How Do Medical Students Pay for Living Expenses? (Crucial Money Saving Tips)

This is the definitive guide on medical student living expenses. 

Here you’ll learn:

  • How med students pay for living expenses
  • What types of living expenses med students face
  • How med students can cut their living expenses
  • If you can go to med school despite being poor

Ready to learn more? Let’s get started.

How Do Medical Students Pay for Living Expenses?

There are three main ways med students pay for living expenses during their studies; loans, work and family support.

  1. Loans: there are two types of loans available to American med students; one for tuition and one for living expenses. The first depends on the cost of the school. The second, referred to as ‘federal loans’ or ‘grad PLUS loans’, depends on factors like local housing costs, transport costs and personal needs etc.
  2. Work: some med students supplement their studies with paid work. 
  3. Family/Parents: others are dependent on money given to them by parents or other family members. Some med students are also supported by a full-time working spouse or partner.

These ring true no matter what the country of study.

Obviously the amount you can borrow in loans depends entirely on the country of study. In the U.S., federal loans (those used to cover living expenses) can range anywhere from $20-40K per year of study. Most American med students agree this is more than sufficient. 

Private loans are also another option for med students anywhere to pay for their living expenses. These usually have a very high interest rate however so are not often recommended. 

In other countries, like the UK and Sweden for example, you can get some financial help from the government in the form of bursaries (not expected to be paid back). But it’s more usual this will cover only a part of total expenses. 

Working students obviously have an opportunity cost to consider. Time spent earning is time not studying. Unless you’re a residential nurse (RN) or similar and can gain translatable work experience for your studies – all while earning a reasonable $20+ hourly rate – the option becomes questionable.

Related: Can You Go To Medical School While Working Full Time? (4 Reasons Why It Could Be A Disaster)

What Living Expenses Do Med Students Have?

The living expenses of med students across the world are pretty standard. They include things like housing, transport costs and food. 

What Is the Cost of Attendance?

In the U.S., living expenses are a little easier to quantify thanks to “Cost of Attendance (COA)”. This is essentially a pre-made budget created by a medical school’s financial aid department. It’s usually made public on each medical school’s website.

A COA breaks down all the potential expenses a med student can expect to have attending that school. Typically, it takes the form of a list. You can think of it as the ceiling of the amount of money you are allowed to borrow for a given academic year.

Here’s an example of the COA from UMich (a school I reference a lot on this site!)…

Source: UMich 

Notice how living expenses are broken down into things like food, clothing, rent, utilities, personal, educational materials, exam fees and travel? These are typical med student living expenses.

Other Med School Living Expenses

Some other med student living expenses that aren’t apparently obvious include:

  • Childcare: you can petition financial aid to increase your COA and the funds available to you and pay them back as a percentage of future income. Countries outside the U.S. might give you a child allowance also.
  • Vacation/Research Projects: sometimes med students might need to spend some downtime outside the study environment to regain their energy or work on important research projects.
  • Leisure: video games and Netflix; these things don’t pay for themselves. Although it pays to be frugal in med school, you need to schedule time for hobbies too.

Related: Do Medical Students Have Free Time?

Extra Things To Consider About Med School Expenses & Cost of Attendance

A few things to bear in mind when it comes to expenses as that they don’t tend to stay the same! Here’s why:

  • Yearly Change: different years in med school incur different costs. Second year (M2) med school in America, for example, involves paying to take STEP 1. You need to know your schedule to factor in hidden expenses.
  • Location: if you live in more urban places the costs of living tend to be higher.
  • Interest: loans you take to cover living expenses incur interest. This is an overall cost you really need to keep an eye on. A good rule of thumb is to multiply every dollar you borrow by ten and treat that amount as the future interest total at the end of residency.
  • Summers/Non-Included Time: loan disbursements usually happen twice a year depending where you study. They don’t cover long summers (med school isn’t always year round).

If you’re looking for general advice on how to manage loans etc then be sure to check out the AAMC’s education debt management guide here. An important read.

How Do Medical Students Pay Rent?

Med students pay rent via loans, family or spousal support or by working. Typically it’s paid on a monthly basis with rental contracts ranging anything between a single year of study or the whole duration.

How Med Students Can Reduce Housing Expenses:

There are a few ways med students can make a dent in their living expenses by focusing on housing (one of the biggest costs):

  1. Live at Home: only ideal if their med school is local. The savings are quite substantial though!
  2. Mortgage a House: rent rooms in a property to help cover the mortgage cost as well as a large chunk of your living expenses. Involves a lot of responsibility and upfront cost so it’s not a common option.
  3. Subsidized Housing: many med schools have dorms and low cost housing options for students to take advantage of.

Related: Do Medical Schools Have Dorms? (4 Important Accommodation Questions)

How Can Med Students Reduce Living Expenses?

Other ways med students can reduce their living expenses include:

  • Cooking at home and avoid eating out
  • Use public transport and save on the expenses involved owning a car
  • Borrow educational materials from the library or buy second-hand
  • Pick up cheap hobbies
  • Exercise at home rather than using a gym

And obviously picking up extra work in the preclinical years (where the schedule is more flexible) is a good way to reduce expenses by earning more!

Related: 10 Ways to Make Money Online During Med School

How Do Medical Students Pay for Living Expenses: Reddit Suggestions

And if you don’t just want to take my word for it, here are several more recommendations from med students over on Reddit…

Get roommates, and try to minimize how much loans you take out. Apply for scholarships too.


Go to a cheap med school and live in one of the most affordable cities in the nation


Other than loans, ask your school about scholarship opportunities. My school emails during the year about scholarships students can apply for.


I budget $300 monthly for groceries and usually give myself $100 eating out. Budget well.


It is completely normal to live entirely off loans. You can try to minimize the amount you need to take out by finding affordable housing and living on a budget.


Can You Go To Medical School If You Are Poor?

If this article has put the fear into you, don’t be misguided; you can go to medical school if you’re poor. Loans, scholarships and financial aid are all available to you. Some are even means tested (meaning you can get more than others).

Should You Go To Medical School If You Are Poor?

This is the bigger question. In short; the earning trajectory after becoming a doctor suggests yes. But it does depend on how you finance it. So do plenty of research and be sure to check interest rates on loans before you commit.

A couple ideas on how you can make it work include considering training through the military (who generally give good bursaries) or to work for a non-profit out of med school and hope for loan forgiveness. 

Could be ideas you might want to explore.


Medical students are just like any other; their studies come at a cost! 

Hopefully this article has helped explain how med students manage it while offering some handy tips to cut costs even further. 

Image Credit – @marekstudzinski at Unsplash