So you applied to a nursing program, waited nervously, and were accepted! But now what? Nursing is a field that attracts a very diverse group of people. While some nursing students are just out of college, others are looking to change careers and already have a family to support. Whatever your situation, once you have been accepted to nursing school, financing your education becomes an important issue.
The first step in receiving financial aid for nursing school is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form will determine two important things:
• Dependency, or whether the student is paying for their education on their own or with the help of their parents.
• Expected Family Contribution (EFC), or the amount you or your family will be expected to pay.
After you have submitted FAFSA, it will take about 3 to 4 weeks for the United States Department of Education to process it, at which point you will receive your Student Aid Report (SAR). Your SAR contains all of your submitted financial information in addition to your EFC.
Most aid-giving institutions need your FAFSA form to take stock of your finances. Submitting a FAFSA form provides access to one of the most important ways for students to receive aid: federal student loans. While private loans from banks and finance companies are also available, federal assistance often offers more reliability.
Federal Assistance for Nursing Students
Stafford loans come in two flavors: subsidized and unsubsidized. Subsidized Stafford packages are need-based loans, meaning the student pays only the original amount of the loan and the government pays for any interest that may have accumulated. Unsubsidized loans, however, are not based on need and are a good option for students who can’t qualify for need-based aid but also can’t afford the full sticker price of nursing school. Interest accrued must be paid back, but, in general, federal unsubsidized loan interest rates are lower and more stable than those of private loans.
For both types of Stafford loans, there are limits to the amount students can borrow. For undergraduates, the limits are:
• Freshmen year, $3,500
• Sophomore year, $4,500
• Junior and senior years, $5,500.
The maximum total debt for undergrads is $23,000. For nursing students in graduate school (those pursuing their Master of Science in Nursing), the limits are: $20,500 each year, with a total, including undergraduate loans, of no more than $138,500.
Perkins loans are similar to the subsidized Stafford loans, except Perkins loans usually have a longer grace period—or time payment can be delayed—after graduation. Also, these loans set different limits on the amount borrowed: $3,000 per year for up to 5 years for undergraduates; $5,000 per year for up to 3 years for graduate students. Eligibility for Perkins loans, like subsidized Stafford loans, focuses on need.
Pell grants are gift aid packages offered to undergraduate students who prove sufficient financial need in their FAFSA application. These grants, unlike loans, do not need to be repaid by the students and go directly towards paying undergraduate tuition. Depending on a student’s level of need, a Pell grant may be awarded for $400 or $4,000, but awarded students must reapply after a year to be reconsidered for another grant.
Consolidation of Debt
Depending on the number of years spent in school and one’s financial situation, sometimes nursing students need to take out multiple loans. While there is no ‘quick fix’ for paying off debt, there are ways to manage it. Some federal loan programs offer loan holders the chance to ‘consolidate’ their loans. This means multiple loans are combined to form one larger loan. It may not sound beneficial, but actually, consolidation makes for smaller monthly payments, which can be helpful for recent grads starting their first jobs. If consolidation may be helpful to you in the future, it is important to make sure your loan program offers it before setting up your assistance package.
The federal government, and also many colleges and universities, offers work-study positions to students in order to complement other forms of financial aid. These programs usually include a job with part-time hours in a field similar to the student’s field of interest. The appeal of work-study options is that all wages earned go directly towards a student’s tuition and the job itself may prepare them for their future career.
Besides awards like Pell Grants, there are thousands and thousands of private scholarships out there that nursing students can apply for. They are a great resource for students who don’t qualify for need-based aid, because—even though many require financial records—merit, or an applicant’s character, is sometimes valued as much or more than need by scholarship committees. These awards come in installments as small as $100 and as large as $2,000, but, either way, they help get nursing students that much closer to paying for nursing school.