How to Pay for Nursing School


If you need help coming up with the money for tuition to nursing school, don’t panic. There are several ways to find assistance but it may take a lot of research on your part. You can cut costs tremendously by going to a public college or university instead of a private one. Private schools are much, much more costly. Nursing is not like pre-med or pre-law where there are elite or prestigious colleges everyone is trying to get into. The best way to choose a school is to find out which ones have the best passing rate for the NCLEX. You will also save money in expenses if you choose a school near your home. If you are able to live with your parents, that’s even better because you will save on living expenses too.

The growing nursing shortage is becoming a great concern across the country. Because of the concern that we desperately need more nurses, more and more money is becoming available for grants, loans and scholarships. Many colleges want to help as many people as possible enter the nursing profession but the process of finding these “goldmines” can be intimidating if you don’t know what to look for.

Federal Student Aid

The first thing you should do is fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA). It is available on-line at If you have the time, don’t wait until you are accepted into a nursing school to apply. This is “Federal” student aid, so it is accepted at any school you choose as long as it is accredited. You can list up to 6 colleges on your FAFSA application and your information will be sent to those schools. You can submit your FASFA anytime starting January 1st through June 30th of the year you are planning to start school. Do it as soon as you can because many schools determine their budgets before March for the Fall enrollment. Also, financial aid is not endless and is available on first come, first served basis. To complete this application, you will need a lot of information such as your income, social security number, and school codes. If you are under 23 and live at home with your parents, their tax and financial info will be needed as well. When your information is reviewed, you will find out if you are eligible for government grants or loans and how much.


Grants are a great way to help with financing school because they don’t have to be paid back. It’s like getting free money. Most of the time, grants are based on financial need. The FAFSA will let you know if you are eligible for government grants. There are so many other grants available, you just have to take time to look for them. For example, there are grants for women, single mothers, different ethnic groups, and others, Many are specifically for nursing students. Apply for all you think you may be eligible for. Even though they may be for small amounts, if you can get a few of them, they will add up. Don’t get disappointed if you are denied—you won’t meet the qualifications for all of them. Just keep searching and applying.

Tuition Waiver

These are not real common, but some schools offer tuition waivers for minority or disadvantaged groups such as people over 60, Native Americans, veterans and members of the National Guard. The purpose behind this is to give financially needy students an education that will change their lives, the lives of others and help add more nurses to the workforce.


Scholarships, like grants, don’t have to be paid back. But, unlike grants, scholarships are usually based on merit or good grades, not your financial need. If you have a specialty you are interested in, like pediatrics, search the web for any available pediatric nursing scholarships. There are scholarships for nursing students right out of high school, older nursing students, minority nursing students, single mothers, students who plan to work in areas of need and on and on. Believe it or not, there are scholarships out there you have no idea you are eligible for. Some examples are scholarships for Indian descendants, children of veterans, people with certain last names, if you live in a certain area, underserved areas, etc. Some other scholarship resources can be businesses (small and large corporate), community groups (like the Lions club), generous individuals, religious groups, hospitals and nursing schools as well. Today’s student has the advantage of the internet to help find these little gems. You will often be required to write an essay and a great essay can boost your chances of beating the competition. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Whoever is responsible for reading the essays will read many, so they may “skim” over your hard work. Make your introduction strong so people will want to keep reading.
  • Think about the essay question thoughtfully. They will be looking for responses that are insightful
  • Use natural language. Don’t try to spruce it up with big words and phrases that are not natural for you
  • Your personal qualities will be reflected in the quality of your essay
  • Write with sincerity
  • Allow time for editing. Ask someone whose has experience in writing, like your parents, teachers or other professionals to review it and make revisions as necessary
  • Keep it straight to the point. Don’t babble or put a lot of “fluff” into it just to make it longer
  • Don’t just search for nursing scholarships. There’s a multitude of scholarship money. You just have to be diligent and search and apply for it. Again, every little bit will help, so don’t overlook the smaller scholarships. A list of more than 750 nursing scholarships can be found at


Taking out a loan for your education can be scary. But the investment you make now will more than pay for itself in the future. On average, people with a bachelor’s degree will make a million dollars more in their lifetime than someone with just a high school diploma. Student loans, even large ones, are not as bad as debts like credit cards. Educational loans have low interest rates because the federal government regulates the maximum interest that can be charged. This helps make the loans easier to pay off and encourages more people to go to college. You typically have at least 6 months after graduation to start paying back your student loan. This gives you time to find a job and start making money. You should only borrow what you need because you have to pay this back.

Types of Loans:

  • Private Loan: Eligibility often depends on credit scores. Chances of being approved are better if your score is above 650. These often require no payments till graduation, but interest starts to build as soon as you get the money.
  • PLUS Loan and Graduate PLUS Loan: These loans are through FFEL and Direct Loan programs, but are for parents. You must be a dependent student, enrolled at least half time and your parent has to apply for the loan. There is a yearly limit that is the total of your school costs minus any other financial assistance you receive. This kind of loan requires a good credit score also. Repayment begins 60 days after you receive the money with a fee (usually less than 4% of the loan).
  • Student Loans: Nobody provides more student loans than the federal government. There are two kinds of Federal student loans:
    • Direct—the government sends a check from the US Treasury to you or to your school.
    • Guaranteed (indirect)—most student loans are this kind. These loans come from a third party but the government promises to pay them back if you don’t pay. Sallie Mae makes the most of these loans.

Loan Forgiveness

The “Loan Forgiveness” (or Loan Repayment) program was designed to help staff areas (often other countries) that are in desperate need of nurses. The program is provided by the Federal Government and government exchange agencies. Usually at least one year of your student loan is paid back or “forgiven” for each year you work in shortage areas. Plus, you get paid while you work and you will gain valuable nursing experience! To find out more about this financial aid option, go to The Bureau of Health Professions (

Work Study Programs

These programs help students start paying off their student loan debt while still in school. Each school has different kinds of jobs, but are typically jobs like assisting teachers, on-campus jobs, and community related jobs. It pays at least minimum wage but can be more depending on the skill required for the job. Your earnings are applied directly toward repaying your loans. Students are often able to choose programs related to their educational major so they also get experience to put on their resumes! Work study programs are usually based on financial need. To see if you qualify, talk to the financial aid office. There is also an area on your FAFSA form where you can indicate if you are interested in this program.

Employer Assistance

Many healthcare agencies/companies, such as hospitals, physician’s offices, and clinics, offer tuition assistance. Typically, you have to sign a contract agreeing to work for them for a set amount of time after you graduate. If you cannot complete your time, you will most likely be required to payback anything the company has paid you toward you education. Contact companies in your area or check out their websites to see if these programs are available. Remember, 95% of the United States is experiencing a nursing shortage. If they offer this type of assistance, they will be glad to talk to you.

Another way, you can get help from your employer, is to look for a position with a company that offers a large sign on bonus. Because of the nursing shortage, many hospitals and other large companies offer sign on bonuses for new employees. The amount varies by company and by how big the shortage is in the area but can often be thousands of dollars. You can apply this toward repayment. Remember that bonuses are taxed at a higher rate than wages, so you won’t receive the full amount.

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Kelli Wilson

Kelli has over 16 years experience as an RN. During that time she has had hands on clinical as well as management experience.

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