The rising cost of higher education is old news at this point, but most people would be surprised to find out exactly how much a medical degree, either in traditional medicine or complementary and alternative medicine, costs today.
In the past 20 years, average tuition and fees have increased over 165% for private medical schools and 312% for public medical schools. The average debt with which medical students leave school has also increased dramatically: today, most students graduate with an average of $183,000 in debt.
If you’re going to spend $25,000+ a year on an education, you need to be confident that the return on your investment will be worth it—especially if you take on debt to finance your degree. That’s why it’s important to take the return on investment (ROI) on your degree into account, and discuss your financial aid options with a financial aid advisor before deciding to take out loans.
Below, we’ve listed seven crucial questions to ask yourself when considering a medical degree, both at a traditional medical school or at a complementary and alternative medical school like National University of Health Sciences (NUHS).
1) What will a medical degree really cost me?
This may seem like an obvious question, but the answer can vary widely depending on where you go to school, and your cost of living expenses. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the average cost of attending public medical school in 2016-2017 ranged from $34,592 for in-state students to $58,668 for out-of-state students. Those attending private schools paid an average of $50,000 a year. While these figures include tuition, fees, and health insurance, they do not include cost of living expenses, which add several thousand dollars more per year for most students.
Comparatively, the cost of complementary and alternative medicine school may be somewhat lower. Consider degree options at National University in chiropractic medicine, naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, and oriental medicine programs.
2) How much debt can I reasonably take on to finance a medical degree?
Most medical students end up with some debt upon graduating, but the amount of debt varies widely. Do you already have debt from your undergraduate education that will follow you into graduate school? Even though you can defer payment on the principal of your undergraduate loans, you have to pay interest during graduate school. Keep that in mind before taking out more loans.
3) What kind of financial aid options are available to me through school?
Most medical schools offer their own scholarships, work-study programs, and other forms of financial aid to their students. If you want to minimize your debt (and who wouldn’t?), it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with all of the options available by perusing the school websites and contacting the financial aid offices of the schools to which you’re applying. For example, at NUHS, several types of financial aid are available to eligible students including scholarships, loan programs, and work study programs.
4) When is the best time to fill out the FAFSA?
Timing is everything, even when it comes to applying for federal financial aid. We recommend that you file your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as early as possible. The Department of Education (DOE) has updated its application process and document requirements so students can complete their applications much earlier, and have the information to estimate their aid eligibility for the schools they’re interested in attending. It’s better to have a realistic picture of the federal financial aid you can expect before deciding on which school to attend.
5) What is the difference between undergraduate and graduate federal loans?
If you are familiar with the FAFSA from your undergrad days, it’s important to know that things are a bit different now that you’re an aspiring graduate student. As an undergrad student, you had the opportunity to receive federal loans and grants (which do not need to be repaid). Graduate students do not qualify for federal grants, but may borrow larger amounts in federal loans (which must be repaid)—and the interest rates are higher on those loans. Also, the DOE considers graduate students “independent students,” meaning that only your income information (not your parents’) is needed to file.
6) What is the average loan default rate for students at the school(s) I’m interested in?
If you want to gauge how much debt you can handle, a good indicator is the average loan default rate at the school(s) to which you are applying. For example, at National University, close to 80% of students elect to receive financial aid, yet we have a 4.5% default rate, meaning that 95.5% of our graduates pay off their loans. This is in part because the tuition and fees at NUHS are reasonable, but it is also due to the fact that our complementary and alternative medicine practitioners are finding success after graduation.
7) What is the ROI of a medical degree today?
As you select schools to apply to and the medical specialty you want to pursue, it’s also important to consider the ROI for your degree. Will you be part of an industry that enables you to not only pay off your loans, but also have a thriving career? Will you be pursuing a career that you are passionate about, that enables you to build the kind of life you want to live?
The demand for complementary and alternative medicine is on the rise due to the prevalence of chronic disease coupled with an increased desire on the part of health-conscious Americans for alternatives to traditional medicine. This demand for natural and non-invasive care means strong salaries and earning potential for natural medicine practitioners. Additionally, as a complementary and alternative medicine practitioner, you have several career options you can pursue, such as owning your own health care business, working in an established group or integrated practice, working at a hospital or wellness center, and more.
Last but by no means least, practitioners of complementary and alternative medicine are typically able to set their own hours, depending on the number of patients they’d like to see, enabling them to maintain a better work-life balance.
At the end of the day, you’ll be thankful you asked yourself these questions before beginning the process of applying to medical school. You will have a better sense of what you can afford and which school is the best fit not only for your career interests, but also for your long-term financial goals.
Get answers to your questions in our free resource, A Guide to Financing a Graduate Degree in Complementary and Alternative Medicine.