costs, both of which have been omitted. Some applicants may consider application consulting packages, such as Kaplan Premium Consulting, adding on several thousand dollars. For applicants who need to retake their MCAT or apply for multiple cycles, these various costs will repeat several times.
The table also accounts for the loss of not working directly after undergraduate studies. In the field of Economics, this is known as the “opportunity cost” of attending medical school, and for many applicants, this is the income forfeited by not working a wage/salary job for the four-year duration of medical school.
The table will appear to many as overwhelming and deterring: the financial burden of medical education is vast. But the table is far from reality for a large portion of students. High-achieving students and in-state residents will pay much less for their undergraduate education due to scholarships and financial aid, and many medical schools offer significant grants and MD/Ph.D. programs which further alleviate these costs.
To only look at the finances would be to ignore the emotional, intellectual, and social benefits and costs of the track. While these are difficult to quantify, students have many interpretations. Dan Pacella, a rising sophomore at Boston College on the pre-med track, has made quite a few personal discoveries throughout his freshman year.
“I’ve learned that I am driven and that I like science and math quite a bit. Just BC in general being liberal arts I’ve also found out that I really enjoy english, writing, the humanities such as psych and sociology. So a great aspect is that I’ve found myself being very well-rounded,” Mr. Pacella notes. “And so I’ve also found those other passions which are really neat.”
A significant cost for others is the anxiety that comes with such an intensive college career.
“It has most certainly added a layer of stress,” Mr. Pacella says. “Stress not only from classes, but also stress because whenever you are reminded that you are a ‘pre-med student’ you begin to question if it’s the right path for you, and what exactly you could be doing out there.”
With regard to social life, Hannah Schubrych, another rising sophomore at Boston College, is thankful that the pre-med track has led her to friends that stick together and work hard.
“My best friend is in nursing and while I spent a lot of time in O’Neill [Library], I enjoy study dates with guy friends. I like the feeling that we’re all in this together,” Ms. Schubrych reports. “There are definitely times where I need to take work off or miss get-togethers with friends to study for pre-med though.”
With regard to this balance, Ms. Schubrych notes that social life and academics can coexist.
“There are some points where I just forget I’m a pre-med, I try to give equal time to all parts like my friends and my classes,” she says.
And yet, there are ways outside of the pre-med track to help others and/or make a comfortable salary. Daniela Alvarez, a rising sophomore in the Boston College Carroll School of Management, is concentrating in Operations Management and is working on a minor in the Lynch School of Education. She’s involved with multiple on-campus organizations such as The Appalachia Volunteers Program, The Philippine Society of Boston College, Ascend (The Center for Student Formation), and the Boston College Neighborhood Center. She notes it can be difficult to strike a balance between passion for others and financial ambitions.
“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. Parents told me I shouldn’t. I definitely get that, just because of my goals in life. Being a teacher would be great, but I don’t think it would be something to reach where I want to reach.”
She recalls a career test she had to take in high school, and how it relates to finding a career in which you can help others and hold a comfortable salary.
“School superintendent was my number one and I would be totally OK with that. But, to do that, you need to get decent credentials,” she says. “I think if you really were driven to help others it wouldn’t matter what career you have.”
And so, pre-meds face a tough balance between their ambitions, expectations, and finances. It is an incredibly rewarding path, but it is not without steep expenses. Maybe the best approach is to enter the pre-med track with an open mind and embrace leaving it when the costs grow too high. Leaving the track is by no means a failure; it is embracing your true passions.
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