Congratulations! You are at the beginning of fulfilling your dream of becoming a nurse. You’ve applied, been accepted, and enrolled in a nursing school, and you are on your way to a challenging — and rewarding — career in the noble profession of nursing. The latter is not hype. Research shows that Americans hold the nursing profession in high esteem and nurses are recognized as critical members of our health care system.
Getting accepted into 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 become registered nurses (RNs) first, then continue their education. Registered nurses with an associate degree may work toward obtaining their RN-to-BSN degree in order to enhance their value in the market. Nurses with bachelor’s degrees or better can command higher salaries and will enjoy access to more employment opportunities.
Career Ladder Programs
Registered Nurses without a 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 with the intention of working towards obtaining your BSN. Many employers offer tuition assistance to help nurses along this path. Hospitals and other healthcare employers understand 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.
Registered Nurses who already have a bachelor’s degree may be interested in enhancing their career opportunities with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. If this appeals to you, check with your employer for tuition-reimbursement programs and other types of support. Many employers provide support for nurses to enhance their skills and qualifications through advance practice degrees.
Working and going to school can be challenging. If working while you continue your education is not a viable possibility for you, there are other options.
FAFSA First and Foremost
The first step is to go online and fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. 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, it is also used by many private and state-sponsored scholarship and grant programs. The FAFSA us a tool used to calculate your level of need and confirm your eligibility.
Students are encouraged to fill out the FAFSA regardless of whatever funding options they may pursue. There is no point in leaving potential 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 may provide stipends or even salaries. Qualifications and requirements for these programs vary and some target students or recent graduates seeking to continue their education in a particular specialty like obstetrics, anesthesiology or gerontology, or require working in a particular region of the country.
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, nurses who work a certain number of years in high-need areas may qualify for loan forgiveness.
Committing to serve as a nurse in the military may also open scholarship or grant opportunities or loan forgiveness.
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.
There are many financial options for nurses who are committed to continuing their education. Your admissions representative and financial aid counselor can help you find the solutions that are right for you.