Financial Aid for Nursing School: A Guide for Students of All Levels

Your education is an investment in your future and can pave the way toward higher earnings throughout your career. If you’re looking into nursing school, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the thought of paying for it. Fortunately, there are many resources available to help make nursing education affordable. The federal government awards over $130 billion in financial aid every year, and aid may also available from private lenders and grants or scholarships from smaller organizations for those who qualify.

With the help of this guide, get started on the path to a registered nursing career, knowing you can afford the education you need to succeed.

How to Approach Paying for Nursing School

Options for financial aid are available for students of all backgrounds and prior education levels. Whether you’ve just graduated high school or you’re an adult learner returning to school for the first time in decades, you can research aid that works for you and your unique situation. There are scholarships, loans, and grants tailored to different types of students, and they can be found from both private lenders and the federal government.

For all students, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a great place to start. The FAFSA can determine what government assistance you may qualify for and is used by many schools’ financial aid packages.

Financial aid definitions

The process of getting financial aid can be unfamiliar and confusing. Some terms you might encounter during your research include:

  • Financial Aid Package: This term describes the sum total all of the financial help given to a student. Your package could include multiple types of loans, grants, and scholarships, depending on how you qualify.
  • Financial Need: The difference between the amount you’re expected to be able to pay and the amount your chosen school or program costs. So, if the estimated amount you can pay for school is $3,000 a year, and your program costs $10,000, your financial need would be $7,000.
  • Interest: The fee you pay for using borrowed money. It’s applied to loans at a percentage rate that’ll be determined by the lender.
  • Scholarship: Money awarded based on achievement or accomplishment. Scholarships can come from private organizations, schools, the government, or other groups. The amount of money provided by a scholarship will depend on both the group and the individual student. For example, a scholarship from a church or nonprofit may cover $500 worth of general expenses, while a school-based scholarship may cover thousands of dollars but only apply to tuition.
  • Grants: Money given to pay for school or other expenses. Grants are generally need-based. You might qualify for a grant if you’re below a certain income level or meet other financial requirements.
  • Federal Loan: A loan granted by the federal government to pay for education. These loans are need-based and part of a financial aid package. They generally have lower interest rates than private loans, making them an appealing choice. Additionally, most federal loans don’t require a credit check or a co-signer.
  • Private Loan: A loan granted by banks and other financial institutions. Unlike a federal loan, these loans will have credit and financial requirements. You might need a co-signer if you don’t have good credit, and you will likely be charged a higher interest rate.
  • Application: For some programs, such as scholarships, you might need to fill out additional applications on top of the FAFSA. These applications might ask for transcripts, essays, resumes, letters of recommendation, or other information. These help determine who’s most qualified to receive the award.
  • Qualification: All financial aid has a qualification process. This can include providing information about your credit score, income, tax records, or previous schooling.

FAFSA: Why It’s the Best Place to Start

All students looking to enter a nursing program need to fill out the FAFSA. Even if you don’t think you’ll need loans to pay for school, the FAFSA will determine if you qualify for any need-based assistance. The government will use the FAFSA to calculate your financial need based on the information you provide. It’ll calculate the amount you can be expected to contribute based on your income and other financial factors. You won’t know what assistance you qualify for until you fill out the FAFSA.

Nursing Scholarships

There are many different scholarships available for students going into nursing. Some of these are open to most potential students, while others are designed for those with specific specialties, cultural identities, medical situations, and more. You can find tons of information on our Nursing Scholarships page.

Grants for Nursing School

Grants are determined by your financial need. They can be used to cover tuition, housing, books, transportation, uniforms, and even child or other dependent care. The amount of grant money you might receive will depend on your financial situation.

Do you have to pay back grants?

In most cases, you don’t have to pay back a grant, so long as you finish your program in the time intended. If you don’t complete your program, you might have to pay back any grant money that’s considered an overpayment.

Nursing Student Loans

Unlike a grant, you will need to pay back a student loan. All loans also include interest, so you’ll end up paying back more than the initial amount of your loan. The amount of interest you pay and the amount of time you’re given to pay back your loan will depend on the lender and on other factors like your credit history.

Federal student loans

Federal student loans are a great option for most students for the following reasons:

  • They don’t have to be paid back while you’re in school.
  • They charge lower interest than loans from private lenders.
  • If you’re having trouble paying back your loan, there are programs you can qualify for to assist you.The government might allow you to defer your payments, let you to enter a payment plan that fits your budget, temporarily lower your payment, or offer loan consolidation or even forgiveness.
  • You don’t need any credit history to get a federal student loan. This means you can pay for nursing school even with bad credit or no credit history.

Direct Subsidized Loans

A direct subsidized loan comes from the U.S. Department of Education and is for students who meet certain income requirements and demonstrate financial need. If you’re eligible for this type of loan, the government will pay the interest rate on your loan while you’re in school.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans

Unsubsidized loans are also offered by the federal government, but you don’t have to meet income requirements to qualify. With an unsubsidized loan, you’ll be responsible for the interest accrued on your loan while you’re in school.

Both types of direct loans are often referred to as Stafford loans.

Federal Perkins Loans

A Perkins loan is a federal loan for very low-income students. With this loan, the lender is your school, not the Department of Education. You must meet income requirements to get a Perkins loan, and your school must have the funds available. The earlier you fill out the FAFSA, the better your chances are of getting this type of loan.

Private student loans

Private student loans are available from banks, credit unions, and some schools. Unlike federal loans, these can have high interest rates, and you won’t have as many options for ways to pay them back.

You’ll also likely not be able to wait until you graduate to start paying back this type of loan. Payments are often required while you’re still in school.

While there are private loans that can be a huge help to students, they’re much riskier than federal loans. Some lenders may extend loans with high interest rates to students without a strong credit history. The interest on these loans can mean you’ll end up being responsible for paying more than double the actual amount you borrowed. This can lead to debt that’s very difficult to get out of.

Student loans for living expenses

Federal student loans are generally paid directly to the school to cover your expenses. Private student loans are generally deposited into your personal bank account and can be used to cover living expenses.

However, rather than using a high-interest private loan for these expenses, you may be able to use grant money and some scholarships to cover the costs.

Student Loan Forgiveness for Nurses

Nurses may be able to qualify for loan forgiveness programs for their federal student loans. There are programs designed for all health professionals and programs just for nurses. You’ll need to meet certain requirements to qualify for these programs.

Student Loan Payment Deferrals

Like student loan forgiveness, payment deferrals are only available for federal loans. Payment deferrals can be used in times of financial hardship such as job loss.

Nursing Tuition Reimbursement Programs

In some cases, tuition reimbursement through your employer may be possible. Many large employers such as hospitals or medical centers have these programs in place. They may pay for an employee to start a nursing program or advance their degree, such as if you’re going from an RN diploma to a BSN degree. Generally, you’ll need to work for an employer for an agreed amount of time before they’ll reimburse your education.

“Grow Your Own” Programs: Hospitals That Pay for Nursing School

Some hospitals have their own nursing programs. If you’re accepted, these programs are generally free to attend, as long you agree to work for the hospital for a set amount of time following graduation. Keep in mind that these programs normally grant diplomas, not degrees.

Ready to Get Started?

Nursing is an in-demand and growing career field. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, RN jobs are projected to grow 15% by 2026, and licensed practical nurse jobs are projected to grow 12%.Getting your education is the first step to becoming a part of this exciting industry.

If you’re ready to get your nursing career going, researching financial aid is a great place to start. No matter what type of program you select, financial aid can help eliminate the stress of paying for school and get you started on the first steps toward your future.

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