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  • Writer's pictureSociety of Bioethics and Medicine

The Uphill Battle to Becoming a Doctor: Undergraduate Money Matters

Written by Sanjana Ahmed

Edited by Lok - Yee Lam

When discussing trials and tribulations faced by students pursuing careers as doctors, many think about the hours spent studying, participating in extracurriculars, and trying to maintain some semblance of a social life. What so many people gloss over is the issue of money.

In the United States, it is largely known that seeking higher education is a costly endeavor. On average, a four-year undergraduate degree costs $37,650 at private colleges, $10,560 at public colleges for in-state students, and $27,020 at public colleges for out-of-state students (College Board). It should be noted that this does not account for things such as textbook costs, grocery bills, and even the access codes that students sometimes need to pay in order to do their homework. Keep in mind that some must also pay dorming/housing fees if they do not commute. And even if they do, commuting back and forth requires money as well.

Due to these exorbitant prices, many students rely on financial aid and scholarships to stay afloat. A great number of them also choose to take out student loans, which can lead to issues later on. Some also have to take on jobs and balance that aspect of their lives with their academics. For students on the pre-medical track, this last option is almost always impossible. This is due to several variables.

It is well known that pre-medical students have extremely rigorous workloads and are expected to excel regardless of their circumstances. And due to the infamously competitive nature of medical schools, students need to ensure that their applications are top-notch. Thus, many students pursue arduous extracurriculars, such as research or shadowing doctors. In addition, students are expected to gain exposure to the field through volunteer work, scribing, or other means that are often unpaid opportunities.

Of course, students also often look to set themselves apart from their peers during applications, so many also take part in unique extracurriculars, as well. In conjunction with the high expectations set for their academic records, it leaves little time to decompress mentally even without the pressing issue of money being added into the mix.

There is then the issue of how money ties into students’ academic successes in the classroom. The pandemic alone has shown us how integral technology has become in our schools. Nowadays, it is normal to see a lecture hall full of students with laptops, tablets, and other pieces of technology that they can use to take notes. Not only can these items help with time efficiency, as some students are able to type quicker than they physically write, but they are also convenient since they can have all their school materials in one place, such as their textbooks.

On the note of textbooks, many students now utilize the PDF versions rather than lug around their five-pound physical counterparts. They can also now use digital copies for homework worksheets instead of printing them out.

While on one hand, this seems extremely beneficial, let us keep in mind how much these items can cost. Typically, laptops and tablets cost several hundred dollars. Now, students often have to pay for the digital copies of their books and access codes for their homework as well. It’s easy to see how things can quickly add up.

Although most schools do attempt to counteract this by offering certain resources, such as desktops available in their libraries amongst other things, they generally are not available around the clock. Students also use their tech to work long hours with everything in one place so even if they do utilize school-funded resources, there will definitely be difficulties maintaining that lifestyle. And let us not ignore the fact that most schools will not be shelling out money for top-of-the-line technology either.

Many students also look for other costly resources to ensure their academic success. Some examples include personal tutors, specialized academic course help sites, tutors, and supplementary books on subject matters they require help in. These expenses only account for undergraduate coursework, so we have yet to even touch upon the costs people endure to excel on the MCAT.

Arguably the most important exam for aspiring doctors, the MCAT is notorious for its difficulty. Students can spend months preparing for the exam, only to be disappointed with their results and having to try again. The test itself costs $320. Most students will also purchase practice books and/or other materials for preparation as well. Some also opt to take preparational courses that can cost well into the hundreds of dollars.

Being a pre-medical student is a difficult endeavor, and that goes without even accounting for the cost of it all. Adding in the monetary factor, we can see how much more difficult it can be for students who do not have a strong financial background to succeed. Or if they do pay for all the things mentioned in this article, how difficult it can be for them to stay afloat or cope with the surmounting debt, both short term and long term.

Medicine is touted as a field for people who are passionate about what they do. There are so many people in the world that want to help others and would be ideal doctors if not for the financial hindrances they face. While there are financial aid options available, this is a systemic issue that feeds into others. There are many ways we can go from here. Some people are vying for reducing the cost of higher levels of education overall, and the idea of free medical school has been a hot topic ever since NYU pursued it. Each path leads to its own list of pros and cons, but regardless if we want to better the lives of those who will work to save our own, something needs to change.


College Board, Staff. “Trends in College Pricing 2020 – Research – College Board.” Research, 26 Oct. 2020,

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