Nursing is a unique field in that it draws students from a variety of backgrounds and age groups. Some students are adults seeking alternate career options, while others are high school graduates on a direct path to higher education.
Some students are from affluent backgrounds, while others may be the first of their families to go to college. In other fields, this incredible diversity might mean that securing funding for school would be difficult; however, the opportunities for financial aid are enormous in the field of nursing.
Due to the incredible shortage of nurses in the United States, it is easier to find ways of paying for nursing school than it is many other types of education, regardless of whether that funding comes from scholarships, grants, or loans. Big businesses, universities, hospitals, and the government have all stepped in to help prospective nurses find a way to pay for school.
Traditional Funding Sources
As with almost any degree options, students of nursing are eligible to receive federal funding. This requires filling out and submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, or FAFSA. These are usually required by the end of January of each year, although the exact submission date varies by state. The FAFSA requires your latest tax information, financial records, and possibly the tax information of your parents, assuming you are unmarried and under the age of 23.
Filling out a FAFSA gives students several options, depending on financial need:
• Subsidized Stafford Loans are based on family or student income. They don’t accrue interest while the student is in school.
• Unsubsidized Stafford Loans are available to any U.S. Citizen or permanent resident. They accumulate interest from the moment they are taken out.
• Perkins Loans are offered through individual campuses. They are awarded to students in financial need and come at a 5 percent fixed interest rate, which accumulates post-graduation.
• PLUS Loans are available for parents to help pay for their children’s education. Like Unsubsidized Stafford Loans, they accumulate interest immediately.
• Pell Grants are need-based grants that do not have to be paid back. They are typically provided to families with very small incomes.
• Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants are similar to Pell Grants and are often given out together.
• Work-Study Programs are offered to students through individual campuses. They allow students with low income to be paid at least minimum wage in a job that helps in their field.
Many of these options – particularly the grants – are first come, first served, so it is best to submit a FAFSA before the due date.
Private loans through banks and commercial lending institutions are also available (although they are typically based on credit scores and income). However, these typically come at higher interest rates than loans offered through the government.
Scholarships, like grants, do not have to be repaid after graduation. They are typically based on personal merit or other qualifiers, which can range from cultural heritage to community service. These can be fairly competitive, so it’s best to spend time on your application and apply for as many as possible. Good places to start looking for nursing scholarships include:
• Your college or university’s career center/financial aid office
This list is by no means comprehensive. Scholarships large and small are offered through a number of private donors – your job is to find ones that relate to nursing and your personal qualifications.
Other Nursing Options
Aspiring nurses have additional options. Loan forgiveness programs (or loan repayment programs) are becoming increasingly common due to the strong need for educated nurses. In these programs, the government is willing to pay off your loans for you in exchange for work. These almost always take place in underserved populations, where it may be difficult to entice qualified health-care workers, but nurses are desperately needed. These are great because not only do you get your loans paid off faster, but you get to really help a population in need.
You can learn more about the program offered through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration here.
Some health-care organizations offer a similar option, although they may place less importance on working in an underserved community and more on working wherever they are currently experiencing a shortage. They may offer sign-on bonuses or loan forgiveness options after you sign a contract to work for their institution for a set number of years. This typically requires approaching the organization to determine if they have a program in place.
Getting the Help You Need
No matter what field you’re in, paying for school can be an intimidating and overwhelming experience. Most colleges and universities offer assistance through their financial aid offices; they can help with locating funding options, filling out the necessary forms, and simply knowing what the next best step is.
The most important thing to remember is that our country needs nurses, and it needs nurses now. If you are a nursing student, there are many options available – you simply have to take advantage of them.