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 $37,000 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. With a success rate of about 6%, many students will see this 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 (2020-2021)
MCAT test$3201
MCAT prep course$2,9992
Initial AMCAS application$1701
Average # of schools applied: 163$39 per school1
Secondary/Supplementary Application$100 per school3
Travel Cost to Attend Interviews$1,000 per school4
Altus Suite$12 (Test fee) + $12 (distribution fee for each program selected)

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, and college service fees, though these are often additional expenditures for the applicant. 

Another considerable cost to applicants that are 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 on 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
Altus Suite0 hours (no prep time) + 2 hours (for all three assessments)

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. 

Altus Suite is one way in which medical programs can revamp their admissions process while minimizing costs to applicants. Measuring social intelligence, professionalism, and value-alignment, the assessments in Altus Suite — Casper (a situational judgment test), Snapshot (a 10-minute, standardized one-way video interview), and Duet (a value-alignment assessment) — require little to no preparation. The aim of Altus Suite 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. Research has also shown that Casper in particular is not susceptible to coaching effects. That said, Altus has prepared free resources to help applicants familiarize themselves with the format and technical requirements of each component of Altus Suite and reduce test-day anxiety; these include practice tests after registering for an Altus Suite account and a list of test prep tips.

Along with a negligible time commitment, the cost of Altus Suite is substantially lower than other application costs (see above) – $12 to take the test, with an additional $12 distribution fee for each school, with no additional travel or prep costs. The cost and time commitment make Altus Suite 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. 

Originally published on October 23, 2017 by Christopher Zou, Ph.D.
Updated in 2021

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap