Save on Medical School Application Costs

Get tips on how to reduce expenses for the MCAT, AMCAS, and med school interviews.

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The AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service) application often causes jitters, especially around this time of year. Aside from the content, the AMCAS can also be intimidating from another perspective: cost.

For better or worse, applying to medical school is an investment. From application fees to interview suits, these expenses emerge at every stage of the process. The good news: There are plenty of ways for applicants to cut costs.

[Learn more about paying for medical school.]

1. The MCAT (Medical College Admission Test): First, there are the MCAT prep classes. It's worth contemplating whether or not structured classes would help you on the MCAT, as on-site test prep classes can be quite costly. Currently, they can cost nearly $2,000; however, online-only test prep options run in the $1,000 to $1,500 range. You can save 25 to 50 percent by enrolling in an online prep program.

After preparation, you'll still need to pay $235 to register for the MCAT (including score distribution). If you register late, or need to cancel or reschedule, it's $60 extra. To save, register as early as you can and plan effectively—while unexpected events may happen, avoiding canceling or rescheduling test dates will work to your benefit.

If your family income is 300 percent of the federal poverty line or less, you may be eligible for the FAP (Fee Assistance Program). It reduces the registration fee to $85 and provides applicants with online access to the MSAR (Medical School Admission Requirements) guidebook for one year. To be considered, applicants, even independent ones, are required to provide parental financial forms, like a tax return. More information can be found on the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) website.

[Learn what potential MCAT changes mean for premed students.]

2. The AMCAS: AMCAS has a $160 registration fee as of the 2012 application year, but there's also a charge of $33 for each medical school designation after the first; for most applicants, this means fees accumulate quickly. Many undergraduate institutions also charge for official transcripts.

Keep in mind that most medical schools also require a secondary application, which entails additional fees for each institution. Secondary application fees generally run from $25 to $100, depending on the school. For a typical applicant applying to 15 schools, assuming a secondary application fee of $75 (one of the more common supplemental fees), the AMCAS fee would total $1,747. Yikes!

Again, the Fee Assistance Program can help, as it also provides AMCAS fee breaks. It allows you to apply to 14 schools at no cost (you're responsible for additional school fees). Most schools honor FAP and waive secondary application fees as well. The rules are fairly specific; for those who have unusual situations, it's best to double check the FAP webpage.

[See U.S. News's rankings of Best Medical Schools.]

3. The interview: Interviews are probably the single most expensive component of the medical school admissions process for many applicants. Interview costs are highly variable, though, depending on how well-received your application is, the number of schools you applied to, and geographical location.

• Clothing: The first big expense is the interview suit. Since medicine is still a fairly conservative field, it's better to keep it more formal. This means having the right clothes and looking put together at each interview. Thankfully, you don't need the latest designer labels from Paris or Milan. Many discount outlets offer a great selection of appropriate suits, as do factory outlets of national chains.

• Travel and accommodations: Depending on how widely you apply geographically, this can easily be the costliest part of the process. You'll also sometimes need to travel at peak times to make it to interviews.

To save, if you're currently a full-time student, student travel agencies offer many options for discounted tickets, sometimes even at the last minute. Some airlines provide special discounts for applicants; you can visit the AAMC website for specific details.

When it comes to accommodations, crashing with friends or staying with a current medical student can help many candidates save money. Medical schools also generally have an agreement with a nearby hotel to offer discounted rates to visitors. Contact the admissions office of the school at which you're interviewing to ask about overnight student hosting or hotel discounts.

Applying to medical school can be an expensive endeavor. By planning early and knowing the ins and outs of the system, you can not only save yourself money but also reduce time and stress.

Ibrahim Busnaina, M.D. is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and coauthor of "Examkrackers' How To Get Into Medical School." He has been consulting with prospective medical school applicants, with a special focus on minority and other nontraditional candidates, since 2006.