Whether you’re planning on attending your in-state medical school or a private institution, the cost of medical school is probably going to be enough to put you into debt for awhile (provided that you’re the one carrying the cost of your own education). The idea of taking out such large loans may seem intimidating, particularly with the increasing difficulty of successfully getting matched to your desired residency specialty. However, most current physicians would agree that the price of medical school is well-worth it, regardless of the number of years they had to spend paying off their loans. While there isn’t really one sure-fire way to cut down on the tuition costs of attending medical school, there are a few things you should do to prepare your finances for your time in medical education:

File your taxes ASAP

Taxes might not officially need to be filed until mid-April, but that shouldn’t stop you from getting right to them. Many universities operate on a first-come, first-serve basis when it comes to certain grants or even federal loan allocation. Get the best loans with the lowest interest rates by being sure to file your taxes (and subsequently your FAFSA) as soon as possible.

Know all relevant deadlines

Going hand in hand with the first point, it’s important to realize any relevant deadlines for both your university and your state. For instance, while the official deadline for receiving your financial aid package from your university might not be until the start of the new school year, the deadline for receiving certain state grant funding might be as early as March. If you’re planning on attending medical school directly after finishing up your undergrad studies, it may be a good idea to research all relevant deadlines for financial aid for you during the Christmas break of your senior year.

Contact current lenders, if necessary

This step definitely isn’t applicable to everyone, but it may be relevant to you if you have taken out private loans to cover your undergraduate expenses and if your “grace period” has expired on loans. Many loans have a clause that allows you to put your payments on hold if you are enrolled fulltime in school, but it is typically your own responsibility to inform your lenders of your academic status.

Research university financial aid policies

Even if your taxes are filed and your FAFSA has been successfully submitted, you might still not be completely ready to receive a financial aid package from your university. If you were unable to choose the “direct-fill” option to link your FAFSA and IRS taxes information, then there is a chance that you will also need to submit a signed copy of your tax return. Depending on your particular school’s policies, you may also need to have your parents send in a copy of their tax return; some schools require this step whether or not you are even listed as a dependent of your parents. Since your financial aid file won’t be complete until all of these steps are fulfilled, it’s important that you know what policies for paperwork your university has, and if necessary, you can encourage your parents to file their taxes ASAP as well.

Plan on not working

Finally, when deciding how much loan money to take out for a year of medical school, it is generally a good idea to just plan on not being able to work at all during the year. While there is a chance that you may be able to land a job that lets you have enough time to study and dominate your exams, you definitely shouldn’t plan on it. Be willing to use savings, take out loans, or accept funding from family members to cover your living expenses while at medical school.

This article was published in the July/August 2014 issue of PreMedLife magazine.