Obstacles Facing International Pre-medical Students

Much information at this site has come from several limited sources, particularly an article appearing in the March 2004 edition of The Advisor, by E. J. Miller and J Huff. Further information and references can be obtained in this article.

Permanent U.S. residents, those who hold a "green card", may apply to U.S. medical schools on the same basis and through the same mechanisms as any U.S. citizen.

Foreign nationals on student visas who have been educated partly or fully in the United States have very limited options and an extremely difficult, if not impossible, hurdle to gain admission to medical school. Generally, public-supported or public-assisted medical schools admit very few to no foreign nationals. Among private medical schools, the policies and numbers of students accepted vary. About 50 of the 126 U.S. medical schools state in their admissions policies that they will accept foreign nationals who otherwise meet admissions requirements. When one examines the numbers of applicants, these represent a small percentage of the 38,000 medical school applicants and 22,000 medical school matriculants. Of these, most private medical schools will accept competitive applicants only if they pay for their schooling in advance.

The reason for these "payment-up-front" policies is that there are very few scholarships for foreign nationals. Foreign nationals do not quality for U.S. government-sponsored loans. In a final analysis, foreign nationals must arrange to finance their own medical school educations and will often have to place a portion of these monies into an escrow account. United States medical schools that accept foreign nationals require foreign nationals to demonstrate, to the school's satisfaction, how they will finance their educations. Depending on the school, the escrow amount equivalent to 1-4 years of tuition and fees range from $40,000 to $200,000. Unless the applicant's family can provide such funds, the applicant must secure these monies as loans.

Additionally, foreign nationals must be ready to supply medical schools with complete visa information, and students must have a visa that allows them to complete their studies at a U.S. graduate school under current Naturalization Service rules.

Other options for admission and funding of a medical school education are very limited. One option is institutionally supported MD/PhD programs that are frequently as well funded as Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) positions that are available to permanent residents or U.S. citizens. These positions are highly competitive and are only an option for international students who have completed a significant amount of research and who are academically very strong applicants. Foreign nationals who explore this route must be appropriately motivated to pursue this path for the right reasons.

Another option that international students may consider is to secure loans from a private bank. If such loans can be arranged, interest rates vary considerably and the foreign national must secure an American citizen or permanent resident as a co-signer. The following websites provide initial information for this option:

A third option for a foreign national is to pursue a medical education in a non-U.S. based or "international" medical school. Many off-shore medical schools accept applications from foreign students who have received their baccalaureate degrees from an American college or university. Funding may still offer a barrier; however, there is more likely to be scholarship opportunities. Foreign nationals may still need an American co-signer for the additional funds that will be necessary from a private bank. Loans may also be available from the student's home country.

Canadian students do not have the same challenges as other international students. There is a long history of Canadian students who have earned their M.D.s in U.S. medical schools. The Canadian government provides its citizens with CanHELP loans. Also, Canadian citizens may often be more successful in securing loans from private U.S. banks.

Although international students are finding more opportunities and funds to support an undergraduate education in the United States, the situation for those who are not citizens or permanent residents who seek entry into U.S. medical schools remains bleak at this time.

For more information

Department of Biomedical Sciences
Missouri State University
Springfield, MO 65897