Paying for Your Nursing Degree

Maura Deering, J.D.
Updated October 10, 2023
As the cost of education increases, students must continue to research financial aid opportunities to lower or cancel their debts. Explore this guide that breaks down options to pay for nursing degrees.
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Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

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Are you interested in nursing school but worried about paying for your nursing degree? You’re not alone. Recent NerdWallet statistics indicate that nursing students graduate with an average debt of nearly $20,000 with some reaching more than $47,000.

But there is good news: Numerous resources to help you pay for nursing school exist. There are private and government-funded nursing scholarships and grants, work-study programs, and loans.

For instance, federal loan repayment programs can also help you repay tuition and costs, often in exchange for serving in a particular role or community. Private employers may also be willing to help you repay your school debt if you agree to work for them for a period of time.

Let’s look at some of the ways you can pay for your nursing degree.

Types of Financial Aid for Nursing Students

Financial aid for nursing programs comes in many different forms. You should understand how each method functions, along with application requirements. Nursing programs typically last 1-5 years, and tuition can vary based on school type, available funding, and length.

Students seeking need-based funding often gravitate toward grants, while those with academic merit may qualify for more scholarships. You should research each type of funding to streamline the application process.

Creating a nursing school personal budget can also help you see how far your money will take you while in school.

  1. 1

    Grants for Nursing Students

    Grants provide a great option for students with limited financial resources. Many grants offer need-based funding. Other qualification factors may include location, degree type, and GPA.

    Grants offer an attractive option since they do not require repayment, so long as students stick to the terms of funding.

  2. 2

    Scholarships for Nursing Students

    Many nursing scholarships, including those for master of science in nursing scholarship programs, nursing scholarships for men, or scholarships for minority populations, award funding to learners with exceptional academic records. These awards tend to be competitive and call on applicants to stand out from the crowd.

    Application requirements vary but usually include academic records, an essay, and reference letters. Like grants, students do not need to repay nursing scholarships if they meet all requirements.

  3. 3

    Work-Study Programs for Nursing Students

    Work-study programs allow students who qualify for federal funding to work part time at their school or a local community organization in exchange for payment. Students can apply to the work-study office at their school, which matches them with roles that fit their schedules.

    Recipients can apply these funds directly to educational costs or use them for living costs.

  4. 4

    Loans for Nursing Students

    Loans come from private and public sources, but students most commonly receive this type of funding from the federal government.

    As part of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application, enrollees qualify for many government-backed loan options. Students must demonstrate need through financial records and request an amount that will cover educational and related costs.

    Loans vary from other financial aid options by requiring repayment.

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Sources of Financial Aid Funding

Scholarships, grants, and loans can come from different sources. For instance, many private foundations, professional associations, and higher education institutions provide scholarships. Grants can come from all levels of the government, along with colleges and universities.

Each funding source may set different rules regarding use and repayment. Private loans typically have more conditions than those backed by the government, while government grants may have more requirements than those provided by foundations.

The next section considers the differences among types of loans.

Types of Loans

Students can pursue loans in several different forms. They need to decide which type of loan to pursue based on available interest rates, overall loan amount, and repayment options.

Nursing candidates with no credit or bad credit usually must apply for federal student loans, as private companies would likely not approve them. A learner who has already maxed out their federal student loans may decide to pursue a private option to receive enough funding to make it through graduation.

Understanding the key differences among loan types can help borrowers avoid costly mistakes and student loan forgiveness scams.

The following two sections break down common types of student loans.

  1. 1

    Federal Loans Versus Private Loans

    Students most commonly apply for private and federal nursing student loans. Federal loans come directly from the government. Private options may come from lenders, such as credit unions, banks, or schools. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) states that students should always consider federal loans as their first option.

    ED provides federal student loans with fixed interest rates. These rates often sit lower than private loans and far lower than credit card rates. The federal government also provides student loan forgiveness for nurses in some cases, such as through the Nurse Corps Loan Repayment program. These students must agree to work in a public service role in a high-need area for a set amount of time after graduating.

    Learners often prefer federal loans, which do not require repayment until after they leave school, offer deferment and forbearance, and sometimes feature subsidized interest rates during enrollment. Private loans typically offer none of these services.

    Students apply for federal loans through FAFSA. If a learner decides to pursue a private loan, they should seek opportunities with the lowest interest rates, fair repayment terms, and helpful services like automatic payment discounts or great customer service.

    Unlike federal loans, private loan applications require a credit check. Those with bad credit or no credit may not qualify. To apply, contact a local bank or credit union.

  2. 2

    Subsidized Loans Versus Unsubsidized Loans

    ED offers subsidized and unsubsidized nursing student loans. Subsidized loans support undergraduate students who can prove financial need. As long as they are enrolled at least part time in higher education, the government pays the accumulating interest on the loan. Recipients become responsible for paying interest after leaving school or graduating.

    Unsubsidized loans, available to undergraduates and graduates, do not require evidence of financial need. Interest on the loan amount accumulates during a student’s time in school and becomes their responsibility whenever they leave or graduate school.

    In this case, your school determines the amount of money you can borrow. The institution bases this number on the nursing program’s cost and the amount of funding you have already received.

    These loans do not require credit score minimums. Students learn of their eligibility through the FAFSA process and should work with the financial aid office at their school for additional help.

Government Assistance Programs for Nurses

Government assistance programs that help pay for nursing school include those funded by the U.S. Army, Department of Health and Human Services, and Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). These scholarships offer full or partial funding for students willing to commit to serving as Army nurses or at facilities located in areas with shortages of primary care or mental health professionals.

starNurse Corps

The HRSA offers scholarships through its Nurse Corps program in exchange for two-years’ minimum service at a critical shortage facility in a health professional shortage area after graduation. Awards cover tuition, eligible fees, and reasonable costs for books and materials. Recipients also receive a monthly stipend.

Applicants must be U.S. citizens, nationals, or permanent residents enrolled in an accredited nursing diploma or degree program.

starScholarships for Disadvantaged Students

The benefits department supports nursing schools with scholarship funding for students in need. Nursing program applicants or enrollees apply through their school’s financial aid office.

Eligible students must be U.S. nationals, citizens, or permanent residents, enrolled in nursing degree programs, and considered low or very low income. Funding can be used for tuition, school expenses, housing, and subsistence — but not childcare.

starArmy Nurse Corps

The U.S. Army’s Health Profession Scholarship program, which includes nursing students, pays for four years of tuition, books and equipment, and school fees. It also provides a monthly stipend, food and housing allowance, and a $20,000 sign-on bonus with officer’s-level pay during school breaks.

In return, scholarship recipients commit to serving in the Army Nurse Corps in critical care, emergency trauma, gynecology/obstetrics, mental health, or perioperative nursing. Applicants must have active duty status, qualification as a commissioned officer, and full-time nursing school enrollment.

Loan Repayment for Nursing Graduates

Like scholarship programs, federal loan repayment programs require a postgraduation service commitment. Recipients teach future nurses, conduct research, and work in understaffed areas and facilities in exchange for loan repayment funds.

Most repayment programs require a two-year service contract.

starFaculty Loan Repayment

Health professionals, including registered nurses and advanced practice registered nurses, can apply for HRSA’s Faculty Loan Repayment Program. Funding requires coming from a disadvantaged background, a nursing degree or diploma, and a two-year agreement to serve on the faculty of a nursing school.

The program offers up to $40,000 of loan repayment assistance, plus funding to offset the taxes.

starNURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program

HRSA’s Nurse Corps Repayment Program pays 60% of the education debt owed by eligible registered nurses, advanced practice registered nurses, and nurse faculty. To qualify, nurses must spend two years working at a critical shortage facility, an area that needs primary care providers or mental health professionals. They can also work at an eligible nursing school.

A third year of service awards an additional 25% repayment.

starNational Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program

The National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program, administered through HRSA, provides loan repayment to licensed primary care clinicians in eligible disciplines, including nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives. Awardees commit to working for two years in a health professional shortage area and receive up to $50,000 for full-time service and $25,000 for half time.

Loan repayment eligibility requires U.S. citizenship or nationality; caring for Medicare, Medicaid, and state children’s health insurance patients; and completion of training and licensure.

starNational Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Programs

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Loan Repayment Programs aim to recruit and retain qualified health researchers, including nursing doctoral degree-holders, while easing the costs of advanced education and training.

The program repays up to $50,000 in educational debt for NIH and non-NIH clinical researchers, along with pediatric, health disparities, and emerging areas critical to human health.

NIH requires a two-year research commitment.

starIndian Health Service Loan Repayment Program

The federal Indian Health Service repays up to $40,000 of health professionals’ education loans in exchange for a two-year commitment of full-time work at an American Indian or Alaska Native healthcare facility identified as needing staff.

The program does not require membership in federally recognized tribes but does give members priority consideration. Applicants submit college transcripts, current licensure, employment verification, and loan documentation.

Nursing Tuition Reimbursement From Employers

Some nursing jobs can help cover education costs, such as tuition or continuing education courses, in exchange for a commitment to work there for a set amount of time. The federal tax code allows employers to offer up to $5,250 each year in tuition reimbursement.

You can deduct these funds from your expenses, and they are not taxable within your income. Many employers offer this program, but you can also ask about the potential of receiving reimbursement.

Individual companies set eligibility requirements, but they usually include staying at the organization while enrolled and for a set amount of time after graduating. This money does not require repayment, so long as the recipient meets the specific terms.


Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

Whether you’re looking to get your pre-licensure degree or taking the next step in your career, the education you need could be more affordable than you think. Find the right nursing program for you.