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Paying for Your Nursing Degree

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As the cost of education increases, prospective students must continue to research financial aid opportunities to lower or cancel their debts. This comprehensive guide breaks down available options to pay for nursing degrees.

A 2017 report by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing found that graduate nursing students leave school with debt averaging $40,000-$54,999. Luckily, learners can pursue several sources to address debt before, during, and after school. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) serves as the most important place to start and can help you with scholarships, grants, federal loans, and work-study opportunities.

Types of Financial Aid for Nursing Students

Financial aid for nursing programs comes in many different forms. Aspiring students should understand how each method functions, along with application requirements. Nursing programs typically last 1-5 years, and tuition can vary substantially 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. Learners should research each type of funding to streamline the application process. Creating a personal budget can also help degree-seekers see how far their money will take them while in school.


  • 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 to many learners since they do not require repayment, so long as students adhere to the terms of funding.


  • Scholarships for Nursing Students

    Many nursing scholarships, including those for master of science in nursing programs, award funding to learners with exceptional academic records. These awards tend to be quite competitive and call on applicants to stand out from the crowd. Application requirements vary but usually include academic records, a goals essay, and reference letters. Like grants, students do not need to repay nursing scholarships if they meet all requirements.


  • 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 who qualify 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 disburse them for living costs.


  • 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 FAFSA application, enrollees qualify for many government-backed loan options. Students must demonstrate need through financial records and request a suitable amount of funding to cover educational and related costs. They vary from other financial aid options by requiring repayment.


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 between 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.

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 between loan types can help borrowers avoid costly mistakes. The following two sections break down common types of student loans.

Federal Loans Versus Private Loans

Students most commonly apply for private and federal loans. Federal loans come directly from the government, whereas 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 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. Students considering this route should know that, 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 to inquire about the process.

Subsidized Loans Versus Unsubsidized Loans

ED offers subsidized and unsubsidized 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 undergraduate and graduate learners, 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. A degree-seeker’s school determines the amount of money they can borrow. The institution bases this number on program cost and the amount of funding the student has 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 agencies at the federal and state levels provide several college loan forgiveness programs for nurses. While anyone can apply for other types of financial aid options mentioned throughout this guide, only nurses can pursue the following options. Make sure to check out our financial aid resources for minority students and single parents.

NURSE Corps
The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) provides the Nurse Corps Scholarship program to undergraduate and graduate nursing students who commit to post-graduation service. Learners must agree to serve two years in a high-need, eligible healthcare facility facing a nursing shortage. These facilities are often located in rural parts of the country. As of 2020, the program also provides a monthly stipend to help with living expenses.
Nursing Student Loan Program
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers the Nursing Student Loan Program directly to colleges and universities offering undergraduate and graduate nursing degrees. Once awarded, the institution can disburse up to $5,200 per year, per qualified student. No learner can receive more than $17,000 across their entire time working toward a single degree. Upon graduating, students repay the loan at a 5% interest rate.
Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students
HRSA offers several scholarships to support financially disadvantaged students working toward health services and related degrees. No individual student can apply to these awards. Instead, the administration provides funding to universities, which grants individual scholarships to qualified degree-seekers.
Army Nurse Corps
The Army Nurse Corps Association provides several scholarships each year to support current undergraduate and graduate students working toward a degree in nursing or anesthesia. Recipients receive $3,000 but must demonstrate previous or active membership in the Army, Army National Guard, or Army Reserve. They must also not receive funding from any other U.S. Army entities, such as ROTC or the GI Bill®.

Loan Repayment for Nursing Graduates

Loan repayment programs support students and recent graduates who agree to apply their professional skills and talents in a particular area of the discipline for a set amount of time. The amount of loan repayment assistance varies by program and typically includes a salary or stipend in addition to the loan repayment. When deciding which loan to repay first, degree-seekers should prioritize unsubsidized loans as they continue to accumulate interest.

  • Faculty Loan Repayment

    Created by HRSA, this repayment plan supports individuals who aspire to work as professors in a health professions school, including nursing. Approved individuals can receive up to $40,000 in student loan forgiveness for nurses alongside additional funding to help with the tax burden. Applicants must come from a disadvantaged background, an approved degree, and an employment agreement lasting at least two years.

  • NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program

    Also provided by HRSA, this program supports licensed registered nurses, advanced practice registered nurses, and nurse faculty members with qualifying educational debt The program covers up to 85% of unpaid nursing education debt if the individual agrees to work in a critical shortage facility for at least two years or as a nurse faculty member at an approved school of nursing. Two years of service covers 60% of debt, while the third and final year covers the remaining 25%.

  • National Service Health Corps Loan Repayment Program

    This repayment program supports qualified individuals working in the health professions to erase educational debt. U.S. citizens working in (or qualified to work in) Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program can apply if they maintain licensure in their state and possess qualified student loan debt. If selected, recipients work for at least two years in a National Health Service Corps approved facility in a health professional shortage area.

  • National Institute of Health Loan Forgiveness

    Under this loan repayment program, qualified health professionals with a doctorate degree engaged in research can receive up to $50,000 to help cover educational debt. Each chosen participant must commit to a two-year research project. In exchange, they receive repayment assistance in addition to reimbursed federal and state taxes related to the award. Applicants should submit materials by November 15 to know by the following fall.

  • Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Programs

    Operating as part of the Federal Health Program for American Indians and Alaska Natives, this program offers up to $20,000 per year in health professions loan repayment support in exchange for two years of full-time work at an Indian health facility facing a staffing shortage. While engaged in the program, participants also receive the normal salary and benefits connected to their roles.

Nursing Tuition Reimbursement from Employers

Some employers help cover the cost of continuing education courses in exchange for a commitment to continue working there for a set amount of time. The federal tax code allows employers to offer up to $5,250 each year in tuition reimbursement.

Recipients can deduct these funds from their expenses, and they are not taxable within the student’s income. Many employers offer this program, but learners 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.

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