Cure Tuition Ills With Medical School Scholarships

If you dream of becoming a doctor, you already know that you'll be spending a lot more time in school than most people. While four-year bachelor's degrees are the ultimate goal for many college students, they're just the first step on the road to a career in medicine.

Your undergraduate education will be followed by an intensive four years in medical school. And after you earn your M.D. or D.O., you'll spend three to five years in residency learning a specialty.

It's a long, difficult process, and costs can add up. While salaries for medical school graduates are among the highest for any profession, the median total debt for new doctors was $175,000 in 2013. Fortunately, there are scholarships for medical school students that can help you focus more on your studies and less on your tuition bills.

Get [tips on choosing the right major for medical school.]

As with most competitive graduate-level programs, your school's financial aid office is the best place to start your scholarship search. A large majority of need-based and merit-based scholarship aid for medical school students comes directly from colleges and universities themselves.

As an example, check out the long list of scholarships available from Brown University's Alpert Medical School. While you're exploring your medical school options, be sure to spend some quality time discussing all of your financial aid options with an adviser, and don't forget to complete your FAFSA, just as you did for your undergrad education.

Of course, even the most generous institutional aid is unlikely to cover your entire tuition, which can range up to an average of more than $55,000 per year. To help cover the gap, turn to private scholarships -- many of which you can seek out based on your specialization, your ethnic background or where you live.

The National Medical Fellowships are a group of scholarships awarded primarily to students who are underrepresented in the medical community, and to those who focus on underserved areas. NMF scholarships and fellowships go to everyone from first-year med school students to residents. Restrictions and deadlines vary, so explore the site to find a fit for you.

Learn to [stay financially healthy during medical school. ]

Community-specific groups like the Chinese American Physicians Society and the Vietnamese American Medical Association also provide scholarships, and they're worth looking into regardless of your background. The CAPS scholarship, for example, does not require applicants to be of Chinese descent.

While general private scholarships are less prevalent for medical students than they are at the undergraduate level, there are some opportunities that are open to everyone. Among the most prestigious and lucrative is the American Medical Association's Physicians of Tomorrow scholarship , which provides $10,000 awards to its annual recipients.

Outstanding third-year medical students can apply for Physicians of Tomorrow through their medical school dean's office. While many scholarships have closed their application cycles for the year, the AMA is accepting applications through May 29.

Find out [more about how to pay for medical school.]

Third-year students who intend to specialize in family medicine are eligible to apply for the Pisacano Scholars Leadership Program, which provides up to $28,000 each to up to five annual recipients. This unique award is paid over four years: The final year of medical school, and the three years of family medicine residency.

Applications are typically due at the end of February or beginning of March, so if you'll be a third-year student next year, bookmark this opportunity now.

Finally, if you've found that your passion leads you toward medical or biomed research, look into Achievement Rewards for College Scientists, which provides financial support to scholars in science, engineering and medical research at 54 partner universities across the U.S.

ARCS awards aren't specific to medical school, but alumni of the program have gone on to do groundbreaking research on everything from musculoskeletal disease to Parkinson's disease.

Matt Konrad has been with Scholarship America since 2005. He is an alumnus of the University of Minnesota and a former scholarship recipient.