How to finance your nursing education

Mason jars with a nurse's cash savings

No matter where you are in your nursing career, there are many reasons to consider advancing your education. Chances are high that, as time goes on, you are going to want to grow and evolve in your profession – something that is significantly easier to do after attaining higher levels of education. When you make the decision to further your learning – whether it’s to earn a Master of Science in Nursing online or enroll in a doctoral degree program – you are opening yourself up to a wide range of new possibilities. Advancing your nursing education to a master’s level or above, for example, qualifies you to:

  • Choose an area of specialty
  • Start an independent practice
  • Become a nurse educator
  • Take on leadership and management roles
  • Earn a higher salary

However, one of the top considerations you’re likely taking into account when deciding to continue your education is the cost of tuition. The price tag of nursing degree programs shouldn’t prevent you from continuing your education. At the end of the day, tuition isn’t an expense – it’s an investment in your future, one you could end up getting an incredibly high return on. There are plenty of ways you can finance your nursing education to ensure you don’t sacrifice your professional development due to financial constraints, such as the following:

Scholarships and grants

Higher learning institutions and professional nursing organizations often offer financial aid assistance to help nursing students pay their tuition. It’s important to check with institutions to know what financial aid options they offer for their programs specifically. Generally speaking, though, there’s a whole host of scholarships and grants you can apply for at both the state and federal level. pointed out that, because nurses are in such high demand right now, there’s been a strong incentive and push for government and private agencies to offer scholarships and grants to nursing students. These are great because you don’t have to pay them back. However, they are often the most sought after methods of financing a nursing education – and, for this reason, can also be pretty competitive.

According to All Nursing Schools, there are more than a thousand U.S. federal grant programs that total over $400 billion. So while competition may be fierce, it’s worth looking into, especially when doing so could lead to saving thousands of dollars.

Often, schools automatically consider students for grants when the FAFSA is completed and submitted with the application. However, nursing professionals and students should take the time to research every possible scholarship or grant they qualify for – keeping in mind some of the niche ones they may be uniquely eligible for. Consider scholarships and grants available from affiliations with community, city, state, employer and religion. Additionally, professional associations and organizations associated with your nursing specialty may prove to be a useful source for finding scholarships.

Student loans

According to Nursing Journal, student loans are among the top three most common ways students pay for their education, likely because they are often easier to secure than grants or scholarships. The downside is that, unlike grants, you have to pay student loans back. On the other hand, getting an advanced degree in nursing prepares and qualifies you for higher paying positions – which is something to keep in mind when you are exploring your options for financing your nursing education.

If you are going to go the student loan route, consider all your options. Discover Nursing suggested federal loans tend to be a better option than private since they usually come with lower fixed interest rates and more payment flexibility. Also, keep in mind that there are a handful of potential ways to ensure the loan is paid off without it all coming directly out of your own pocket.

Loan forgiveness and tuition reimbursement

There are a handful of loan repayment and tuition reimbursement programs that allow you to work at a hospital or health care facility and, in exchange, they will pay for your tuition or loans.

Working in disadvantaged public health sectors may also provide you with post-graduation loan forgiveness eligibility. For example, the U.S. Health Service Corps offer qualifying nurses the opportunity to have either part or the full amount of their tuition paid off if the student is willing to commit to a certain period of time – typically between two and four years – to serving an understaffed rural area once they graduate. further elaborated on some of the repayment programs available to nursing students and professionals such as:

  • Nursing Education Loan Repayment: This government-sponsored program is geared toward nurses working in “Health Profession Shortage Areas.” If qualifying nurses are able to commit to working a minimum of two years in at a Critical Shortage Facility, the government may repay as much as 60 percent of their outstanding loans – or even 85 percent if he or she is willing to serve a third year.
  • Facility Loan Repayment: Graduate health care students who come from a disadvantage background may be eligible for this federally funded program, which offers a maximum loan repayment grant of $40,000 in exchange for the individual serving as a faculty member at certain colleges and universities.
  • Army Nurse Corps: In addition to loan repayment programs, the military offers eligible active duty nurses continuing education grants, signing bonuses and special pay for advanced training.

Any type of loan forgiveness program that allows you to work in a health care setting is worth considering, since it gives you the opportunity to gain relative industry experience while simultaneously minimizing the financial burden associated with your advanced nursing education.

Work-study and on-campus employment

Nursing students should explore all possible opportunities where working and learning overlap. Ideally, if you are a full-time student, this would be through a paid internship or externship. However, there are also other ways to help finance your degree as you learn.

Getting a job on campus, whether part-time or through a work-study program, allows you to gain relative experience in your field and boost your resume. Also, on-campus employment often provides a great environment that aides students in their studies – even if the job is not directly related to the health care field. For example, if you work as a computer lab assistant, you will likely be able to spend a lot of your downtime studying and completing coursework for your program – whether it be for a Master of Science in Nursing, doctoral degree or another type of certification.

Master’s in nursing online degree programs

The cost of tuition varies by school, but earning a master’s in nursing online may be a valuable approach to minimizing the financial stress of further education. You will have more flexibility to complete the coursework on your own time and on a schedule most convenient for you – one that won’t get in the way of your job. Most online MSN programs are designed to accommodate working health care professionals.

Earning an online degree may actually enable you to spend more time working – without having to sacrifice studying. For example, sometimes the aforementioned work-study programs allow you to do both at once. Additionally, online programs help reduce costs associated with transportation and child care.

Lucrative pay, rewarding and fulfilling experiences and strong job security are just some of the many benefits of pursuing a career in nursing – advantages that only have the potential to increase the more advanced your education becomes. Although getting the financial assistance you need to earn an MSN degree may take time, patience and a bit of research, it’s not impossible – and will likely be well worth the investment.

Recommended Readings:

Nursing and Finance: Avoiding Overspending

Advice for Nurses Who Work a Scattered Schedule




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