A nursing degree—and the education required to obtain it—are invaluable to have. Nursing is a noble profession, through which you will contribute immeasurably to the benefit of society. It’s also potentially lucrative. Depending on your level of education and certification, the specialty you choose, and where you choose to practice, nurses can command excellent salaries. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Nursing school is not cheap.
So what are your options in terms of paying for nursing school? Student aid comes in a variety of forms. Some options involve outright gifts of money. Others come with substantial strings attached (not to mention interest payments).
The issue of student loan debt looms large in the national conversation these days. Many are the horror stories about millennials who are working at coffee shops despite advanced degrees and carrying six-figure student loan debts. To be sure, saddling oneself with massive debt is a frightening prospect, but for some students, it’s a necessary evil. Having an advanced nursing degree will enable you to make far more money during your working years than if you had never obtained a degree.
The nursing profession is expected to move increasingly towards an all-BSN workforce within the next several years, so it’s becoming increasingly important for nurses who wish to be ahead to get that bachelor’s degree and RN certification. Taking out student loans may be worthwhile in the long run, despite the fear factor involved in taking on considerable debt. The thing about those horrifying anecdotes is this: while there may be plenty of people pouring coffee with advanced degrees, you can bet none of them are in nursing. While the world may not need another art appreciation major, nurses will always be in demand, and capable of commanding a respectable income.
Scholarships are grants of money given to qualifying students who have applied for consideration. Some scholarships are needs based, while others come with few restrictions. Unlike grants (see below) most scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic performance or other measures of perceived student merit. The money does not need to be repaid.
It’s a good idea to search for any and all scholarships related to nursing. That way you’ll find out which ones you may be eligible for. Some are targeted at specific groups, such as certain ethnicities, or even certain nursing specialties. You may be surprised at how many of these exist. Some are relatively small, but others are substantial. In any event, like the lottery, you have to play to get paid. Researching scholarships and applying for promising ones requires a little effort, and a good essay is often required. Be sure to write a compelling one that emphasizes your special circumstances, aspirations, obstacles, hardships, etc.
Grants are basically gifts of money to be used for education. They’re excellent ways to help you foot the bill, as they do not require repayment. They’re often needs based, so more money may be available to lower-income prospective nursing students. By filling out the FAFSA (see below) you will automatically be notified if you are eligible for any government-sponsored grants. Some grants are targeted at niche demographics, such as Latinas, single mothers, etc. Unless a grant clearly does not apply to your situation, it can’t hurt to at least apply. Some grants are for nursing students specifically. In any event, you’ll never know if you might have qualified for one of these free gifts of money if you don’t at least apply.
Federal Student Aid
This is an important source of funding for many students. In order to get started, it’s crucial to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), available at www.fafsa.ed.gov. Note that the application process should be begun as early as possible, even if you don’t plan to attend school for a while. You’ll need a copy of your and/or your parents’ federal tax returns from the present year at hand, as this application involves much detailed information about your income. The good news is that any federal aid you may qualify for is usable anywhere you choose to attend, as long as the program is accredited. While the application can be somewhat daunting, it’s worthwhile to fill it out—and renew it—every year. You may qualify for aid you didn’t know was available to you.
If you’re already a working nurse, seeking to further your education and thus job prospects and pay, your current place of employment may have resources available to help you out. Some workplaces have programs in place to provide tuition reimbursement to qualified candidates. Contact your Human Resources department to find out.
Although not widely available, some schools offer tuition waivers for certain classes of students. It never hurts to ask if such a program is available to you. Low-income and minority students are most likely to benefit from this option.