According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job market for registered nurses (RNs) is projected to grow by 16% through 2024, which is much faster than average for all occupations.1 However, as more students enter the nursing field, many of them may face the challenge of how to fund their education.
The cost of earning a college degree, postsecondary certificate or similar credential has never been more expensive. Tuition for four-year degrees has more than doubled over the past three decades, even when taking inflation into account.2 Fortunately, there are three important sources of financial aid available to students in a nursing program, including scholarships, grants and loans.
Scholarships are a type of student financial aid that does not need to be repaid. Scholarships are usually awarded based on merit, but they can also be awarded based on academic achievement or a combination of academics and a talent, trait or interest. Scholarships can be funded by a variety of sources, including the federal government, state governments, colleges, alumni, businesses, religious groups and community organizations.3
When a student is awarded a scholarship, it may affect their eligibility for other types of aid, since the total aid a student receives cannot exceed the cost of attendance at their college or career school. Students who receive scholarships should let their college’s financial aid office know so the amount of the scholarship can be subtracted from attendance costs in order to determine eligibility for other forms of aid.3
Grants are the second major type of financial aid that does not need to be repaid and is often need-based. Major federal grant programs include Federal Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG), and Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants.4 Grants can be funded by the federal government, state governments, colleges and nonprofit organizations.
Students do not normally need to repay grants, except under special circumstances. For instance, a student who withdraws from a program early may need to repay all or part of their grant; a change in status from full-time to part-time or receipt of other grants or scholarships may also reduce grant eligibility.4
Student loans need to be repaid, in contrast to scholarships and grants. Student loans from the federal government tend to have lower interest rates and more flexible repayment options than loans from banks or other private sources. Loan sources may include the federal government, financial institutions and other private sources.5
The federal government’s largest loan program is the Direct Loan Program. This includes a few different types of loans. Direct Subsidized Loans are available to undergraduates who demonstrate sufficient need. Direct Unsubsidized Loans are available to undergraduate, graduate and professional students who qualify regardless of need. Direct PLUS Loans are available to graduate or professional students and parents of dependent undergraduate students.
Another major federal student loan program is the Federal Perkins Loan Program. This program is a needs-based loan program for undergraduate and graduate students which is also school-based, with the student’s college acting as the lender.5
Researching Financial Aid Options
One way nursing students can learn more about the financial aid options that may be available is by talking to their college's financial aid office, a career counselor, or a counselor from the Department of Education’s Federal TRIO Programs.6 With an advisor’s help, or on their own, students can begin their search online by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which will help determine their eligibility for different types of federal aid.7 Students should also check their eligibility for state aid with the appropriate contact in their state’s department of education or agency for higher, adult or special education.8
CareerOneStop.org, a resource sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, also provides an online tool to search for scholarships, fellowships, grants and other forms of financial aid.9 Additional resources include library reference sections, employers, social organizations, foundations, community organizations, civic groups and businesses.10
There are also sources of aid and resources specifically geared toward students in nursing and related professions. For instance, the NURSE Corps Scholarship Program offers financial aid to registered nurses who are willing to commit to working two years in areas with nursing shortages.11
Students can learn about federal loan options on the Department of Education’s website StudentLoans.gov.12 Full-time nurses may also qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.13 Students with remaining need can explore private loan resources.
While searching for aid, students should be aware of financial aid scams.14 For example, students should never have to pay for help with filling out a FAFSA application. There are free resources for this type of assistance provided by the Federal Student Aid Information Center.15
Enroll in the RN-to-BSN Program at CTU
Colorado Technical University offers an RN-to-BSN program aimed to provide students with the opportunity to develop necessary tools to deliver evidence-based care and drive change at the bedside and beyond. The Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program at Colorado Technical University is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (http://www.ccneaccreditation.org). Learn more about CTU’s nursing degrees.