Financial Aid and Scholarships: A Beginner’s Guide for Nursing Students
One of the biggest factors to research and plan for when considering nursing school of any level is cost. There is no doubt that a career in nursing can be lucrative and has many options for growth and advancement, but the cost of getting that education should not be so great that a new nurse must spend years paying back debt rather than enjoying new financial freedoms. The world of financial assistance is vast and can be overwhelming to navigate, so we created this guide to help you sort through the many viable options available, at every level of education.
How Much Does a Nursing Degree Cost?
Before even diving into the options to help cover or repay the cost of a nursing program, it is important to consider the variations in prices of the different routes of education available. The type of school, length of program, and degree level all have an impact on how much money or assistance is needed to achieve your goals.
Cost of CNA Certification
The cost of CNA programs varies depending on which type of program you choose but is one of the more affordable options of entry into the healthcare field. Programs typically take anywhere from 4 weeks to an entire semester and typically cost anywhere from $700-$2000, not including books and fees that may be required. There are also options for free CNA programs with a guarantee of employment upon graduation.
Cost of LPN and RN Programs
These programs are typically completed at two-year community colleges where cost per credit hour ranges from $50-$250+. These programs usually include 45-60 credit hours, for a price range of $2,250-$15,000 or more by the time you add in books and fees.
Cost of BSN Programs
Attendance at a four-year university to obtain a bachelor’s in nursing can range anywhere from $40,000 to well over $100,000 in cost depending on where you choose to go and if you live on campus while you attend. Earning a bachelor’s through a bridge program, after first obtaining an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) through community college, can save thousands of dollars as you only need to spend half of the time of a traditional bachelor’s degree at a more expensive university.
Cost of Graduate Degrees in Nursing
Earning a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing certainly increases your earning potential, but there is typically a large sticker value on these degrees as well. Graduate nursing degrees typically cost between $30,000 and $80,000.
Can a Nursing Student Graduate Debt-Free?
Minimizing costs and graduating free from student debt does not have to be an impossible goal when considering a career in healthcare. It is important to research and consider all options, including more affordable programs, available federal financial assistance, and other options offered through your school or employer-paid programs. Consider that the most direct route to a degree may not always be the cheapest and working your way through the ranks, starting as a CNA and moving up, can often be much more affordable without taking much more time in the long run.
You should also be mindful of your location, too. Being willing to stay in or relocate to medically underserved areas or areas with large or specialty hospitals can significantly increase your options for grants, scholarships, and tuition reimbursement programs available. The time needed to plan out and commit to a well thought out financial plan will be well worth it in the long run and increase your ability to maximize your financial situation once you reach your career goals.
Federal Financial Aid Options for Nursing Students
The best starting point for anyone planning to enter a nursing program at any level is to fill out a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The FAFSA is a form that collects personal and financial information in order to determine what your expected ability to contribute to the cost of your education will be and if you qualify for any need-based federal assistance. Even if you don’t think you will qualify for assistance, you should fill one out, you won’t know for certain unless you do and there is no risk to filling one out even if you don’t end up qualifying.
For those who do meet criteria for government assistance, there are three main types of aid available.
Grants are a type of financial assistance that do not need to be repaid and are typically awarded to undergraduate students. Common grants include Pell Grants, which are income based and typically awarded to lower income students. The Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant may be awarded to students who do not qualify for a Pell Grant because of their income, but whose parent or guardian died due to military service in Iraq or Afghanistan post September 11.
Federal Loans consist of money borrowed directly from the government to cover the cost of tuition, books, fees, and room and board. Loans accrue interest and must eventually be paid back, though payment is often deferred until after you graduate. Students themselves may take out federal loans (known as Federal Stafford Loans) or parents may take out loans to pay for their child’s education (PLUS Loans).
Campus-Based Aid refers to assistance that schools must provide to eligible students on behalf of the federal government. A Federal Perkins Loan is a low interest loan offered through an individual school’s financial aid office using federal funds. This type of loan is available to undergraduate and graduate students with exceptionally low socioeconomic status. Federal Work Study is also available to eligible students and provides undergraduate and graduate students with part time work to help pay for college expenses.
Federal aid is a viable option for students who demonstrate a financial need and can be very helpful to those who receive it. While any amount of financial assistance is helpful, it should be noted that there are limitations to how much money is awarded through grants and campus aid, and the full expense of obtaining a degree is often not covered. This is where considering the type of program you wish to complete is beneficial. A Pell Grant or Work Study may cover a large portion of getting a two-year nursing degree at a community college but would pay for a much smaller percentage when applied to the expenses of a four-year university. And as with any type of loan, careful consideration to interest rates, how long it will take to pay back, and final cost of the loan when paid in full should be given to the decision to borrow money.
Scholarships, Grants, and Fellowships
Many companies, schools, and independent organizations offer options to help cover the cost of healthcare degrees, in amounts ranging from small stipends to large chunks of money. Some are available while you are in school, and others are paid after graduation in exchange for work experience. Below are some of the more common or lucrative options.
While enrolled in school, many scholarships and grants are available based on a variety of factors, including financial need based, academic based, or for immigrant or minority students. Scholarships for every level of nursing program, from CNA through doctoral programs, are available through professional organizations. Below is a starting list of available scholarships for nursing students.
- Johnson and Johnson Scholarships
- Tylenol Future Care Scholarship
- Jane Delano Scholarship from American Red Cross
- NURSE Corps offers scholarship programs that pay for tuition, books, and fees for students willing to work at critical shortage facilities after graduation
- The Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA) also offers several need-based scholarships for various levels of nursing education
- High achieving students working toward bachelor’s or master’s degrees are eligible for scholarships through the American Association of Colleges of Nurses
- Students and professionals working in mental health are eligible for scholarship or loan repayment through the American Psychiatric Nurses Association
- Army and ROTC scholarships exist for students also in the military
Many professional organizations that represent minority groups (such as black, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, or LGBTQ students) will offer scholarships not specific to nursing, in order to increase representation of these underrepresented groups in higher education. The American Assembly for Men in Nursing is an advocacy group for male nurses and offers scholarships and awards to male nursing students to encourage the growth of men in a primarily female field.
After graduation, several options for loan repayment grants exist through HRSA as well, including NURSE Corp scholarships for nursing faculty at approved facilities or nurses practicing at critical shortage facilities. National Health Service Corps (NHSC), also through HRSA, offers loan repayment options for Nurse Practitioners working at critical access facilities as well.
For students seeking a masters or doctoral degree in nursing, many schools will offer assistantships in exchange for stipends, reduced semesterly expenses, or both. Graduate assistants may be required to help regular faculty with instruction of undergraduate students, supervising labs or clinical, tutoring, or grading. Graduate Assistant positions often come with long hours, heavy workloads, and meager paychecks, but reduced or free tuition is often very motivating to take on this role.
Be sure to check with the financial aid and scholarship department at your school to see what financial aid programs you qualify for.
Tuition Reimbursement Through Employer
Some healthcare companies aspiring to create a workforce of loyal and quality employees have turned to investing in and helping their staff advance along the clinical ladder through tuition reimbursement. This is usually a program available to staff who have worked at the company for a certain period of time (often a year or two) and who will agree to continue working at the same company for another few years once a higher degree is obtained.
Depending on the program offered at the company or the years of experience an employee has already dedicated, this reimbursement can range from partial to full coverage of tuition and is a great option for someone who wants to take the time to start at entry level and work their way up the ladder. Not all companies offer this, and the amount of assistance varies, but this is a promising option available to many.
Private loans are available through banks and credit unions. They typically have higher interest rates than federal loans and you do not usually have the option to defer payment until after graduation. Depending on your financial history, you could be hit with even higher interest rates for poor credit scores. Paying private loans back can often be a monumental task that results in nearly double the original cost once you have finally paid it off. While private loans may be a viable option for some, be sure to carefully consider the long-term impact before going this route.