Scholarships for Nursing Students
By: Joseph Poole Jr. MSN, RN, CNE
With all the state and federal cut backs in education funding, students have been led to believe that there is little or no money available to pay for college. Contrary to this popular belief, financial aid may be available to qualified undergraduate and graduate nursing education. However, navigating the financial aid highway can be difficult.
The nursing student, in search of financial assistance, has a number of resources at his or her finger tips to search for nursing scholarships including the state specific nursing scholarship, loan and grant database on the Nursing School degrees (NSD) website. Literally hundreds of nursing scholarships and grants for nursing students are listed on the website.
Although there are hundreds of nursing scholarships, many have limitations and restrictions, such as grade point average, class level in college, state of residency, and financial need. Nursing scholarships and grants are monies given specifically to nursing students to offset the cost of their education. These monies may cover the cost of tuition, books, residence hall, and lab fees. Usually the student does not have to repay these monies. However, if the student does not finish the nursing program or has committed academic fraud to obtain the scholarship or grant, then repayment maybe required. This is quite different from nursing student loans, which must be repaid.
Nursing student loans are obtained through a bank, state agency, or one of the many federal student loan programs such as Stafford Loans. Nursing loans usually carry a low interest rate and a low repayment amount that is paid over a period of time. Depending on the type of loan and the amount, a nursing student may be allowed to take as long as 30 years to repay the loan. If the student has defaulted on the loan, meaning they failed to repay or make payment on the loan, it counts against their credit score. They may also be sued by the loaning agency for non-payment. But the question is how does a nursing student find out about these scholarships, grants and loans?
The first step is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This can be completed at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/. This is the free federal financial aid website. The key here is being free. The Nursing School Degrees website also lists nursing scholarships on a state-by-state level for a free and simple way to search for local nursing scholarships. Other websites will try to direct you to complete their financial aid form or offer you assistance to complete the FAFSA form but for a fee. These fees may be as high as $100. So make sure if you use one of the for fee services that you are completing the correct form. To complete the form, you will need your taxes for the past two years. Your tax information and other financial data that you provide will help determine your eligibility for federal financial aid programs such as Pell Grants and federal student loans. Additionally, the financial aid department at your nursing school will use this information to determine if you qualify for state assistance such as the Lottery Scholarship (In New Mexico) and institutional grants and loans such as private institutional loans.
The second step is to contact the financial aid office of your chosen college or university. Even though the prospective student may not have received their student report, the college or university usually will have access to the data. Do not worry if you completed the form late. Lateness may disqualify you from some federal programs, however, many state deadlines are closer to the beginning of the semester and financial aid may still be available through the state and institutional aid programs. Remember the financial aid office will still require the FAFSA form to grant aid for future semesters of school.
The NSD website lists the nursing scholarships by state, name and includes contact information for the organization offering each scholarship. There are listings for nearly every nursing scholarship available in each state. Additionally, the NSD website lists nursing scholarships and grants for everyone from ethnic minorities to religion specific. There are even scholarships available for some of the nursing specialties such as gerontology and oncology. These nursing scholarships are usually reserved for graduate students or Associate Degree nurses who are returning to school for their BSN.
The next step is to compile a list of nursing scholarships and grants in which the student may meet eligibility requirements. Apply for as many as possible. Just because the nursing student was turned down by one does not mean they are ineligible for all.
Is it easy to get a grant or scholarship? Not really. Filling out the FAFSA form and finding nursing scholarship opportunities is just the first hoop to jump through. There will be additional forms to fill out, letters of recommendation to acquire, and the student may have to provide proof of income, expenses and state or county residency to the financial aid office. But in the end, not getting frustrated with the process is worth the effort. Nursing grants and nursing scholarships will save the student hundreds of dollars in upfront costs such as tuition and fees and hundreds more in interest over the life of a student loan. Some nursing scholarships and grants are academic based others are not. Some scholarships and grants are need based such as the Pell Grant, so there will be income restrictions.
Do any of these steps change for graduate education? Not really. The financial aid highway is usually a little easier to navigate for the graduate student. Because the graduate student has “been there before”, they been through the process once, making it easier to navigate the second time around. Many universities believe for the student to be successful in graduate school, financial aid is just as important as ability. Therefore, the university will provide the student with a financial aid package upon admission.
These financial aid packages may include a Teaching Assistant (TA) position, a Fellowship, or a stipend in addition to university scholarships, grants and federal or state student loans. Usually the financial aid award will meet or exceed the students expected expenses while attending grad school. In some cases, the student’s awards will be tied into research grants if the student is conducting research with a senior professor.
Nursing scholarships and grants are competitive at all levels of nursing education and require a significant investment of time to research and apply. It is a worthwhile and critical step in any nurse’s career. Find organizations in your state that offer nursing scholarships or grants and apply. Also, utilize the resources on the FAFSA website to apply for as many other scholarship opportunities you can. The odds are you will be connected with a nursing scholarship or grant that will help offset your nursing education costs.