Congrats! You have received multiple offers of admission to health professional schools. Any one of them would satisfy your educational goals. The question remains, though, of which of these programs will provide you with the best financial aid package.
Do you need financial aid? Probably
The most practical approach begins by understanding your financial needs. To put it more succinctly, will you need financial aid in order to attend the school of your choice? If you are like most health professional school acceptees, the answer is yes. Let’s begin there.
If you filed your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and, if required, a CSS (College Scholarship Service) profile, every school listed will send you a financial aid award letter. This represents each school’s attempt to help you meet its estimated educational costs and your living expenses.
What do financial aid awards include?
Typically, financial aid awards are broken into three areas: tuition/fees, supplies/instruments, and living expenses. While the first two items may be fixed, you have some control over how much you’ll spend on living expenses.
Where does your financial aid come from?
That said, most of your aid will probably come from:
- Government (federal and state): loans, grants, and scholarships
- The Institution, i.e., your health professional school (loans, grants, and scholarships)
How do you choose the best financial aid offer for you?
So, how can you determine which of your aid offers are financially best for you? Looking at the tuition alone is not enough. Let’s begin by comparing each school’s COA (Cost of Attendance). This is the total amount of money that you can expect to spend for one year of schooling:
- Calculate the sum of each school’s grants and scholarships.
- Subtract each sum from its respective COA.
- The difference (what we call The Gap) is the amount you and/or your family are expected to finance through:
a. Private savings (yourself, parents, spouse)
b. Institutional grants/scholarships
c. Government grants/scholarships
d. Government and private loans
With medical school tuition of up to $85K per year, the gap between your COA and each school’s initial offer of grants and scholarships can be intimidating. Don’t start hyperventilating! In future blog posts, we will discuss how the “Gap” can be addressed and other elements crucial to your receipt of financial aid, but first you need to understand the importance of the fine print in any financial aid award letter.
The fine print
Yes, financing a health professional education is expensive. How expensive it is will depend on your response to some crucial information provided by your financial aid award letter. Let your financial award letter’s “fine print” inform your decisions.
Student financial aid award letters can vary in appearance. However, all award letters state their schools’ COA (Cost of Attendance) and list the types and amounts of student aid offered. Let’s discuss types of student aid.
Types of financial aid
Financial aid comes in five basic forms:
- Grants: “Gift” money awarded according to need as defined by the FAFSA
- Scholarships: “Gift” money awarded on the basis of merit, skills, and or unique characteristics
- Work-study, teaching assistantships, fellowships: Financial aid in the form of employment
- Loans: Borrowed money that must be repaid
- Service obligations: Money awarded in return for a legally binding commitment to carry out specific future employment services
The advantage of receiving grants and scholarships lies in the fact that the receipt of these funds does not require to work or a repayment.
The good thing about work-study, teaching assistantships, and fellowships is that they provide money. The problem with “work type” aids is that you must work. No work, no money. And, of course working means taking time away from studying.
Loans are a unique form of financial aid. Like work-study, teaching assistantships, and fellowships, loans provide money for your education. The unique quality of loans is they require repayment of the principal (the amount borrowed) with interest. Paying attention to the particulars of each loan can make a significant impact on your financial future.
Service obligations are signed contracts whereby you promise, in return for financial assistance, to work, for a certain amount of time, for a specific employer or agency. While some service obligations can pay your entire COA for four years, the downside is that you will be obligated to work wherever that employer or agency wants you to work.
Increasing your awareness as to the distinctiveness and advantages of various types of student aid will provide you with a powerful tool—information! Our next post will begin a more in-depth look at these financial aid options.
Do you need help preparing your financial aid application—or, before that, your medical school application? Check out Accepted’s Medical School and Healthcare Admissions Consulting & Editing Services and work one-on-one with an experienced advisor who will help you create successful applications—at any stage of the admissions or financial aid process!
By Lolita Wood-Hill and William Hill
William Hill recently retired as the Associate Director of Financial Aid at CUNY Lehman College. With over 40 years of experience, Mr. Hill has been a member of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. He was also founding member of CUNY’s Special Programs Financial Aid Coordinator’s Council and served in leadership positions on several CUNY wide financial aid initiatives.
• How to Finance Your Medical School Journey, a free on-demand webinar
• Financial Planning for Physicians, Med Students, and Premeds, a podcast episode
• 5 Tips for Funding Your Medical Education