Becoming a Nurse: Tuition and Financial Aid (page 2)
Post-secondary education costs have soared in recent years. Some programs are less expensive than others, but many of the larger, more expensive schools have more opportunities for financial aid, which may make their cost comparable to or even less expensive than smaller schools. Regardless of where you attend nursing school, tuition is only part of the cost. Additional costs include room and board, transportation, books and other supplies, and laboratory fees.
Given the cost of education, most people can benefit from financial aid, and there are many grants, loans, scholarships, and loan forgiveness programs available to hard-working students.
Online, you can find numerous resources for college preparation, including planning for and obtaining financial aid, which has been modified here with a nursing touch.
High school juniors should look into: tuition costs; admission, and financial aid application deadlines; state, federal, and school aid programs based on both need and merit; unique aid opportunities (community service awards, children of veterans awards, first-generation college student awards, etc.); and the annual cost increase of college expenses. Fall is the time to take the PSAT, attend financial aid nights, and start looking for scholarships. In winter, prep for the SAT or ACT and build a portfolio (awards, report cards, honors, evidence of hospital volunteer activities, newspaper clippings—whatever sets you apart from other students). Come spring, talk to the college financial aid counselor and ask for an early estimate, and take the SAT or ACT. When summer rolls around, get to work, literally. Make money and put it aside for your nursing program incidentals.
High school seniors should check out: the graduation debt burden at each of their potential nursing programs; how long it takes to graduate and whether the financial aid will be similar each year; availability of financial aid for study abroad. They and their parent(s) should also obtain a personal identification number (PIN) for Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) processing. In the fall, compare and contrast nursing program requirements for application materials and financial aid forms. Some only require the FAFSA; others the PROFILE, a form administered by the College Scholarship Service (CSS), the financial division of the College Board. Many private colleges and universities require the CSS PROFILE to determine your eligibility for non-government financial aid, including the institution's own aid. Remember to be attentive to all application deadlines, retake the SAT or ACT if you're not satisfied with your scores, and spend some more time at financial aid nights. Warm up the winter by filing your FAFSA online; this is your gateway to aid at schools nationwide. Proof and correct your Student Aid Report (SAR) and organize your financial aid award letters to ease the job of comparing and contrasting colleges. Come spring, assess your situation; if you didn't get aid at your school of choice, visit and appeal to them in person. They may take a second look. Make your decision; May 1 is the deadline for final decisions at most schools.
Grants are free money; you don't have to pay them back. Money is dwindling in today's economy, but there are still thousands of grant programs in the United States, many specifically targeted to nursing. Schools often automatically consider you for grants when you complete your FAFSA; however, some grants require that you submit a proposal. Applying for these grants takes time and effort, but it's worth it, even for grants that pay $1,000 or less.
Scholarships typically recognize academic achievement, athletic ability, or artistic accomplishments. They are competitive, but, like grants, do not need to be paid back. Some have restrictions and may apply only to students in a specific type of nursing program or to nursing students who belong to a specific organization or group. Most require that you have and maintain a high GPA and demonstrate professional behavior, which means you don't want to have anything embarrassing on your Facebook or MySpace page. Nursing specialty societies offer scholarships, but usually on the graduate level. The best sources for other nursing students are religious organizations, private and public schools, small businesses, corporations, community groups, generous individuals, or philanthropic foundations.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) offers nursing scholarships. In exchange for at least two years of service in a critical nursing shortage area, the Nursing Scholarship Program pays tuition, required fees, other reasonable costs (required books, clinical supplies, laboratory expenses, etc.), and a monthly stipend. For information and an application, go to http://bhpr.hrsa.gov/ nursing/scholarship.
Student Loans and Loan Forgiveness
Student loans require payback, but at a low interest rate with payments due starting six months after graduation, or sooner if you decrease your credit load to less than half-time. The nursing shortage has eased the burden of student loans with a growing number of loan forgiveness programs. These programs offer to pay back or forgive student loan debt in exchange for service. Typically, one year of the loan is forgiven for each year that the nurse serves in an area of need after graduation. You gain experience while you lose payments.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) offers the Nursing Education Loan Repayment Program (NELRP), which is a competitive program that repays 60% of the qualifying loan balance of registered nurses selected for funding in exchange for two years of service at a critical shortage facility. Participants may also be eligible to work a third year to receive payment of an additional 25% of the qualifying loan balance. This HRSA program requires an application, but certainly is worth the effort. More information is available at http://bhpr.hrsa.gov/nursing/loanrepay.htm.
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