How Can I Pay for Nursing School?

How Can I Pay for Nursing School?
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Catherine Holland July 31, 2014

For those looking to find an affordable way to pursue a degree in nursing, here’s a list of financial aid options that can help you make that dream a reality.

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Deciding to pursue a nursing degree is a promising educational pathway that can come with a large financial burden. Fortunately, there are many financial aid options to choose from as you prepare to pursue this fulfilling career choice.

Here is a list of eight options to consider as you apply to nursing school:

School Aid

Whether you are an undergraduate or graduate student pursuing an education in nursing, your primary financial aid options will be comparable to those available to others at your educational level. The first place to start for financial aid is to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form, which is the form used to determine eligibility for federal grants and loans, as well as many state and instiutitonal aid programs.

When you complete the FAFSA, you’ll have the option to consider work-study programs, which enable you to earn money by working for the university or a community agency related to your course of study. Colleges administer these programs, so you need to check that the schools you’re considering participate in the Federal Work Study program. If they do and you’re eligible for this type of aid, you’ll be given an award amount that will determine how many hours you can work each month. Undergraduates are paid on an hourly basis, while graduate students will be paid either hourly or by salary.

Federal Loans

Federal loans are available at different rates for both undergraduates and graduates.
These loans are either paid back directly to the government or to institutions authorized to administer these programs, such as your school. Below is some basic information about each type of loan. For additional information on financial aid resources for graduate students, look at Paying for Graduate School: What Are Your Financial Aid Options?.

Stafford Loans

These loans have a fixed interest rate of 4.66% or 6.21% for the 2014-2015 school year, depending on the type of loan you’re awarded. There are two different types of Stafford Loans:

  • Subsidized loans: Available only to undergraduates, Stafford subsidized loans are provided to students with significant financial need as determined by your FAFSA. The amount you can borrow depends on your year in college and the other awards you are offered. You do not need to repay these loans while you are enrolled in college full-time, and the interest does not begin to accrue until after your graduate.
  • Unsubsidized loans: These loans are available to both undergraduate and graduate students who apply for federal financial aid, and they carry a higher interest rate than subsidized loans. Unsubsidized Stafford loans are available to all students, regardless of financial need. The amount that you can borrow is determined by the school you’re attending based on its cost and the other sources of aid you’re receiving. The interest begins to accrue as soon as the loan disburses, so it’s valuable to repay these loans as soon as you’re able to, even if you can only pay back small amounts. Be sure to indicate that you want any repayments to go towards your unsubsidized loans if you receive both types.

Perkins Loans

These loans use federal money awarded by colleges to undergraduate and graduate students who have significant financial need. They carry an interest rate of 5% in 2014. Not all schools offer Perkins loans, so check with your school’s financial aid office to find out if they participate.

PLUS Loans

Graduate students and parents of dependent undergraduates can take out a PLUS loan to pay for any education expenses (room, board, tuition, and fees) that are not covered by the rest of the aid package. Students must be enrolled at least half-time in a degree or certificate program at schools that participate in the Direct Loan program. The 2014-2015 PLUS loan interest rate is set at 7.21%. This type of loan also requires the borrower to have a good credit score. PLUS loans have more complicated repayment requirements that vary according to multiple factors. Be sure to check this Federal Student Aid link for exact details.

Loan Forgiveness

The government offers loan forgiveness, or cancellation, for particular loan programs to nurses who practice in underserved communities after becoming licensed. You can read about the details of these programs at this Federal Student Aid link.

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The RWJF has been a been a strong supporter of nursing students for many years. It is looking to launch new leadership programs for students at all levels in 2015. These initiatives will create a strong network of nurses who can exchange ideas, use interdisciplinary models to provide leadership development, and increase the number of leaders and students that they will support. You can learn more about their programs by visiting the RWJF website.

In addition, the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation collaborates with the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research at Rutgers University to offer an internship program called Project L/EARN. This internship, offered to college students from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in the healthcare industry, provides participants with mentorship and training for ten weeks. In addition to paying for students’ room, board, and tuition for the duration of the program, Project L/EARN offers students a $4,000 stipend and college-credits for their participation.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Grant

As of 2012, the U.S. HHS has given $30.2 million in grants to nursing programs. The money is distributed to:

  • 112 schools that support nurse faculty (master’s and doctoral students) in the pursuit of their degree through programs like loan forgiveness.
  • Financial assistance to more than 10,600 students who come from underrepresented backgrounds in the nursing field.
  • Nurse anesthetist training.

State Nursing Board Grants and Scholarships

Many state nursing boards, such as New York and Arkansas, offer financial aid through grants, awards, loans, and scholarships to students pursuing nursing degrees. Look for opportunities in the states where you are considering studying.

You can explore examples of these programs by visiting the websites for New York and Arkansas.

NURSE Corp Scholarship Program

The NURSE Corp Scholarship Program helps students finance their tuition in exchange for working at a Critical Shortage Facility for two years after graduating. Participating nurses will receive a competitive salary. Check out the NURSE Corp website for more information.

NGO and Corporate Scholarships

Non-profit organizations (NGOs), such as the American Cancer Society, also offer scholarships to students who are pursuing a career in nursing. In addition, particular associations and companies may offer nursing scholarships focused on professional areas of need. 


A Bold New Direction for Leadership Programs. (n.d.). RWJF. Retrieved July 31, 2014, from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Financial Aid for Graduate and Professional Degree Students. (2012, Fall). Retrieved July 29, 2014 from Federal Student Aid

HHS awards $58.7 million to bolster America’s health care workforce. (n.d.). U.S. Department of Health Services. Retrieved July 31, 2014, from Health Resources and Services Administration

NURSE Corps Scholarship Program. (n.d.). U.S. Department of Health Services. Retrieved July 31, 2014, from [NURSE Corp](

Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. (n.d.). Federal Student Aid. Retrieved July 31, 2014, from Federal Student Aid

(Updated on February 15, 2024)

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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