Is $60K in loans for a post-bac premed program worth the price?
February 11, 2018 2:30 PM   Subscribe

I have not taken any of the prerequisite classes for applying to medical school yet and can get them done in one year for ~$60,000, potentially attend medical school right after, or try to squeeze them in while working full-time over the course of at least two years, and not attend medical school for at least a year after completion of all courses. I am scared of debt and am having a hard time deciding if taking out loans to pay for the one-year program is worth it.

The other benefits are that the program has linkages with medical schools, where you can apply halfway through the program to one school from the list of linkage schools, and, if accepted, can start medical school right after finishing this one-year program, though, through this agreement, you are ineligible for scholarships. (Normally you'd have to wait a year after you finish the program while you apply during the admission cycle that follows.) I liked the program and the staff and current students that I met. The school also has a very good track record of getting people into medical school (98% I think) -- and very good medical schools too. I liked the small class sizes; there is never more than about 30 students in your cohort and you take all your classes with only the other post-bacs. This allows for asking questions in class unlike a large lecture hall and I imagine going through a condensed year with 29 other people working towards the same goal would add additional motivation. The students I talked to mentioned there was a lot of camaraderie amongst the cohort which I also observed during my interview and visit. The school is on the East Coast and I currently live in the Midwest and I am also really looking forward to getting out of the current city I live in now. I applied to two different one-year programs (similar in cost), was accepted to both, and this is the program I liked better. If money were no object, I would go in a heartbeat. However, I have next to no savings and this would just be paid with a giant loan (or really, a series of loans). I also worry, what happens if something goes awry and then I am stuck with $60k of loans and don't end up going to/finishing medical school or residency (although by that point I'd probably have $400k of loans to worry about)?

My alternate plan, if I ultimately decide I can't deal with the expense, is to look for jobs on the East Coast (I have visited some cities on the East Coast that I liked and would like to move there) and work for a year to save up more money to either attend this program or otherwise hope to land a less hectic job than the one I have now and start taking pre-med classes at a nearby university in the evenings (I am also particularly interested in working for a university, which might hopefully provide tuition assistance). I looked into Harvard Extension School's program (tuition is very cheap -- ~$1,500/class or ~$12,000 total), but I have heard from numerous people the classes are incredibly intense and it's hard to keep up with even one class when you're working full time.

I know it's really difficult to get into medical school and so having a good likelihood of getting into medical school, and quickly, is very appealing. I just can't get over the cost though. I don't have any student loans or debts to my name, but the sticker shock is real. The two specialties I'm currently most interested in are family medicine and psychiatry and the former doesn't pay very well in comparison to other specialties and I will, of course, incur much more debt during medical school. Also, if I took classes in the evenings while I worked, it would be at least three years until I actually attended medical school, as mentioned. I am 26 currently and would like to actually start on a career soon. I'm not *that* old, I know, but I feel like I've wasted a lot of time. A very rough estimate of how much I'd have to pay back starting 6 months after I finish the program (if I apply widely and enroll the year after finishing the program, and don't go directly to medical school) is $660/mo. I would owe at least $80k after ten years/once the loan is paid off (not including interest accumulated during deferment while in med school and residency). I went to this website and put in Direct Unsubsidized loan for $60k at 6%, but it looks like the annual loan limit is $20,000, so I would only be eligible for $40,000 in government loans max (the summer class technically falls in the 2017-18 academic year). So I guess the $660/mo figure would probably be at least a little higher once factoring in private loans.

All things considered, is it worth the price? Open to all advice, though perspectives from those currently pursuing careers as physicians, in particular, would be extra appreciated. Thank you in advance.
posted by anonymous to Education (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I did one of these programs, quite possibly the one you're referring to, and am now a 3rd year medical student. I'm happy to discuss in more detail -- please MeMail me.
posted by telegraph at 2:44 PM on February 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

I worked and took premedical prerequisites at the same time. It was very, very challenging to find work that would accommodate a class schedule that changed every semester. It was not possible, at my large public university, to take every prerequisite at night. If I had it to do over again, I would have done a one-year accelerated program.

That said, I am now in med school. 26 is young enough to take the prerequisites one by one (or two by two) if that's what you'd rather do.
posted by 8603 at 3:11 PM on February 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

To be blunt: what was your undergrad GPA?

I am of two minds about these programs (disclaimer: I am a professor who often advises premeds, IANYA). For already-competitive students (read: GPA above 3.5, other scores above 80th percentile) who just need the redirection, they are a viable, albeit still too expensive, path.

But I also see them as a predatory purgatory for weak students. They will gladly accept students with, say, a biology degree and a 2.7 GPA who had no prayer of getting into med school the first time, sign them up for $60k in loans, take the money, and look the other way while the same student gets the same grades as ever, does about the same on the MCAT, and gets no further towards, well, realizing that dreams sometimes don't come true.

Unless 95 percent of that program's graduates end up in medical school, you want to be very, very honest with yourself about your abilities and your chances.
posted by Dashy at 3:21 PM on February 11, 2018 [15 favorites]

I don't have experience with postbac programs, but I am in medicine. If being in medicine is your goal, you should just do the postbac and get into the best/cheapest medical school you can, as quickly as you can. Plenty of people start med school in their late 20s or even 30s, but I personally liked getting through with the curriculum as quickly as possible, because training is long and only getting longer (fellowships, people often take research years or MPH years, etc).

It sounds like the program you've found is supportive and provides an advising component on top of just the pre-med curriculum, which is great. 60k is significant, but not that much compared to the overall amount debt you will incur by going to med school. Additionally, depending on your parents' financial status (or if your med school somehow doesn't look at parental finances) or your other merits or qualities (for example, if you are an underrepresented minority), you might not go into that much debt for medical school because some schools provide generous financial aid and/or scholarships. In terms of paying back the debt, you could probably moonlight by second year of residency and make a good dent in your loans, so while it is an issue, it isn't completely insurmountable.

One other thing to consider is how confident you are that you will do well in the classes and be able to keep up some sort of volunteering/shadowing/extracurricular activity while working through those classes. There might be slightly less pressure to do extracurricular activities because you have life experience under your belt, but that's something that many admissions committees look for nonetheless. The other thing is that you need to do well on the MCAT, so the classes should ideally prepare you well for that -- you don't want to get through all the classes only to find that you need to take an additional six months to study for the MCAT, because that in itself could also put you back one year in the application cycle.

I know somebody who went to HES for his postbac, who ended up at my med school. What you don't pay for in tuition you will pay for in living expenses in Cambridge at Harvard Extension School.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 3:21 PM on February 11, 2018

I was going to say--living anywhere near the extension school will be $$$. I really don't know how any Harvard grad students do it these days. You can borrow to do that program, though, unlike most of the extension school classes. The big problem is rent, though, so if you could figure out an inexpensive living situation...
posted by praemunire at 4:32 PM on February 11, 2018

The thing that strikes me is that you say doing this acceleration year will mean you can't apply for scholarships for med-school itself (because of the way they have you apply part way through). That sounds like a dealbreaker, if you thought you had a chance at scholarships otherwise. It means you aren't just considering a $60k price difference between the two routes, but $60k + whatever scholarships you might otherwise get.
posted by lollusc at 4:45 PM on February 11, 2018

I did the opposite--enrolled in ridiculously cheap non-degree classes at the local third-rate state university and just knocked them out over 18 months or so. It was fine, but as a non-degree student I certainly didn't get any advising, the classes weren't really structured to reflect the way the subjects are later taught/used in medical school, and I suspect that the one recommendation I used from my professors there was probably not my strongest, because the classes were large and we just didn't have that many in-person interactions. I also DIY'd my MCAT studying, which probably did impair my efficiency until a helpful friend gave me his Kaplan study materials. In retrospect I'm kind of amazed that it all worked out as well as it did because even though I thought I had a very clear and well-thought-out plan at the time, I now realize that I had no idea what I was doing.

I think your best bet is probably to do the postbac program. Its graduates are a known quantity to medical schools (this is a big deal), you'll get good advising, and it's structured specifically to get its graduates into medical school and have them succeed there. I honestly think saving a year or so on the front end is worth quite a bit--you'll maintain momentum, won't have to figure out what other CV-burnishing work to do, and you'll be an attending physician with an attending salary that much sooner.

I started med school at 28. One of the nice things about starting medical school at a later age is that at age 30 most of them stop considering your parents' income for financial aid purposes, so I got a lot more grant money after that point. The same may be true for you--hopefully it will help keep your loans manageable.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 11:32 PM on February 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

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