Applying to medical school comes with plenty of challenges. There are hours prepping for the MCAT® exam, days poring over applications, and nights worrying about which schools are within reach. But money should not be among the barriers, say those who hope to build a robust and diverse medical workforce.
That’s why the AAMC created its Fee Assistance Program 50 years ago. Those who qualify receive a host of valuable benefits, including a reduced fee for the MCAT exam and more than $900 worth of free medical school applications through the American Medical College Application Service® (AMCAS®).
Thousands qualify: In 2019, the program provided $9.1 million in benefits to more than 8,500 applicants. Yet too few know about the assistance program, which will accept applications for this year’s cycle starting on Jan. 27, explains Gabrielle Campbell, the AAMC’s chief services officer.
“This program exists to help those who can't afford to take the MCAT exam and apply to medical schools,” says Campbell. "Unfortunately, people who could benefit from it aren’t as aware of it as we would like. That's partly because of the lack of prehealth advisors in some areas where students could use the assistance.”
The AAMC is therefore working to redouble its efforts to get the word out, Campbell notes, including outreach through the AMCAS program. “We would like nothing more than to reach every student who could benefit,” she says.
Here are seven helpful facts about the AAMC Fee Assistance Program, including tips to help you determine whether you qualify:
1. The program pays for key parts of the application process.
Eligible students will receive benefits that can total more than $2,000, including:
- More than $900 worth of free medical school applications through the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS).
- A $190 reduction in the MCAT exam registration fee.
- Free access to all online MCAT Official Prep products.
- A free subscription to the Medical School Admissions Requirements database, which provides essential information about dozens of medical schools.
- Up to $800 toward an updated psychoeducational or medical evaluation, if needed, to support an application for MCAT accommodations.
2. Whether or not you qualify is based on your income.
How do you know if you're eligible? In 2020, you qualify for assistance if each household on your application, including your parents’ household — or households, if they’re divorced — has an income at or below 300% of the 2019 national poverty level for your size family. (Learn more about your parents' role in #4 below.)
Here's an example: If you come from a family of four and your entire family's income for the prior year was less than $77,250, you would receive aid.
3. You should assemble all paperwork before applying.
Campbell suggests waiting until you have assembled all necessary documents — such as your federal income tax forms or W-2s, any parental tax forms, and proof of Social Security benefits — before beginning your application. “It’s best not to piecemeal it since that prolongs the process unnecessarily,” she says.
Campbell offers other practical advice: Double check all documents to make sure they are from the correct year, ensure that every document that needs a signature has it, and confirm that any attachments you upload can be opened.
4. Your parents will need to supply financial documents and sign forms.
“Every single person who applies has to provide parental income information,” says Campbell. No matter your age, your marital status, your tax filing status, or even your parents’ country of residence, you will need to present your parents’ financial information and supporting tax documentation. This requirement still applies even if you are an independent adult living on your own. So, even if you’re 30 years old and married with children, you still have to provide your parents’ income. That’s to ensure that the program helps students who can’t afford to apply even without the help of their parents.
However, notes Campbell, sometimes applicants are estranged from one or both parents and can’t get the necessary information. If that’s the case, you should contact the Fee Assistance Program office (see fact #7 below).
There are more parent-related rules — including that divorced parents have to both provide financial information — so make sure to read more about what you’ll need.
5. Most students living in the United States are eligible to apply.
You can apply to the program if you are a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or lawful permanent resident (also known as a green card holder). Those with refugee, asylum, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status also qualify — as does anyone who is awaiting refugee or asylum approval and has a U.S. Employment Authorization Document.
The AAMC and the Association of Faculties of Medicine in Canada offer a parallel program (with separate rules and deadlines) for Canadian citizens and residents.
6. Every applicant that qualifies receives the full package of benefits.
“If you meet the eligibility requirements, you receive assistance,” says Campbell, adding that the program does not place a cap on the number of students who can benefit.
Here's how it works: Once you apply to the program, a screening algorithm checks whether your income meets the requirements. Applications that make it through the online system are rechecked by AAMC staff before eligibility is established and assistance is granted.
There are a few exceptions, though: If you previously received assistance five times, you will not get aid again — even if you meet eligibility criteria. Also, aid doesn't cover costs you incurred before acceptance into the program. And you can only receive the MCAT Official Prep products benefit once in a lifetime, regardless of how many times you have been awarded assistance through the program.
7. AAMC Fee Assistance Program team members are here to help.
Complete details of the AAMC Fee Assistance Program can be found online. You can send any unanswered questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-828-0600.