An inescapable fact: medical school is expensive. But for talented students, merit scholarships provide a way to go to medical school for free or for significantly less money. Most medical schools do not provide merit scholarships; most financial aid is need-based. But there are some schools which do provide generous merit scholarships to students who stand above the crowd and will—in the school’s estimation—provide enrichment to both the student body and the school itself. Having advised many students in the past who were awarded such scholarships, I have distilled the traits of these extraordinary students into the following list:
Academic excellence: Without exception, these students had extraordinary academic records and showed a sustained level of outstanding achievement throughout their education. In other words, they had very high GPAs in both science and non-science coursework (3.7+) and good MCAT scores (generally the 95th percentile or above). They usually had been recognized regionally or nationally through election to organizations such as Phi Beta Kappa.
Humanistic qualities: These candidates showed, through community service and other volunteer experiences, their deep-seated dedication to others; their dedication to humanity and to serving others was palpable and readily evident in their application materials by the activities in which they had engaged.
Outstanding personal traits: Students awarded merit scholarships were kind, caring, humble, and possessed innate leadership qualities. These traits were echoed repeatedly in the letters of evaluation submitted on their behalf; in other words, these traits resonated across a range of involvements and activities and were cited by those who had either supervised or taught the applicants.
A vision for the future: Applicants awarded merit scholarships had prior experience which informed their future goals. In other words, they envisioned what they would accomplish in the medical profession through their previous medical experiences; as a result, they could articulate in their application materials how they might contribute to the profession in the future. Their goals were inspiring for admissions committees to read about; as a result, committees wanted to draw the students to their schools. Offering a merit scholarship helped them achieve the goal of getting these top candidates to enroll.
Which medical schools offer merit scholarships? Emory (Woodruff Scholars), the University of Pennsylvania (21st Century Scholars), the University of Chicago, Washington University, Vanderbilt, and the University of Michigan have longstanding merit scholarship programs. Wash U recently announced that half of its class would be tuition free. Other schools offering merit scholarships include Duke, Ohio State, UCLA (Geffen Scholarships), the University of Cincinnati, the University of Virginia, Mayo, and the University of Pittsburgh. A recent addition to this list is the University of Miami, which received a $6 million gift from Swanee and Paul DuMare to fund scholarships for medical students. Stanford has a full merit scholarship for graduate students in any field, the Knight-Hennessy Scholarship. Finally, NYU announced in 2018 that no medical students would pay tuition. While this list is not comprehensive it includes schools with the most well-known merit scholarship programs and some with the most generous dollars to give.
What do you do to be considered for these programs? Nothing. All applicants are considered equally; those whom committees deem to be eligible are plucked from the applicant pool and notified that they are under consideration.
–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting