You’ve probably applied to nursing school to kick-start your career, both by moving into a more rewarding job and by increasing your salary. But before you start collecti paycheck, you’ve got to pay for two to five, or even more, years of nursing school first. Nursing degree costs vary widely, depending on your degree; a community college Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a University Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a master’s degree can range anywhere from $800 to $30,000 or even higher at private schools.

Yikes! Does that latter number make your hair stand on end? Never fear: there are many ways to cover nursing education costs. Never, EVER eliminate a nursing school because it’s too expensive. With the numerous financing packages available, it’s likely you won’t have to pay the entire tab.

Funding options can be organized into three categories:

Free

Grants: There are billions of dollars available to fund education – including nursing school – and since you don’t need to pay this money back, it’s worth the time and effort to apply. Grants, for example, are based upon financial need and can cover up to $5,000 per semester. You’ll need to fill out a FAFSA application form to determine your eligibility. Often schools automatically consider you for grants when you submit this form.  For the FAFSA guidelines, click here:  http://www.fafsa.ed.gov

Scholarships: You have to be smart and talented to qualify for these competitive grants, and some have require that you work in a certain field of nursing. Professional nursing associations are a great place to start looking for scholarship if you know what you want to study. But for those students who haven’t decided what kind of nursing career they want to pursue, there are plenty of private and public sector scholarships that have more general requirements. Surf the internet for grants offered by religious organizations, businesses, community groups and humanitarian organizations. Click here for a list of good scholarships available for everyone from male nurses to emergency/critical care nurses to geriatric nurses to nurses willing to work and live on Indian reservations, among many others: http://www.aacn.nche.edu/Education/financialaid.htm#aacnresources

Health Service Corp: Remember the television show Northern Exposure where a New York City doctor is sent to a remote town in Alaska to work off his medical student loans? If you are up for adventure and willing to spend two to five years where nurses are needed most, think Indian reservations, remote rural towns and other areas where nurses are scarce. The  National Health Service Corp’s Loan Repayment Program  will pay up to $170,000 of your education. For more information, click here: http://nhsc.hrsa.gov/loanrepayment/.

Partial Reimbursement

Work Study Programs: Work-study helps students with low income to finance their education by working on-campus jobs, assisting teachers, or working in community-based organizations. As a nurse, you might be able to work in a hospital or other public setting related to your field. These are federally funded programs, so opportunities vary depending upon the available budget in a given year. Check with your desired nursing programs for specific work-study opportunities at your school.

Loan Repayment Programs: To retain good nursing staff, medical institutions may offer to repay a significant percentage of nursing education loans as a sign-perk to guarantee a few dedicated years of service. But not all loan repayments are private. The Nurse Education Loan Repayment Program (NELRP) has an $8 million budget to repay 60 percent of the nursing loan balance for 100 nurses per year in return for working for two years at non-profit hospitals, nursing homes, ambulatory care offices, public health offices and other medical facilities with nursing shortages. This is similar to the Health Service Corps mentioned under the free section, except that only a portion of your loan amount is covered, rather than the entire amount.

Loans

Borrowing Tuition: Just like all other forms of higher education, loans are available to help pay off education. A Stafford Loan is given directly to students, and the amount awarded is based on financial need.  If your parents are paying for your education, they can apply for a PLUS or Grad PLUS loan.

You can also borrow privately from a bank, where you can get more money and no payments until graduation. But you have to be ready to pay those off immediately upon returning your cap and gown as interest rates are applied as soon as you graduate.

With the looming nursing shortage there are many incentive programs to get more students enrolled in nursing school now. So there you have it – if you are willing to do the paperwork, the potential pay off is a greatly reduced tuition, or a completely free degree.

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