If you have applied, been accepted, and enrolled in an online nursing school, congratulations. You are on your way to a challenging — and potentially rewarding — career in the noble profession of nursing. The latter is not hype. Research shows that the profession of nursing is held in high esteem by a majority of Americans. This statistic has held true for decades. Only firefighters earned higher respect among Americans, and that was for a brief period following the tragic events of 9/11.
Getting into nursing school, whether it is a bricks-and-mortar institution, or an online nursing school, is the first big hurdle. Keeping up with challenging course work and maintaining good grades is undoubtedly another. But for many students, paying for their education is a still greater challenge.
Some students opt to obtain their RN first, then work toward obtaining their RN-to-BSN degree in order to enhance their value in the nursing marketplace. Nurses with bachelor’s-level degrees or better can command higher salaries and will enjoy access to more employment opportunities. If working while you study is not a viable option for you, there are others.
FAFSA First and Foremost
The first step is to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, online. It takes a little time, planning, and patience to fill out this form, but the potential rewards are well worth it. FAFSA opens the door to not only federal scholarships, grants and other programs, but it is also used by many private and state-sponsored scholarship and grant programs. The idea is to document your level of need and confirm your eligibility. In 2014, nearly $80 billion in student aid was doled out by the federal government alone, in the form of grants and tax credits.
Students are encouraged to fill out the FAFSA regardless of whatever funding options they may pursue. There is no point in leaving money on the table if it is available to you. The only way to claim yours is by filling out FAFSA as a first step.
Fellowships and Residency Programs
Scholarships and grants are not your only option, of course. Fellowship and residency programs for nursing students offer stipends or even salaries. They provide enhanced educational opportunities as well, in many instances. These programs may not always be open to current students, but recent graduates seeking to continue furthering their education, by focusing on a specialty such as obstetrics or anesthesiology, for instance, may be eligible for one of these programs.
Career Ladder Programs
Working nurses with an RN but no bachelor’s-level degree may find work at an institution with a career ladder program. These programs are predicated on the understanding that you will be hired and go to work, with the intention of eventually obtaining your BSN. Tuition assistance is typically included in the arrangement. This generous deal reflects the value of fostering dedicated, better-educated nurses with a sense of loyalty to a given institution. The Institute of Medicine has recommended that 80% of all working nurses possess at least a BSN degree by 2020, so hospitals and other institutions have a strong incentive to promote education among their working nurses.
Forgiveness is divine, according to the old saying. And that is never more true than when you are a nursing student with ample student debt who receives a welcome grant of loan forgiveness. Some programs are federally sponsored. Forgiveness, cancellation, or discharge of an existing loan may be granted under certain circumstances. For example, teachers who work in schools serving low-income students may qualify for forgiveness of a so-called Federal Perkins Loan. The program also applies to people who work in specific service professions, such as nursing. You would typically need to serve in a qualifying position for up to five years to have your loan 100% cancelled.
Grants and Scholarships
Numerous private institutions, such as charities, industry associations, employers, and even individual schools, may offer outright grants and scholarships for nursing students. Examples include scholarships or grants given by Lambda Pi Alpha Sorority, Kaiser Permanente Health Care Career Scholarship, Nurses Service Organization Master’s Scholarship, Gardner Foundation Education Scholarship, and the Elizabeth B. Moore Memorial Undergraduate Scholarship, among many others. For more information, check out Nurse Journal’s comprehensive review of such programs.