Paying for Nursing School

Many people who are considering nursing, and especially older people who are considering switching to a nursing career from their present job, are concerned about the costs of obtaining a nursing degree. Some think they can’t afford to go to nursing school. But almost always, if you’ve got the aptitude and desire and skills to become a nurse, there’s a way for you to pay for your nursing education. These days there are more and more sources of financial aid for nursing students, driven in part by the growing realization across the country of just how huge the ramifications of the ever worsening nurse shortage will be. Cities, states, businesses, colleges, and other organizations are starting to see that one of their biggest priorities for the short and long term future is to see to it that as many people as possible enter the nursing profession, or there will be dire consequences. This means that the bad news-the worsening nursing shortage-is very good news for anyone who needs help paying for their nursing education. So don’t despair. There’s financial help available, and there’s more financial aid being directed toward nursing education every year.

Before we consider financial aid, let’s look at some steps that you can personally take to reduce the cost of a nursing degree. Everyone, from high school seniors to people changing careers, can shave off a huge portion of the cost of a nursing education by attending a public college or university rather than a private one. Do this, and you’ll be tens of thousands of dollars ahead right up front. While the costs of attending college are going up across the board in this country, the difference between the cost of attending a public college and attending a private one is huge, and getting bigger all the time. And it’s very hard to justify the extra expense of attending a private college in order to earn a nursing degree. Nursing isn’t like pre-med or pre-law, where you’re hoping to attend an elite law or medical school, and graduating from a first class undergraduate institution can improve your chances greatly. No, for most students, the BSN or AA in nursing is an end in itself, and you don’t have to worry about your school not being “prestigious” enough. So if you’re concerned about paying for nursing school, you should certainly strongly consider attending a public institution, as it will be much cheaper. In addition, you should consider one that’s near your home. Not only will you not have travel expenses, but if you’re able to live with a spouse or your parents you’ll probably be able to save on room and board. This can cut thousands of more dollars off the cost of a multi year college education. Another way to help pay for your nursing degree is to work while you’re going to school. You can work part time and go to school full time, or work part time and go to school part time, or work full time and go to school part time. Millions of people do these very things while earning college degrees every year. If you’re switching careers, you can possibly keep your present job while you go to school to make the transition into the nursing profession. Of course, there are individual circumstances which may prevent someone from attending a low cost public institution, and/or living at home, or working while attending school, but for many students, these three options are quite viable, and can mean the difference between graduating with all your bills paid, and graduating with student loan debt. Online degrees are also an option to consider.

Nursing School Financial Aid

But let’s say you’re living at home, working part time, and attending a public institution, but you still need money to pay for nursing college. Or you can’t work, or live at home. In these cases, you’ll want to look into the many and varied sources of abundant financial aid for nursing education. The first thing you need know about financial aid is the main form you’ll be filling out to apply for it-the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. You’ll want to fill out and turn in your FAFSA as soon as possible if you’re looking at going to school. You can file your FAFSA in early January, and the sooner you do the better, as financial aid is not unlimited. To fill it out, you’ll need a few hours, your latest tax returns, some financial records, and a calculator. If you’re under 23 and living with your parents, you’ll need their tax returns and financial info. Do not put this off! When it comes to most forms of financial aid, it’s first come, first served, so you need to get your FAFSA in early. You’ll also want to check with the college you’re planning on attending, as they may have one or more separate forms they’ll require you to fill out for financial aid. Your FAFSA will be used by the federal government to determine your eligibility for being awarded a Pell Grant, and how much your award will be. Pell Grants are the best kind of financial aid-they’re based on financial need, not grades. And they’re grants, not loans, so they never have to be paid back. Award amounts range from $200 to over $4000. But funding for Pell Grants is a set amount, and the funds can run out from year to year, which is why it’s imperative for you to get your FAFSA in early.

Another form of financial aid that nursing students should pursue is scholarships. Scholarships are just as desirable as grants, because they don’t need to be repaid. Unlike grants, however, most scholarships aren’t based on financial need (although some take it into account), and usually have some sort of qualification requirements. Also, unlike most grants, the vast majority of scholarships come from colleges, businesses, non profit groups, religious groups, and other private agencies. The best kind, of course, is a full four year scholarship that covers tuition, books, and room and board. These are tough to qualify for, but if you think you’ve got what it takes, go for it. It never hurts to try. But don’t get the wrong idea-there are tons of scholarships available for nursing students, from all kinds of sources, and in amounts ranging from small to large. You’ll first want to contact the financial aid office of the college where you intend to earn your nursing degree. The folks there are in touch with all sorts of organizations which want to help aspiring nurses, and they get paid to stay on top of these things. They’ll likely have information on sources of scholarships that you’re not aware of. Local hospitals sometimes offer scholarships for nursing majors, and the competition for these will be a lot intense than for a national or statewide scholarship. Also, many of the nursing organizations and resources mentioned on our website will have information about the availability of scholarships for nursing school. Some will even provide scholarships themselves. There are scholarships for minority nursing students, older nursing students, nursing students who plan to practice in a particular locale or specialty, nursing students coming right out of high school, etc. The internet also offers a great way to find scholarships. There are many websites which you can use to do a scholarship search, and some of them are quite thorough. And don’t limit yourself to nursing scholarships only. There are billions and billions of dollars in scholarship money every year for college students in general, and you could qualify for one of these no matter what you’re studying. Almost every major corporation funds scholarships for their employees or the children of their employees. Others have scholarship competitions open to anyone in the country. Religious and other non profit groups also provide lots of scholarship money to nursing students, or anyone attending college who qualifies. You’ll want to get as much scholarship money as you can, since it doesn’t have to be paid back. And don’t ignore scholarships for small amounts of a few hundred dollars. Every little bit helps, and they can add up to a significant amount.

The third source of financial aid for nursing school is student loans. The biggest source of student loans, by far, is the federal government. No other entity comes close. Federal student loans come in two kinds-direct, and guaranteed. The vast majority are guaranteed, not direct. Direct federal student loans for nursing school are just what they sound like-the government writes a check directly from the US Treasury either to you or your school for your educational expenses. Indirect federal student loans come from third parties, but the government gives them quite an incentive to make you the loan by promising to pay them back in case you default. You may have heard of Sallie Mae-that’s the largest source of federally guaranteed student loans in the country. They’ve helped millions and millions of people attend college by making billions of dollars in student loans every year. If you need a federal student loan, don’t be shy about applying. You generally don’t need a credit history, and because they’re guaranteed by the government, even bad credit isn’t a problem (unless you’ve defaulted on a previous student loan). It’s best to not borrow unless you need to, and then only as much as you need, since you’ll be required to pay back the loans with interest after you graduate, but if you need financial aid, student loans are a wonderful tool. With the excellent incomes that nurses enjoy, paying student loans back shouldn’t be too much of a strain if you use discretion about borrowing.

There are several different kinds of federal student loans, but most of them fall into two categories-Perkins and Stafford loans. Nursing students, like any other major, are welcome to apply for either one. To apply for either, you’ll need to have filed your FAFSA. Perkins loans are based on exceptional financial need, and funds are very limited. If approved for a Perkins loan, you may borrow up to $4000 per school year, and up to $20,000 total. Unfortunately, being approved for a certain amount under the Perkins program doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll receive that much, due to the limited amount of funds in the program. Again, this is why we keep stressing how vitally important it is that you file your FAFSA just as soon as possible after the first of the year. You’d hate to have the government agree that you have exceptional financial need, and approve you for a certain amount of money from the Perkins loan, only to be told that all the money has already been distributed. So get that FAFAS in early. One nice feature of the Perkins loan program is that the loans are subsidized, which means that as long as you’re enrolled in school for at least half time status, the government pays the interest on the loan, which means you’ll make no payment until after you graduate. Not having to make student loan payments while in nursing school is a great advantage, as it lets you concentrate on your studies and not worry about your finances. The Stafford loan program works a bit differently. For one thing, they’re not based on exceptional financial need, so far more people qualify for a Stafford loan. There’s also much more money available under this program than under the Perkins loan. You may borrow up to $46,000 to finance your nursing school education over the course of your study, if you’re a financially independent student. You may borrow up to $6265 your first year, $7500 your second year, and up to $10,500 for your third and fourth years. A portion of this could be in subsidized loans, but not all of it. If you’re a financially dependent student, you may borrow up to $23,000 over the life of your undergraduate career, with the yearly limits being roughly half of those for independent students. Between the Perkins and Stafford loan programs, along with grants and scholarships, most people who want to go to nursing school are able to afford it. If you still need help, or if your parents simply want to help you pay for nursing school, there’s also the PLUS program. PLUS is funded by the federal government, and makes loans to parents of students attending college. One major difference between PLUS loans and the others is that the parents must have good credit to qualify for the loan.

Another option you may want to consider in order to pay for nursing school is a loan forgiveness program, or a loan repayment program. These programs are becoming more and more common, due to the growing nursing shortage. State, counties, and cities in some areas are desperate for qualified nurses. There are many areas of the country which are not just short of nurses, but critically short. To entice nurses to come to these areas and work, these government agencies are offering to pay back or forgive student loan debt. Details vary, but generally one year of student loan debt is forgiven or paid back for each year the nurse agrees to serve in the area. This is a very generous offer, and taking advantage of it can give you a head start on financial freedom after nursing school, by eliminating student loan payments, which can sometimes wind up being bigger than people had planned on. In addition, you get the satisfaction of knowing you’re doing good, and helping people who badly need and greatly appreciate your services.

Last Updated: 08/20/2013

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