It's safe to say medical school is a costly investment. Tuition can reach as high as $50,000 or more per year. Prospective students' wallets often take a hit from simply preparing for the medical school entrance exam: A quick online search reveals test preparation courses ranging from $2,000 to $11,000.
"Commercial prep courses are very expensive," says Lynne Holden, president of Mentoring in Medicine, a nonprofit organization that helps disadvantaged youth and adults become health care professionals.
"I don't think our students budget anything [for the MCAT]," Holden says.
[Prepare for the MCAT with these tips.]
Recognizing that many prospective students like Holden's have limited finances, the Association of American Medical Colleges has teamed up with free online education service Khan Academy and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to provide free online resources for students taking the revised MCAT, which debuts in 2015.
This collaboration is one of many ways organizations are responding to the financial hurdles students face while trying to enter graduate school. Recently, several online options have become available that make studying for graduate school entrance exams, such as the MCAT, a more cost-efficient process.
"We view this effort as an important addition to the work the nation's medical schools and teaching hospitals are doing to encourage and attract future physicians from diverse backgrounds, including students from economically and educationally disadvantaged communities," said Darrell Kirch, president and CEO of the AAMC, in a press release distributed April 2.
The three organizations are sponsoring a video competition to encourage medical students and residents to create educational tutorials on subjects that will be tested by the new MCAT. By fall, the free tutorials will start to appear on the academy's website and on the Pre-health Collection section of the AAMC's MedEdPORTAL iCollaborative, a free online database of instructional materials.
[Find out how the new MCAT will affect aspiring doctors.]
For prospective students taking the MCAT before 2015, there are a number of cost-efficient test prep programs available. Here are a few resources recommended by health care professionals.
Dr. Flowers Test Prep: James Flowers has been helping students prepare for the MCAT since the early 1970s and spent his fourth year at Harvard University's medical school writing an MCAT test preparation book. Holden, who's also an emergency medicine physician at Montefiore Medical Center, used his study materials when preparing for the exam more than 20 years ago. She liked his teaching so much that she uses it with her students at Mentoring in Medicine.
"He goes from the basics up to the more complex and he tests you all the way," she says. Flowers offers his study materials online. Prices for the various study curricula range from about $100 to $800.
"I couldn't even really afford to take the test when I was a student," says Flowers, who grew up on welfare. He now practices as a general internist outside of Las Vegas. "I'd be a little sick if I wanted to make people pay through their noses now."
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AAMC: In addition to offering free tutorials for the 2015 MCAT, the Association of American Medical Colleges has resources available now for aspiring doctors studying for the exam.
"For students who have economic need, they get a free official guide, they get a free self-assessment package and then we have a free practice test that's available to everyone," says Karen Mitchell, senior director of the admissions testing service at the AAMC. For $30, students can purchase the AAMC publication "The Official Guide to the MCAT Exam." The online self-assessment package is available for $104, and seven additional practice exams are available for $35 each.
MOOCs: Massive Online Open Courses are online classes that are essentially open to the public. "[Students] can go in and sign up for a biology course or a chemistry course or a physics course. And there's no cost," Mitchell says.
Coursera and EdX are two of the more popular MOOC providers. The sites offer classes through a number of universities, such as the University of North Carolina--Chapel Hill, Johns Hopkins University and Georgetown University.
No matter what resource a student chooses for studying, Holden encourages aspiring doctors to place studying for the MCAT at the top of their priority list.
"You have to learn the language of the MCAT," she says. "You have to devote time to it."
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