Are $300,000 Worth Of Medical School Student Loans Worth It?

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The following is a guest post by fellow personal finance blogger, Catherine Alford, of Budget Blonde. You can also follow her on twitter @BudgetBlonde. Enjoy! 

Many of you might read that title, and think, “Absolutely not! That’s what’s wrong with our country!” And, you would be right. The student loan debt in our country is a massive problem, one that’s surpassed a trillion dollars in recent years.

Yet, that’s exactly how much money my husband and I are borrowing so he can attend school at a private American owned international medical school.

Why didn’t we just pick a public medical school? Wouldn’t it be cheaper?

Medical school is one of the most competitive and most difficult forms of education that someone can go through. Less than 9% of applicants get accepted. Unless you have unbelievable MCAT scores, the average student who wants to go to medical school doesn’t really have their pick of schools if they even get accepted at all. If they get to choose between two schools, they are lucky. We’re thrilled with the international school my husband attends. They have students from 180 different countries, and it’s been the experience of a lifetime.

Won’t it be easy to pay it back once he starts working as a physician?

We’re not naïve enough to think that once he becomes a physician, we’re going to have piles of money. That’s a very common misconception, but I feel that many people are starting to realize that physicians do not make the same salaries that they did 10-20 years ago. We’re not sure how the health care reform will affect his potential salary, but money is not why we did this to begin with. No one in their right mind would undergo this rigorous of a curriculum just to make six figures, when you can make that in many other fields and have a much better lifestyle. All we ever hope for is that we will make enough to comfortably pay these loans back and raise a family.

How are you going to do that?

There are many different programs that physicians can take part in to have their loan amounts lowered. Listed below are some of these options:

  • They can work in a rural area for a specified amount of time. 
  • They can become officers in the military. 
  • They can do what’s called a Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and work for 10 years in a public service position.
We’re not exactly sure how we personally are going to tackle this, but as of right now, we’re going to enroll in income-based repayment during residency. Essentially, when my husband graduates from medical school in 3 years, his loans will start being due 6 months from that. The problem is that he’s not done with his education yet, and will be in residency for another 3-7 years depending on the program. Residency is not considered being “in school” because you get a salary, so the loans are not deferred. However, the salary of a resident on average is $50,000, and if you do the math, it’s hard to pay back $300,000 when you only make $50,000. So, we’re going to enroll in income-based repayment to start paying it off slowly while he’s in residency. We’re choosing that over hardships or forbearance, because I know that just paying it a little over time will help us in the end.

Times have certainly changed both in terms of student loans and also health care. Just a few years ago, medical schools students were borrowing money at 2% and 3%. Now, we don’t have subsidized loans anymore, and our interest rate is 7.9%. However, when you want to do something that you believe in, and the only way to fund it is through U.S. loans, we think it’s worth it. We’re living simply now, we’re watching what we spend, and we have a plan for the future so that one day we can pay this off quickly and more importantly, with no regrets.

How about you all? What techniques have you used in the past to pay off your student loans? Did you take advantage of any loan forgiveness or relief/deferral programs? 

Share your experiences by commenting below!

    ***Photo courtesy of


    1. A guy I know went to med school and while I don't think he had $300k in loans, I know they were substantial. Still, he's an ER doctor and I think he makes around $200k a year so even with the loans, he and his family are building a $500k+ house, so things can't be all that tough.

      • Eventually, things will be fine, yes. Things are tough right now initially when you are going through the process. Again, he probably does make 6 figures, but you have to also factor in the very large malpractice insurance for some specialties. He likely worked extremely hard to get to that point and now has the ability to build his dream home. I hope that happens some day for us too.
        My recent post Our Inexpensive Valentine’s Day Plan + A $500 Giveaway!

    2. Thank you very much for having me, Jacob!
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    3. I think it is absolutely ridiculous that you have to borrow that much money for school. I know that medical school is one most expensive degrees. It doesn't matter much what you go in, if it is medical, it is going to cost you. If he is following his dream, then why not. I just hope that he doesn't have to go through the rest of his life regretting taking out that much money.
      My recent post What Not to do When You’re In Serious Financial Trouble

      • It is ridiculous – totally agree, but that's the cost of it for us. I don't think he'll regret it. He's married to Budget Blonde after all, and I'll keep him straight until we're out of this mess. 🙂
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    4. If you last for 20+ years as a doctor, I think it's worth it!

      $300,000 can't even buy a two bedroom condo in SF!


    5. Shannon-ReadyForZero says:

      Thanks so much for sharing your story Catherine! I've been dealing with student loans for some time now and am currently trying out biweekly payments to cut a few years and a few grand off my loans. It's something that my company just launched and I was amazed when I realized that paying half the monthly amount every other week, rather than the whole month amount once per month, can have such a significant impact on payoff.

      I hope that you and your husband find a manageable way to pay his loans off while you both enter new phases of life together. I look forward to hearing how things go for you!
      My recent post 10 Mental Barriers to Paying Off Debt

    6. myfijourney says:

      The best method to tackle student loans is not to have them. This requires a good degree of sacrifice. While most people were living the “best years of their lives” in high school and college, I spent my time studying. High school and college were not the best years of my life, in fact they were largely forgettable, but I have no debt.
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      • Sure, it would be great not to have them, but medical students can't work while they are in school. They study 15 hours a day. So instead I work and do the best I can to counteract the loans. Good for you though for working your way through your education.
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    7. My sister in law is going through med school right now, and she does way too much work to be in it for the money. All I know is that they'll be working to pay off those loans for a while. Doesn't seem like it's worth the time and debt to me, but if you've got the passion for that more power to you.
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      • Glad to hear you say that she can't be in it for the money. It's very hard to convince other people of that, so I've just given up all together, letting people think what they want. Many people don't think it's worth it, but I think my husband will be a great doctor someday and it's worth it to us if he has a fulfilling life and career.
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    8. Emily @ evolvingPF says:

      You have an incorrect statistic. 9% of medical school APPLICATIONS are accepted. More like 40% of medical school APPLICANTS are accepted somewhere in the US.

      I know one person who went to med school in the Caribbean so I realize it's done, but I think I would have reapplied in subsequent years to try to get into a US school. My anecdotal observation of my friends is that more post-BS experience increases the likelihood of admission. It seems even private schools in the US are cheaper than this international one – median debt being $180k.

      Now that you're committed, though, I sincerely hope it works out for you guys.
      My recent post Why We Don’t Do No-Spend Challenges

      • Thanks Emily. I got the statistic from an admissions website, but there seem to be a lot swirling around upon second glance. Trust me we did not choose a Caribbean medical school lightly. We would have never moved our family to another country if we didn't do everything we could to stay in the US first, including trying a few times, doing post-bac work, and working in the medical field. My husband is 29 years old so this decision came after some careful thought and consideration and a desire to get started on his education.
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    9. Catherine, I think you guys can do it if you can truly commit to being frugal during the school years and afterwards until your loans are paid off. You may not be able to buy a fancy house right away, but I think you'll be happiest if you commit to paying off everything before spending his income on things that aren't necessities. The world is in dire need of good doctors, so if he has a gift for this profession, and loves it, and your gut tells you it's the right thing to do, go for it!
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      • Thanks Laurie. That's very kind. We're really frugal as it is (I write a PF blog after all!) and I have no desire for the big fancy house or the fancy car. All I want is a nice comfortable spot to raise a family and maybe do a little bit of traveling. I'm not into the whole buying things for appearances thing. 🙂
        My recent post Our Inexpensive Valentine’s Day Plan + A $500 Giveaway!

    10. Mine will be due soon and it is going to be no little thing, that's for sure. What to do, I”m not sure because in order to get my doctorate, we decided I'd stay home w/the little one, so I have to re-enter the workforce (in a new state too, lol, we did a bunch of changes at once) as well. I was grateful to get the loans and I'll be working hard to get them paid back.
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