Fee Assistance, Disadvantaged Status, and the System

As y’all may recall, I’m poor. My family has always struggled financially and I grew up worried about money and the unpleasantness that comes with that. However, there are one or two saving graces of this struggle when it comes to applying to medical school.

The first one is purely logistical. It is the Fee Assistance Program (humorously or humorlessly shortened to FAP). This program allows for the qualified applicant to apply to fourteen medical schools absolutely free. Without assistance, applying to med school is insanely expensive. The average applicant seems to spend several thousand dollars just on the applications themselves. That’s not even considering the costs of traveling and hotel stays for interviews. For me, it would be impossible for me to apply to more than one or two places without help. I mean, my family has no money, and I’m a Peace Corps volunteer for crying out loud.

The process for getting qualified is relatively easy. If you think you qualify, you simply fill out the online application and send in the required documentation, either taxes or w2 forms along with a cover letter and signature. I received an email about two days after they had gotten everything that said that my FAP application had been accepted. Now I can actually apply to schools. The FAP can also be used for a reduction in the price of the MCAT but I didn’t know about that until after I had already spent my entire month’s worth of salary on the thing and they don’t give reimbursements. Apparently you also get free online access to the MSAR, the Medical Schools Admissions Requirement book, with all the info you need about every accredited med school in America (and Canada I think), but I haven’t heard anything else about it.

The second good thing about being poor is the option of selecting to be considered a “disadvantaged applicant” when you actually apply. In section 4 of 9, the BIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION section of the AMCAS, there is a lot of information to give out detailing your parent’s financial background and typical household income you experienced when you were growing up. If you select that you want to be considered disadvantaged, you are then given the opportunity to write a short blurb (1325 characters) specifically talking about why. Here, they are looking for the things in your past that prevented you from perhaps reaching your full potential. For the most part, they want childhood information, but including a few things from college is fine. For example, I worked almost every day from before I was sixteen and continued that in college to pay for my education. I also had to make sacrifices because of this and because my parents couldn’t afford to pay for things I wanted to do as a kid like private lessons for violin or voice or magnet school, stuff like that. It’s all very subjective and depends on how you feel about the whole thing. I really do feel like I am at a disadvantage as compared to a lot of my college peers who could afford private MCAT tutoring or classes, unpaid internships and research positions, hours volunteering, etc. I couldn’t do those things because I had to pay for college. There’s also a lot of other stuff including a house foreclosure and unemployment and living paycheck to paycheck for a large part of my childhood, but these things are very individual.

When I think about choosing the “disadvantaged” box, I am somewhat conflicted. I know that my background isn’t all that different from a lot of my friends from high school and even a lot of people who will probably end up at my state medical school. I do think, in general, it’s vastly different than my peers from Wellesley, and I think that for the most part, the majority of med school applicants come from backgrounds closer to theirs than mine. I think choosing to be considered a “disadvantaged” applicant will just help to put me more on an even level with my peers who have always had more than me. It’s a way to work myself into the system. I don’t feel deprived most of the time. I have a wonderful family who has done the best they could and I don’t mean to imply any fault of theirs. And in the real world, I feel pretty confidant as an equal. But when it comes to med schools, the average matriculant is still an affluent, straight, white guy.  And since I am only one of those things, any little boost in the process just puts me back in the running. It’s like URM status.

These things both help make the process easier and also help give a boost in chances of acceptance in the system, however small. Schools will know that I received the fee waiver, which is not a subjective thing, but based on poverty levels in America, and this in theory, will show them that I’ve overcome some obstacles and am just as determined as those who have more to continue on this path. Being considered a disadvantaged applicant is just a way to show that I think of myself as a hard worker and someone who will be grateful to pursue this path. Neither of these is an undue leg up, just a way to get noticed, to work the system a little bit. But I’m definitely not going to be getting into any schools that I’m not already qualified for. I’d imagine being poor is living equal to giving like maybe one extra MCAT or GPA point. And since my scores are super super mediocre, I doubt it will really do all that much. But if it gets an adcom to take a harder look at me, I think they’ll see a lot of the great qualities that my background has instilled upon me. And anytime you get looked at just a little closer in this process is only a good thing (unless you have like a hidden felony on your record or something).

Anyway, that’s pretty much all I’ll say about that. I love where I come from and wouldn’t be who I am today without some of those struggles. I’m just glad I can finally get some real benefits from it!

Thanks for listening 🙂


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