Stretching your dollar

Unexpected costs in med school: How to anticipate and plan for them

With plenty of “extras” to account for, expecting the unexpected will help students balance their budgets while in med school.


Matriculating through medical school can be quite expensive, and students cover the costs in a variety of ways, like taking out loans, applying for scholarships and relying on family. However, it can be hard to know how much to budget for all the “extra” costs of medical school—things that are not tuition or room and board but may be necessary to succeed in medical school.

These costs can add up quickly. Some extra costs to consider when budgeting for medical school include parking, gas and potentially paying for multiple living accommodations during fourth year.

Below is a list of some of the major unexpected costs to consider when you are budgeting for medical school.

1. Transportation

Gas, parking and more! Depending on where you live, parking at your training hospital could be quite pricey. At Stroger Cook County Hospital in Chicago, parking for students and hospital employees is $2 a day in the distant lot and $25 a day in the nearest parking garage. While $2 a day sounds cheap, if an employee is there for 22 days, that’s $44 per month.

In addition, gas prices have increased tremendously this past year, and a weekly fill-up can be about $50, depending on one’s commute length. Factoring in car maintenance and tolls, students could be paying $200-300 per rotation.

2. Auditions, aways and Sub-Is!

The price per application on VSLO is $15, and while many students budget for this, they often forget about the fees associated with the rotation. These can range from $300-$500 a week for four weeks, equaling up to $1,200 to $2,000 for the entire rotation. Not to mention, many rotations require their own deposits and background checks, which come with their own fees, often ranging from $100-200.

Additionally, students must find somewhere to live while away on rotation, meaning they may have to pay rent at their home location and away location simultaneously, which can add up quickly, depending on the price of rent.

3. Health fees: Labs, doctor’s visits and TB tests

Many rotations require their own unique set of labs drawn within a certain number of months from the start of the rotation. For example, one of my rotations requires a tuberculosis test within three months of the rotation. Most insurance plans will not cover twice-yearly TB tests. Therefore, depending on how often a student rotates, they could be responsible for four TB tests per year. Paying out of pocket ranges from $180-400 per test.

4. Professional fees: Publishing fees, membership dues and conferences!

Many national organizations do not charge for medical students, but some still do, and membership to professional organizations is expected when applying to residency. These yearly dues can range from $25-200. While some medical schools will give students a stipend for attending professional conferences, this is likely only around $300 per year. However, attending an out-of-town conference will likely cost over $1,000, considering the conference fee, transportation, food and housing.

5. Board study materials and exams

Many study aids carry a price tag. For instance, Online Med Ed just went from free to costing $429 annually. In addition, there’s the cost of practice exams (COMSAE) at $60 each, and many students opt for multiple practice rounds. Some med schools pay for students’ board exams or include them in the cost of tuition, but others do not. The exam fee for COMLEX Level I and Level II is currently $715 for each exam. It’s a good idea to check with your school regarding who pays for exams and what study materials they may provide.

6. Applying to residency

The cost of applying to residency will differ greatly based on specialty and the number of programs one applies to. The Association of American Medical Colleges shares a breakdown of application fees based on number of applications:

Programs per specialtyApplication fees
Up to 10$99 total
11–20$19 each
21–30$23 each
31 or more$27 each

In 2020, the average applicant applied to 70 programs. Applying to 70 programs in the same specialty could set you back anywhere from $1,679 to $1,759, depending on which board scores you decide to send in. Also, don’t forget to factor in the cost of dressing up for interviews and getting gear like ring lights and special cameras. While virtual interviews are all the rage, a few places still prefer in-person interviews, which might end up costing hundreds to thousands of dollars in travel expenses.

Budgeting for each year

When budgeting for medical school, it is important to consider anticipated costs for each year and the unique set of unexpected costs that may be associated with it. Keep in mind that none of this accounts for emergencies like travel home or unexpected car costs.

At the same time, it’s important to remember why you’re spending all this money, and it’s because it will lead you to your dream job as an osteopathic physician. The money you spend on your training may be the best investment you’ve ever made toward your future.

For more guidance on money and medical school, see the AOA’s financial planning resources. AOA members can receive discounts on certain financial services from Student Loan Professor (formerly Doctors Without Quarters) and SoFi.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

Related reading:

Taking control of your finances after graduating from med school

The burden of medical school debt: How to advocate for change

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