How Much Does it Cost to Apply to Residency?

Interview season is finally over!  I had to wait a few weeks after the ophthalmology match to say those blessed words because I was still interviewing for intern year.  BUT INTERVIEW SEASON IS FINALLY OVER!  I was separated from the gorgeous Mrs. DA for 31 total combined days over the interview season.  I went to 17 ophthalmology interviews, 15 of which required travel, and 5 intern year spots, 2 of which required travel.  I drove through 12 states and flew to 7 more (not including layovers).  Counting up individual interview sessions, I endured 83 ophthalmology interview sessions, including 1-on-1, 2-on-1, 3-on-1, 4-on-1, and 5-on-1 scenarios.  The most interview sessions on a single day was 13.

But let’s talk money-numbers!  If you are approaching 4th year you need to start thinking about how much money you need to save or take out in extra loans to interview.  We anticipated this cost, and set aside all of Mrs. DA’s extra income.

So how much did I spend on applying and traveling for my residency interviews?

$5,950.36

My first reaction upon seeing this number was disgust, disbelief, and dread.  That’s more than we’ve ever spent on a car!  I could take Mrs. DA on an incredible vacation for a portion of that amount!  However, the calming voice in the back of  my head reminded me that this cost was a necessary step to secure my dream ophthalmology program.  Even while writing this I keep reminding myself that I have been accepted to my dream program, making this cost worth it.  I also realize that I was lucky and blessed with several interviews, and many applicants would gladly pay large sums of many if it meant more interviews.  As always, best of luck to everyone.

So let’s break down where all this money went:

  1. SFMATCH Application – $1,700  This is the application system used to apply to ophthalmology (most specialties just use ERAS).  It gets more expensive the more programs you apply to.  I ended up applying to 74 programs (the average is 70).  My mindset was that I would rather blow it out of the water the first time instead of risking not matching because I played it safe.  I feel like I should be more outraged about this cost.  With everything digital nowadays, should it really cost that much?  But my relief at matching has blunted my wallet’s indignation.
  2. ERAS Application – $302  This is the application I used to apply to intern year, and it is also the application that most other specialties will use.  Ophtho is just different, deal with it :).  I applied to 22 intern years, a few of which I added later, increasing the cost.
  3. NRMP – $75  This is a random fee you have to pay to NRMP so that they will actually register you for the match.  Woohoo.  I would love to see a breakdown of their costs.
  4. Flights – $1,352.93 This does not include a set of flights that I purchased using my Southwest RapidRewards points.  I only flew to 7 interviews, because I tried to drive to as many as possible.  More to come on that in the next paragraph
  5. Rental Car + Uber – 1,225.46  I drove to 10 interviews, not including 5 that were local.  Road trips are #3 on my list of favorite things to do.  They are also often cheaper than flying.  If a program was within a 9 hr drive I usually drove.  I also tried to line up my interviews so that I could string several in a row using the same rental car before returning home.  Several times I was able to hit 3 interviews back-to-back using a rental car.  For example, on one trip I left Ohio in the morning and drove to Missouri in time for a pre-interview dinner.  The next day I interviewed, then drove to Wisconsin that night.  Early the next morning I interviewed in Wisconsin, then drove to Minnesota that afternoon and arrived in time for another dinner.  The next day I interviewed all day then drove back to Ohio through the night in order to avoid paying for an extra hotel.   It was exhausting driving through neighboring states during the nights between interviews, but I saved a ton of dough.  The cheapest I rented a car for was $5/day, and the most expensive was around $50/day.  I usually did not get the extra insurance, although one time I did, and due to having just landed from a red eye flight I accidentally signed for way more than I thought and paid an extra $300.  I fought it with the company for a month and finally gave up.  I usually rented cars as opposed to driving my own, because my car is 18 years old, and although it has never broken down I didn’t want to press my luck when the stakes were so high.  Plus, I liked the idea of putting thousands of miles on a rental as long as I could get it for cheap.  Driving to interviews, your car becomes your personal space, which is really nice when you’ve been on the interview trail for a while.
  6. Fuel – $464.14  Cars take gas.  Glad that gas prices were low during this time.  ’nuff said.
  7. Tolls – $121.22  I knew I would be hitting lots of tolls, so I used an EZ pass, which saved time and also gave me a discount.
  8. Hotels – $709.61  I tried to stay with people I knew, but ended up using hotwire a lot.  The cheapest hotel I found was $32 and it was disgusting.  I met lots of applicants who were using airbnb and were pretty happy with it.

I did not include food expenses because dinner was often paid for by programs, and for my normal meals I figured I would be spending food whether or not I was on the road.  I ate super cheap and packed car snacks.

By subtracting the application fees from the total, we can see that I spent $3,873.36 on travel related expenses.  I traveled to 17 interviews, not including local ones, which means I spent an average of $227.84 per interview.

So there you have it.  I hope this helps as you consider the amount you will need for applications and interviewing.  Keep in mind that I went on a higher-than-average number of interviews and managed to keep my per-interview travel cost low by stringing them together while driving.  The decision to drive will depend on where you are currently living.  Ohio is very close to a large number of programs, so this made sense to me.  However, if you are in the western states this might not be the best choice.

4 comments on “How Much Does it Cost to Apply to Residency?”

  1. MedStuda27 Reply

    Hey this is great! Thanks for breaking this down so clearly. Did financial aid put this into your budget or did you have to tighten your belt in other places to fit this in. Also, when you described group interviews that you drove to over multiple days, was that planned or did you just get lucky that the programs were driveable and the timing worked out. I ask because it seems that sometimes interview scheduling is more about getting a date ASAP, because you may not have the time to consider dates and choose strategically…

    • Mr. DebtAnatomy Reply

      Financial aid does not put this in your budget. They encourage you to max out all your loan resources and then they direct you to private lenders that provide residency application and relocation loans, including PNC Bank, Discover Student Loans, Sallie Mae and Wells Fargo. We were able to avoid the extra loans because of Mrs. DA’s job.

      Planning interviews successfully takes a type A personality (in my case my wife), lots of planning, and luck. I will write more about this in a post about applying, but basically what we did was this: When filling out the initial application, most programs post their interview days. I created a new gmail account that both my wife and I monitored. On the google calendar I entered all of the posted dates for all the programs I was applying to. Then we came up with different scenarios depending on where I got interviews. For each program we figured out which dates would be our 1st choice, 2nd choice, etc. Then we monitored the gmail account obsessively. The second we received an email from a program, we looked at which date was our preference then immediately replied. This meant that it took 3-4 extra seconds to reply, and allowed us to usually get our preferred dates. Sometimes this worked and we were able to schedule programs in the same area together. Other times we were slow on the draw, or the dates had changed, or they only offered one date. It sounds ridiculous, but if being crazy obsessive about the interview dates helps you fit in extra interviews, then I say it is totally worth it.

  2. Annie Reply

    Now that you’ve matched into ophtho (congratulations!), I would love to read a post with advice for students that are interested in the same field… maybe a topic idea for the near future?

    • Mr. DebtAnatomy Reply

      Thanks for your comment! I am planning on writing a guide to matching into ophthalmology in the next few weeks.

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