Financing a Dream: how do you pay for medical school?

Before I start, I want to say happy birthday to my good friend Tricia over at triciatallen. She deserves all sorts of wonderful today and I hope she gets it!

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Getting accepted into medical school is great. I was ecstatic for the first four hours after I got my confirmation email and then reality began to set in. Reality being the dramatic 7 figure tuition costs – money I had never seen (except on TV) let alone conceived of any one person having in their bank account all at once. Hello, Reality.

Which set me on the most hectic, exhilarating and distressing summer of my life thus far. Finding lots of cash in a few short months was about to be a roller coaster ride.

(Just to say that scholarships are totally an option, if you can successfully grab one. I couldn’t so. . .)

Credit: hailandwind.com

My super-awesome team of money-baggers comprised myself, my mother and my aunt (who’s practically a second mother to me). We spent July running around Montego Bay visiting every single loan institution in the city. Scotia Bank, NCB, even the Credit Union all demanded the same thing: collateral.

What is this collateral of which you speak? Collateral means having to prove that you have either (A) the exact amount of money you want to borrow already stashed in an account somewhere or (B) assets equivalent to the value of the loan you’re requesting.

Credit: hasslefreeclipart.com

I, a novice in this realm of grown-up financial navigation, was completely flabbergasted. Why on earth, I wondered incredulously, would you need to borrow the money if you already had it? I continued to vent my ire at banks and their ilk as we stalked the streets between buildings. I came close to throwing in the towel.

One friendly raincloud (you’ll see why I call it that later) that kept us company in this desert of “Please lend me – No” was the Student Loan Bureau, a private organisation semi-funded by the government but mostly running on loan reimbursements. But the SLB would not cover tuition costs that were not government sponsored.

Credi: collegescholarships.org

Government sponsored? The UWI publishes two lists of tuition costs annually. One for students from contributing countries whose governments usually pay 80% of tuition costs (a full list can be found here) and one for foreign nationals (meaning everyone else).

Even though Jamaica is one of the contributors to the UWI our government has by and large squandered all our money so that they only sponsor some students, especially in the Faculty of Medicine where tuition costs are roughly twice everyone else’s. To offset the burden, the Faculty in my time offered 50% bursaries to a good many students. This is the offer I had received.

My options? Wait a year and receive government sponsorship when I entered the next class. Find a way to come up with 1.5M or find a way to get that 80% Government sponsorship. The first wasn’t an option. And when I had exhausted the second, I set my sights on the third.

Credit: stop-painting.com

My mother and I made the trip to Kingston (a trip I hadn’t made since I was about six) for an appointment with the Dean of Medicine. We questioned, he explained. We petitioned, he hesitated. We begged, and he offered a possible solution. I leaped . . .

. . . and landed in the pioneering MBBS cohort at the Western Jamaica Campus, a solution that worked out well on all fronts. At home, I wouldn’t need to pay pesky hall fees and I managed to receive the 80% sponsorship which let me approach the Student Loan Bureau (who were only too glad to sink their claws into me).

But selling my soul to the devil (a devil with 9% interest rates and a gorgeous moratorium period) is whole other story. Student loans never rain but they pour.

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