The Price of Admission to Medical School

The cost of medical school tuition is well known to be a huge burden on students. Averaging over $35,000 a year, this cost has only continued to rise with no sign of slowing down.

Prior to paying tens of thousands of dollars for school, applicants must first pay to apply to these programs. Though programs aim to keep these costs low, in the most recent application cycle, the average American student applying to medical school will have spent over $7,500. Many medical schools are incredibly selective about whom they admit into their programs. According to data submitted by 120 ranked medical schools, each school accepted on average just 7% of its total applicants. However, the average candidate applies to sixteen medical schools; and somewhere between 40%-50% of applicants receive at least one offer of admission in the United States. Due to the high failure rate, many students will see their application cost double, maybe even triple, as they continue to apply again in future cycles. Some students incur this cost 5 times over, before getting accepted (that’s over $30,000 before the overwhelming tuition costs even begin).

Here is the breakdown of the costs:

ItemEstimated Cost (2016-2017)
MCAT test$3101
MCAT prep course$2,2992
Initial AMCAS application$1601
Average # of schools applied: 163$39 per school1
Secondary/Supplementary Application$100 per school4
Letter Service$1254
Travel Cost to Attend Interviews$2,5004
CASPer® for US Medicine$10 (Test fee) + $10 (Distribution Fee)

Adapted from Berkeley Career Center

The breakdown of costs does not include items such as formal attire for interviews, travel costs to an MCAT testing center, medical school application tools and guidebooks, premedical classes, and college service fees, though these are often additional expenditures for the applicant.

Another considerable cost to applicants that is often neglected by programs is time. Medical school applicants are already under enormous pressure to succeed academically while also investing numerous hours into volunteering and other extracurricular activities. Additionally, many students must seek employment while juggling these other commitments, in order to afford the application costs. This burden creates a huge barrier for applicants from low socioeconomic (SES) backgrounds and mature students who may be bombarded with additional familial obligations. This is why it’s important to ensure that medical school applications do not take up an exorbitant amount of time from applicants, who are already trying to meet multiple demands.

Gathering information from pre-medical student forums, blogs, and articles, we provide a breakdown of the estimated time spent for each part of the application process:

ItemEstimated Time
MCAT test6-8 months (prep time) + 7.5 hours (test)
AMCAS application1-2 weeks
Secondary/Supplementary Application3-4 days per school
Letter of Recommendation~3 hrs
Interview~3 hours (prep time) + 6 hours (interview) per school
CASPer0 hours (no prep time) + 1.5 hours (test)

This does not include the potential travel time to attend an MCAT testing session and interviews, which can vary widely depending on the applicant’s location.

Medical school admissions are in dire need of reform, but any changes need to avoid further burdening students. Keeping time and financial resources low can also help widen access to medical education by opening the doors to applicants from low-SES backgrounds and mature students.

CASPer® is one way in which medical programs can revamp their admissions process while minimizing costs to applicants. As seen above, CASPer® does not require any preparation from applicants, as research shows that the test is not susceptible to the effects of coaching. The aim of CASPer® is to assess the intrinsic values and the underlying belief system of incoming students, which cannot be readily changed with a short workshop or a preparation course.

Along with a negligible time commitment, the cost of CASPer® is substantially lower than other application costs (see above) – $10 to take the test, with an additional $10 distribution fee for each school, with no additional travel or prep costs. The cost and time commitment make CASPer® a step towards a more fair and equitable admissions process. After all, the primary goal of admissions is to select the best students, not the richest students.

Published: October 23, 2017
By: Christopher Zou, Ph.D.
Education Researcher at Altus Assessments