Sometimes earning an undergraduate degree is only the beginning of a student's educational goal. Thousands of new college students start school every year with the ultimate hope of an advanced degree—and few of those degrees have the mystique of an M.D.
Unfortunately, there are also few educational paths that have a price tag and time commitment quite as large as medical school. While new doctors will graduate into a profession with plenty of earning potential, they also tend to leave their seven to eight years of school with far higher debt than most graduates. Seventy-nine percent of med students graduated in 2012 with education debt of $100,000 or more, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
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To help offset some of your potential debt, you can turn to scholarships every step of the way, from undergrad to resident. It will come as no surprise that since medical schools themselves are highly competitive, so are their scholarship competitions. Learn the criteria and start your applications early so that when you can finally call yourself "doc," you can enjoy the fruits of your labor instead of shelling out money to loan companies.
If you're heading into your junior or senior year of college next year and you're planning on a career in health or medicine, you can apply for the Gallagher Koster Health Careers Scholarship, which will award five $5,000 scholarships to students who apply by May 3. Students in a wide variety of healthcare-related majors—from biology to nursing to child development, and more—are invited to apply, as long as they anticipate graduating between spring of 2014 and spring of 2015.
The Palo Alto Foundation Medical Group is one of a number of more locally focused organizations that give out pre-med scholarships, and its awards are among the largest. The scholarship pays out $20,000 over five years to its recipients, who must be high school seniors from one of the four California counties served by the foundation. It's an amazing opportunity if you live in the area; if not, you should spend a day or two talking to your own local and regional clinics and health foundations to find out about similar programs.
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For students who have completed their undergrad education and are entering medical school, the National Health Service Corps Scholarship is a potentially attractive option. Much like teachers, future doctors can have their tuition, fees, and a living stipend paid by the federal government.
In return, students pledge to practice after graduation in a "high-need," often low-income community. If you participate in the program, you promise to work for one year in a "Health Professional Shortage Area" for each year of assistance you receive. If you're concerned about graduating with debt, it's an excellent option; the 2013 application cycle will open later this month.
If you don't go the federal route when you enroll in medical school, you should check out the scholarships provided by the American Medical Association, which include the $10,000 Minority Scholars and Physicians of Tomorrow awards. Note that you'll need to be nominated by your school for these programs; make sure and consult your adviser so you don't miss out!
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While you're there, find out about your school's need-based awards (which most med schools offer), and see if yours is one of the smaller number of institutions (like Washington University in St. Louis and Vanderbilt University) that offer merit aid to med students.
Finally, there are a couple of programs that can help you out as you get closer to residency and practice. The Association of American Medical Colleges' Nickens Student Scholarship provides $5,000 to outstanding third-year students who have shown leadership in addressing healthcare inequities. And, if you're looking to get your foot in the door at America's most famous health-care provider, the Mayo School of Graduate Education offers $2,500 diversity scholarships and $1,000 departmental scholarships for clerkships at Mayo Clinic hospitals.
Matt Konrad has been with Scholarship America since 2005. He is an alumnus of the University of Minnesota and a former scholarship recipient.