Originally posted at DebtFreeMuslims.com, re-posted here with some slight edits and updates.
It’s my dream to go to medical school, and the only way I can do that is by going $250,000 into debt. Yes, that’s a quarter of a million dollars.
There’s a number of problems with this assertion, but the primary one in my mind is that binary thinking is never good. You always have more than just two options. Limiting yourself to an either/or situation is pinning yourself into a corner that doesn’t exist. This is a terrible framework to make any kind of decision, much less a life altering decision – especially one with such a high price tag. If you get this decision wrong, that’s a pretty expensive mistake.
You can look for an MD-PhD program and get your full tuition covered. Don’t you dare apply for a student loan and not even bother applying to one of these programs.
Look for other scholarships, even small ones. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of scholarship go unclaimed every year. Consider it a full time job and spend 40 hours a week looking for and applying to scholarships.
Waiting a couple of years after finishing your Bachelor’s to start medical school is not a life-threatening situation. Most medical school students simply major in Biology or Chemistry. Why not major in a degree that has tangible job skills such as IT, and work for a year or 2 after graduating? If you sustain your college lifestyle/budget you can easily save close to $50k toward medical school costs. If you work 2 jobs during that time, you can save away even more. If you wait 3 years, and do a good job with scholarships, you might be able to save over half the $250k needed. Plus, if medical school doesn’t work out, at least you have a fall back.
Start a side business while you’re in school to make up costs. Design websites, tutor kids, mow lawns, paint fences, just do something to provide a service that people will pay you for. Check the help wanted section on Craigslist, there’s always someone hiring in your area.
I know of both Pharmacists and IT professionals who worked first, and then went back to medical school later in life. If it is truly your dream and passion, you can wait to do it later in life as well. Dreams don’t magically expire at the age of 30 and become useless.
Seek out non-interest based loans from your community. Speak to families who know you and agree to set up scholarships or financial aid with them. Create a proposal showing all the details – your anticipated costs, and how much you need to raise. Then show them your expected graduation dates and expected income. Map out exactly which month you will begin repaying them, and how much each month. This is only a little bit of legwork ahead of time, but it could go a long way. Unfortunately, most people are too lazy to do this and simply tell themselves “There is no way I’ll get anyone to go for this,” and give up before they start.
The sad truth is, most people will simply dismiss this advice and just get the loans. It’s the easy way out, and it’s the way everyone else does it.
Even with those options, there are still some truly tough questions to face.
What if you drop out of medical school?
Simply attending isn’t a guarantee that you’ll succeed. Some people will fail out, and others will realize that they simply don’t like it or don’t have the passion for it. I’ve met someone that dropped out of medical school and became a real-estate agent. Don’t you think when he started, that he and his family both assumed he’d be a doctor in a few years?
If you drop out, where are you going to get the income to be able to dig yourself out of a 6 figure hole? The advice from the law student we quoted in our eBook is pertinent here.
On top of this is a deeper question – what makes one entitled to attend medical school? People construct this problem as if they have only 2 options: Go a quarter million of dollars in debt, or be miserable for the rest of their lives. Really?
Just because something is your dream, does it make it ok to take on one of the biggest sins in our religion?
Let me get very real with this. I helped start DebtFreeMuslims, and one of our goals is to help provide counseling and education to Muslim families to get out of debt. Having dealt with debt myself, it’s a passion of mine. In fact, it’s my dream that we have financial counseling available at all different levels (children, high school, college, pre-marital, family, and future planning) at every single Islamic center in North America. One of the benchmarks to achieve this is take a financial counseling class. If I don’t have the cash, can I say that just because it’s my dream, it’s ok to go to the bank and borrow the money? It’s going to “help SO MANY PEOPLE” so it’s a NECESSITY, right? As much as I’d like to take that class, I’m waiting until saving up the funds inshallah and taking it. The same applies to almost any other type of course. There is a certain certification I’m chasing after at work. I can either plug away at it for months, or pay $4,000 for a one-week bootcamp and get certified. If I can’t afford it, does it make it ok to go to the bank and borrow it? What if it’s my dream?
The world in your 20′s (and especially early 20′s) is substantially different after you turn the corner at 30. It’s impossible to say at that age that you’ll be miserable if you don’t get to do this.
The real problems are entitlement and a lack of patience. There are some people who simply need to take a deep breath, and say in the mirror, “Maybe I’m not meant to become a doctor, and that’s ok.” For others, look at other options, even if it means delaying it a few years.
And if you do decide to ignore everything here, and go full steam ahead with your student loans – because it’s a life or death necessity for you to become a Nephrologist (because you’ve been dreaming about fixing kidney failures since you were 5 years old), then make it a necessity to pay it off.
Once you get that big income, then you need to still live like a college student. You shouldn’t even be allowed to upgrade your iphone, because that $200 needs to go toward paying off your debts and clearing the interest from your record even quicker than you filled out a FAFSA form. Because if you go and get a $500,000 mortgage, and a $75,000 BMW while still having a student loan balance – then it means you were not genuine in gauging your necessities from a religious perspective (forget how bad of a financial decision it may have been).
If you’ve made it this far, you probably feel this post was a bit harsh. I’m quite frustrated that the discourse in our community is still focused on this subject. I’m not against anyone going to medical school, but I am against people making rash decisions that carry financial implications that will put them behind for 10 years. I am against us taking such a major sin lightly, all in the name of assuming medical school is somehow a birthright necessity, and without it people will never know a life of a stable job, responsibility, or above-average income.
If you can become a doctor, go ahead, it is an honorable profession. Challenge yourself to outperform the status quo, find a way to do it without interest and by minimizing your debts.
At the least, we need to start coming up with more alternatives. When there’s a will, there’s a way – but the will to do it without interest (and hopefully without debt) must become stronger. Right now our community is enabling the entitlement attitude by allowing people to pin themselves in corners that do not exist and not doing the work to find other alternatives.