Earning a nursing degree is a noble goal, but the cost is inevitably an issue for many students. Whether you’re interested in an LPN, ADN, or BSN degree, the price tag for such a valuable education will never be low. Fortunately, there are numerous grants, scholarships, work-study and loan forgiveness programs out there targeted at helping needy students reach their nursing education goals.
Grants are among the best options for strapped nursing students. They’re essentially free gifts with no repayment obligation. More than a thousand federal grant programs in the United States are available to students, representing an enormous pile of money in excess of $400 billion. Of course, not all of that money is earmarked specifically for nursing students, but the point is that it is clearly worthwhile to put a little effort in securing a piece of the generous pie for yourself.
Start with FAFSA
The first step is to fill out the online Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Available at www.fafsa.ed.gov, the application is notoriously detailed and somewhat complex, but it’s also a sort of central clearinghouse for throwing your hat in the scholarship/grant ring. Federal Student Aid is a part of the U.S. Department of Education. As such, it is the single largest student financial aid provider available to American students. The program provides financial aid to more than 13 million college students and career school attendees annually. They administer more than $150 billion in federal grants, loans, and work-study funds.
Visit the FAFSA website and start your application well in advance of your anticipated school start date. There’s an annual deadline for filling out or updating your application, and doing so will involve having some important documents at hand, including your completed current year tax return, or that of your parents, if you are a dependent. Paradoxically, the deadline often occurs in March, a full month before many people have actually filed their tax returns for that year.
File Your Tax Returns as Early as Possible
The application gives you the opportunity to indicate whether any tax information you supply is based on your best estimates of your (or your parents’) income, or involves exact, up-to-date figures from your (their) official return. In most cases, it may make sense to fill out an application with whatever incomplete information you have at hand before the FAFSA filing deadline. You have the option of amending the information in your application once your final tax return has been filed with the IRS. The earlier your FAFSA application is filed, the better your chances of scoring some of that cash. Thus, it may make sense to file your tax returns as soon as possible after January 1 of a given year.
Fortunately, it’s easy to enter information, save your progress, and revisit the application, until your application is fully completed. Keep in mind that the information entered must be accurate and complete to the best of your knowledge. In its present form, FAFSA has been criticized as excessively complex. Until such time as it is simplified, be aware that this is no breeze to complete. But it’s certainly worthwhile, and it’s arguably the most important thing you can do to qualify for and earn grants and other options for school financing.
Proud Sponsor of the American Mind
Another great resource is the overarching Federal Student Aid website. Available at www.studentaid.ed.gov, this comprehensive website, from an office of the U.S. Department of Education, features extensive information about who qualifies for aid, under what circumstances; how to apply for aid; and how to prepare for college in general. Featuring the slogan, Proud Sponsor of the American Mind®, the website even has a section that provides guidance on the management of student loan debt.
Advancing Higher Education in Nursing
Another relevant resource for nurses, in particular, is the American Association of Colleges of Nursing website. Available at www.aacn.nche.edu, this website features extensive information regarding loans, grants, and scholarships available to nursing students. Simply visit the website, and enter “financial aid” in the search bar.
Although many grants and scholarships are narrowly targeted (at male nurses, for example, or nurses pursuing higher degrees in oncology) it’s well worth your time to examine the many options listed. Applying for grants takes some time and initiative, but could ultimately result in time very well spent. The money is out there. In many instances, all you have to do is make the effort to ask for it.