Medical Student Van Life: The Financial Pros and Cons

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With the growing costs of higher education and housing – especially in big cities – many students have decided to follow a nomadic type of lifestyle and live in vans instead of dorms or apartments. Medical students are also struggling with financial challenges, but can they live in a van too? What are the van life’s financial advantages – or disadvantages?

The financial pros of van life for medical students include eliminating or reducing other costs such as housing, transportation, and other personal needs. Financial cons are having the money for the initial investment, necessary renovations, and general maintenance and lifestyle costs.

If you’re also a medical student struggling with financial issues or just curious to try van life, keep reading to learn more about its pros and cons. We’ll look at medical school financial challenges and then provide some important tips about this lifestyle to help you make a wise decision.

Financial Pros of Medical Student Van Life

Lower costs are probably the most important financial advantage of living in a van for a medical student. While they still have to pay the university-charged costs such as tuition and more, major living costs like housing and transportation can be reduced significantly. 

Elimination of Housing Costs

One of the most significant expenses of students is housing, which varies drastically according to factors like university, region, and facilities.

Many students prefer to live in dorms, which can be costly. In 2019-2020 the average cost of room and board was $11,500 for public schools and $12,990 for private schools. It means $45,000 added to your total expenses in 4 years. 

Renting apartments is another choice, and many students go with it. However, it’s costly too. In 2020, the average rent of an apartment in the US was around $1,125 per month. 

What’s more, you may have to rely on student loans to pay your housing costs. But these loans have interest charges added to the original loan balance – they can add hundreds to thousands of dollars. 

However, living in a van can cut your housing costs, even though you must invest in a van first. Vans are affordable for every budget although you need to spend some time and money to renovate it and add the required facilities. 

Reduction of Transportation Costs

Van life can also cut your transportation costs. According to estimations, a college student spends $1,760 per year for transportation.  

By living in a van, you no longer need to use public transportation, and you can easily move around. Moreover, you can park your van somewhere near the university, so you can walk to the campus and save on gas, which means even less cost.

Reduction of Personal Needs Costs

By living in a van you can use various free or almost free facilities. For example, you can use free wi-fi from McDonald’s or coffee shops, use public laundry machines, or shower in the university gym. Cooking your own meals in the van can also save you some money. 

Financial Cons of Medical Student Van Life

Purchasing a Van and Renovation

The most significant financial disadvantage of van life for a medical school student can be the time and money they need to spend in the first place

Obviously, van life needs a van, and while used vans are the best budget-saving choice for students, they usually need to be repaired and renovated according to their needs. Doing them by yourself reduces the costs drastically, but as a medical student, you may not have the skills and the time required. 

Medical students have tight schedules, and time is money for them. They may not find the required time for doing the renovation themselves; so, the only choice might be to pay someone else to do it, which isn’t so economical. 

Moreover, renovating the van usually means purchasing additional equipment to make it like a home. You’ll need comfy bedding, water tanks, storage boxes, dishware, a heating source, solar panels, and many more. You may also need to buy more items as you start your van life and find out your needs. 

Hidden Costs of Van Life

Another major financial disadvantage of van life are the ”hidden” costs” that don’t present themselves until you start living in a van, such as maintenance costs. 

For example, depending on how much you drive the van, you may need to change the tires and refuel more often. There’s also car insurance, repairing malfunctions, and more to consider.

Medical Students Financial Challenges 

Over the past years, the financial challenges of medical students have grown and led them to incur significant debts. They usually have to get loans or use scholarships to put themselves through medical school – some even have to work to cover their costs.

The average total cost of medical school in 2021 is estimated to be $218,792. A medical student has to pay $54,698 per year on average.

However, the total cost depends on the institution type (private or public) and its location. The total costs of medical schools can vary from $202,612 for in-state, public schools to $234,976 for out-of-state, private schools.

Yet, these numbers are just what the universities charge, such as tuition, fees, and health insurance, and exclude other living costs. For example, a medical student still needs to buy textbooks and pay for transportation, food, and housing.

While medical students can use grants, scholarships, or loans to pay for their expenses, these options may not suffice or incur future debts.

Van Life for Medical Students

While van life isn’t a common lifestyle among medical students, it’s gaining more and more popularity as a cost-lowering, adventurous option for students. That’s partly because it’s trending on social media like YouTube and Instagram. 

However, getting a medical degree is a long process (4 years after taking undergraduate and bachelor’s degrees), making van life look unrealistic. But some have done it, and here’s a helpful YouTube video of a medical student who lives in a van:

If you, too, see it in yourself to be flexible and adapt to this lifestyle for several years, you can go on and try it. A realistic van life costs about $850 per month, but some can go even lower than that, and this is what you spend for living costs, including transportation, food, amenities, and personal needs.  

Pro tip: To keep the costs of van life as a student low, buy a used van according to your budget, renovate it yourself, and use second-hand products for modifications.

Final Thoughts 

Van life can be a great financial choice for medical students and reduce their costs considerably if done correctly and wisely. Otherwise, they may not be able to cut their costs. So it’s crucial to think twice before making any hasty decision and consider all of its aspects. However, the experiments and freedom they’ll gain by living in a van would be worth it for sure.

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