Financial Aid and Scholarships for Nursing Students

Paying for graduate school can be a serious financial challenge. Students may have to borrow money at high-interest rates to afford their classes and other expenses. When you factor in the recent spikes in tuition, many students must rely on some form of financial aid to afford their education. However, while MSN candidates do face the same financial burdens as other scholars, they also have something that many other graduate students do not… excellent job prospects. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that healthcare jobs are expected to grow at twice the rate of those in the overall economy. As the demand for medical professionals increases, more colleges and universities are offering additional scholarship and grant programs. The result is that school is now more affordable for those most in need of aid. Our list of loan and scholarship options may provide debt-free funding for a portion or all of your master’s in nursing education.


Nursing scholarships are available for both undergraduate and graduate students. Graduate scholarships are handled differently than those offered to undergraduates. They are often restricted to students within a particular discipline who meet specific criteria such as race, ethnicity, or gender. Many professional organizations, community groups, and corporations make these types of scholarships available to qualified candidates. For example, if you are interested in becoming a certified nurse mid-wife, search for professional associations who support the midwifery community. Religious organizations and philanthropic foundations are also strong supporters of continuing education in nursing. Visit the following websites for more information and examples of different types of scholarships available to students:

Student Loans

  1. Federal Student Aid: The Free Application for Student Financial Aid (FASFA) is used to determine a students eligibility for financial aid. The application process is the same as it is for undergraduate students. The forms and supporting documentation will be required. Federal loans with lower interest rates such as the Stafford typically make up a substantial portion of a graduate student’s financial aid package:
    • Stafford: Stafford loans are either subsidized or unsubsidized. A subsidized loan means the government pays the interest while the student is enrolled in school. If a loan is unsubsidized then the student either pays interest while in school or may elect to defer the payment until after graduation. Regardless of need, all students are eligible for the unsubsidized Stafford Loan. You’ll need the following information and documents to fill out a FASFA:
      • Social Security Number and driver’s license (or a state-issued ID)
      • Previous year’s records of money earned (W-2 Form, etc.)
      • Income Tax Returns from the previous year (and your spouse’s, if you are married)
      • Untaxed income records (for example, Social Security, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, welfare, veterans benefit records)
      • Current bank and investment statements
      • Parents’ federal income tax return (if you are a dependent student)
      • Alien registration or permanent resident card (if not born in the US)
    • Tip: It’s important to fill out a FASFA as soon as possible after January 1st, epsecially if you plan to attend fall semester. Even if your previous year’s tax return has not been filed, getting a head start on your application is a very good idea. Gathering all the necessary information takes time and careful preparation.
  2. Private Loans: Sometimes the available financial aid is limited or simply will not cover all of your expenses. If you find yourself in that situation than private loans are always an option. Students apply for private loans by filling out a FASFA. Keep in mind that private loans are more costly as interest begins to accrue immediately upon graduation. This private loan comparison chart compares lenders and loan programs based on borrower eligibility requirements, interest rates, fees, repayment period, loan limits, and other relevant information.
  3. Grad PLUS Loans: A Grad PLUS Loan is a U.S. Government granted student loan with a fixed low interest rate. These loans are not based on need, but rather on the credit worthiness of the candidate. They are very similar to private student loans. The benefits of PLUS loans include:
    • GradPLUS payments can be deferred while you are in school
    • Cosigner not required
    • Interest is tax deductible for most grad students

Nursing Grants

Grants are basically free money. Students do not have to repay them which makes this type of financial assistance the most desirable. Candidates must meet the financial and scholastic requirements to be eligible for these awards. Visit this page of resources offered by the office of Federal Student Aid for information on how to apply for grants administrated by the Federal Government. Grants are also awarded through colleges and universities as well as professional organizations. Visit the school’s or organization’s website to find information and applications for these funding opportunities.

Work Study Programs

A work-study program is a federal financial aid program that allows students to earn money for college through part-time employment. The work varies but typically falls under two categories:

  • On-campus work is usually done for the department the student is admitted to.
  • Off-campus work is usually done for a nonprofit organization or a public agency. Nursing students might work at a hospital or social service agency.

Students participating in the work-study program must earn at least the federal minimum wage, but can earn more depending on the skills required and their level of experience. Work study students can gain experience in the healthcare industry as either a medical assistant or with an office position.

Nursing School Loan Forgiveness Programs

Student loan forgiveness programs are available to alleviate debt for graduates in the eligible fields of employment. Nurses who qualify for loan forgiveness must sign paperwork that legally obligates them to work at a facility for a specified amount of time. There are also state-funded programs available to nurses which have their own unique guidelines and employment specifications. Applicants must work at non-profit facilities which includes:

  • Hospitals
  • Federally Qualified Health Centers
  • Nursing Homes
  • State or Local Public Health or Human Services Department
  • Hospice Programs
  • Home Health Agencies
  • Skilled Nursing Facilities
  • Ambulatory Surgical Centers

There are many ways to pay for graduate school that makes the investment in education all the more appealing. Researching all the options listed above might help you alleviate the financial stress associated with financing a graduate education. Notice in the chart below from the National Center for Education Statistics the total price of a college education and the average financial aid awarded. Numbers are high and climbing:

While tuition is substantial, don’t let the price tag keep you from pursuing your degree. The nationwide shortage of healthcare professionals has pushed many organizations to support new nurses in clinical and leadership development. Nursing students have many financial aid options and with a little research and the help of Google, you will find the assistance and free money that is just a click away.

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