How to Apply for and Negotiate Medical School Financial Aid

When applying to medical school, it’s important to know how to apply for financial aid and then negotiate a good award package. The following five tips can help:

  • Know when to ask for financial aid.
  • Investigate merit scholarships.
  • Consider average debt at graduation.
  • Exercise caution with negotiating.
  • Maintain your professionalism.

Know When to Ask for Financial Aid

Generally, there are two main reasons why you should ask for financial aid. The first is because you truly need it, and the second is because you are facing extenuating circumstances that make it reasonable to ask for help.

If you were one of the students who asked for and received permission from the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) to forgo paying the application fee, you fall under the category of true need and you certainly want to ask for financial aid from the medical schools that have accepted you.

If your parents are truly unable to provide financial help to you, they will be asked to complete and submit forms about their financial status, including income tax documentation. Your parents likely did this when you attended undergraduate school.

Med schools generally try their best to patch together grants and loans to help students in this situation, but those funds are unlikely to cover all your expenses.

If you’re experiencing extenuating circumstances, such as parents moving into retirement, dependent children or an immediate family member with large medical bills or disability, it is reasonable for you to ask for financial help. Your parents will be asked to fill out the same financial status information and provide the same documentation as a student with true need.

For both of these scenarios, let the school know as soon as you receive your letter of acceptance that you will need financial aid. You also may be able to speak with a financial aid counselor during your med school second visits.

Investigate Merit Scholarships

You can discover which schools offer merit scholarships by searching the Medical Schools Admissions Requirements (MSAR) database and checking individual med school websites.

You may be lucky enough to be offered a merit scholarship at the time of acceptance or shortly thereafter. If that is the case, congratulations! The offer is a testament to how much the admissions committee wants you to attend their school.

If you are fortunate enough to be accepted at many med schools, you have done a great job on your application and during your interviews. In that case, it is perfectly reasonable for you to contact the schools to inquire about merit scholarships. As a courtesy to other students who applied and the schools, drop the ones that you know are not in the running for your top choice.

What happens if you are accepted at a state school within your budget and a private school considerably outside of your budget? If you sincerely prefer the private school, contact the admissions team and discuss your situation. You may not fall into the need or merit category, but it is certainly worth inquiring.

Consider Average Debt at Graduation

Look at the average student debt at graduation for your schools of interest, particularly if you are selecting an expensive school. The admissions team will give you this information if you ask.

They will also likely want to balance the conversation with information about scholarships. This is your opportunity to ask specific questions, such as: What kind of qualifications are needed for the scholarships? Who is eligible? Are there special grants or foundations you can recommend? Do you have any suggestions as to which ones are good considerations for me?

Exercise Caution With Negotiating

Some students will tell school “A” what school “B” has offered, in hopes of getting more financial aid out of school “A.”

Whether that strategy works or backfires partially depends on how hard you push the schools. If you truly believe school “A” could do better, then you might try negotiating.

Keep in mind, however, that your strategy may sour your relationship with that admissions officer. A final word of caution: Don’t have a parent or spouse call on your behalf. If you wish to negotiate, you need to do it yourself.

Maintain Your Professionalism

If you get accepted to your top choice school, explore your financial situation with that school in depth. Let them know how you feel about their school.

Finally, don’t wait until you’re accepted to explore financial aid options. You can and should ask financial aid questions from the time of the interview and going forward.

The more open and honest you are from the beginning about how important financial aid is to you, the better it will help a school anticipate your needs.