How to Pay for Nursing School

Almost Everything You Need to Know About How to Pay for Nursing School

There is no denying that paying for college can be expensive. However, not following your career dreams and goals can be even more expensive (see the chart to the right). If you earn a bachelor's degree, you can expect that your lifetime earnings to be one million dollars more than someone who holds a high school diploma or GED, according to several studies.How to Pay for Nursing School Whether you attend college part-time or full-time, at a two-year or four-year degree program, or even at a short-term certificate program, you will need to figure out how to pay for your education.

Generally, you can keep the cost of higher education lower by attending a public, state supported, college or university rather than a private school. But, no matter where you end up attending nursing school, you can get a quality education form a public four-year college or universities, a two-year community college, or a private vocational or certificate program.

Public and private institutions offer everything from a CNA certificate to a Master's level nursing degree. Fortunately, wherever you decide to prepare for your career in nursing, chances are very good that financial aid will be available to you. However, bear in mind that by attending a fully accredited institution you will enjoy the broadest spectrum of financial aid opportunities available to you.

First Step: Estimate the Cost of Attending Nursing School

As you weigh you educational options, it is important to have an accurate estimate of how much your total education cost will be and how much financial aid you will need while you attend school. Financial aid counselors use the term “Cost of Attendance” or COA as a way to calculate all your expenses while you are a student. The COA includes both school and living expenses and is used by your school to determine your financial aid package. Some of the expenses that you might need to estimate may include:

  • Tuition and fees
  • Books and supplies (calculator, notebooks, etc.)
  • Computer or computer access
  • Uniforms (while doing your clinical assignment)
  • Health insurance (and other professional liability insurance that you may need while doing your clinical assignment)
  • Transportation
  • Living expenses (including rent/mortgage, utilities, food, etc.)
  • Monthly debt payment (car, credit card, other school loans)
  • Child care
  • Miscellaneous (travel, entertainment, clothing)

Calculating all of your expenses including the ones not listed above pays off in the long-run. Not only will you be less stressed about financial issues while you attend school, you will have the needed resources to successfully complete your program.

Think of financial aid as a compilation of resources comprised of loans, grants, scholarships, savings, tax-credits, tuition-reimbursement, tuition remission, work, and charity. There are many sources of financial aid including both federal and state government, the school you are attending, civic groups, private institutions, charitable organizations, and private sources like family or personal resources through savings and work.

Second Step: Applying For Financial Aid – the FAFSA

Fortunately, to make the sometimes complex and daunting task of how to pay for nursing school, there is one, standard application that all colleges and universities use. The application is call the Free Application for Federal Student Aid for FAFSA. Most of the financial aid resources students know about are loan or grant based and both state and federal opportunities are consolidated when you complete the FAFSA and submit. This will take care of your federal and state need-based grants and loans, Federal college work-study, state merit scholarships, and institutional grants and scholarship programs.

While the FAFSA helps to streamline the financial aid application process, filling out the FAFSA will require preparation and planning. You will need financial information such as your most recent federal tax forms, W-2 forms and records of prior year earnings, records of non-taxed income, current bank statements and records of investments. When your FAFSA is processed and sent back to you, you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR). Among other information, the SAR will show your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Some private colleges also require that you submit a College Scholarship Service profile (CSS Profile) to apply for institutional scholarship funding. Check with your school to see if this is necessary.

When you are accepted to a college, they will use your FAFSA to determine both your Cost of Attendance and your Expected Family Contribution and they will come up with a financial aid package that may include grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study. Up to six colleges can be listed on your FAFSA application itself and information will automatically be sent to those six schools. If you are applying to more than six schools, you can add them later.

Do not wait until you are accepted into a program to begin thinking about financial aid and filling out your FAFSA. You might be too late and may miss out on financial aid opportunities. Submit your FAFSA anytime starting on January 1st through and June 30th of the year you are planning to attend school. But don't wait until the June 30th deadline as most schools determine their financial aid budgets before March for the September enrollment. Check the schools you are applying to for specific deadlines, but no matter what the official deadline is, it is always best to apply for financial aid as soon as possible so you can be eligible for every opportunity to help finance your education.

How to Pay for Nursing Schools: 11 Ways to Pay for Nursing School


Grants are based on demonstrated financial need along with satisfactory academic progress while you are a student. Sources for government grants include:


Scholarships are based on merit or academic excellence. Scholarships can come from the government, the school you attend, and private sources such as foundations, professional associations, civic organizations, and others. Scholarships are determined on merit or academic excellence. Scholarships are available from the government, the school you attend, and private sources such as foundations, professional associations, civic organizations, and others.

Student Loans

Student loans are available through the federal and state government, colleges, banks, and private lenders. Offered at a low interest rate, both the interest and principal must be repaid, usually beginning within a year of graduation and must be repaid within 10. Loan payments can be deferred for further schooling or in certain extraordinary circumstances. Common sources for student loans include:

  • Federal Perkins Loan
  • Federal Subsidized Stafford Loan
  • Federal Unsubsidized Stafford Loan
  • Federal Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students
  • TERI Alternative Loan (private aid)
  • Professional Education Plan (private aid)
  • Sallie Mae's Signature Student Loan (private aid)

Categorical Tuition Waivers

Tuition waivers are granted by some states and include people who fall into designated categories such as veterans, those who are 60 and older, Native Americans, and members of the National Guard. Sources for tuition waivers include:

  • Tuition Waiver/Cash Grant

Work-Study Programs

Usually located on campus, a student can earn a set amount of money in a work-study job. The work-study amount is determined based on financial need.

To find out more about any of the above resources, go to the Higher Education Information Center's website or call them at (617) 536-0200.

Nursing School Scholarships

The number one rule when it comes to winning a nursing scholarship, according to, “is to apply.” “Searching for scholarships and filling out applications is indeed time-consuming, but the hours invested can pay off in thousands of dollars.” There are many private scholarships available for nursing students.

How to Win Nursing Scholarships

You can find a list of more than 750 nursing scholarship at If you plan and organize your application process, you will be able to apply to many of the scholarships that you qualify and have a better chance of winning a scholarship to help pay for your nursing school. When it comes to applying for many scholarships, don't start from scratch every time you apply for a scholarship. Make your own scholarship packet that includes your current resume, essay template, and recommendations. Each nursing scholarship organization has their own criteria for awarding money. Most of them want to know how and why you are committed to the field of nursing. They want concrete examples of volunteer work, how you overcame personal challenges, experiences that have shaped your career goals, or situations where you demonstrated leadership or initiative. Other criteria might be based on your financial need, academic merit, community involvement, or social and organizational affiliation. When you know this information, it is easier to write one standard essay template, and then alter it depending upon the specific criteria wanted by the funding organization.

Tuition Reimbursement

This is one strategy to take a stepped approach toward your career in nursing. You can start out as a CNA and then work and study for your LPN or RN. Your employer may offer a tuition reimbursement program if your course of study is in a field related to your job. Generally, an employer will require you to pay for your tuition up front and then reimburse your tuition expenses once you have met or exceeded the employer set academic standards which are often a “C” or higher or a “pass” in a pass/fail grading system. Employers will also use work status such as full or part time, and length of service when offering tuition reimbursement as a benefit to their employees.

Tuition Remission

Tuition remission is an employer benefit where the employer pays for some of the cost of attending school as long as the employee meets the eligibility criteria. Unlike tuition reimbursement, many tuition remission policies pay for school cost up-front so that the employee does not accrue an out of pocket expense.

Tax Credits

The Lifetime Learning Tax Credit and the Hope Scholarship Tax Credit are the two most common tax credits for students. You cannot receive both tax credits at the same time for the same person.

The Lifetime Learning Tax Credit can be claimed for qualified tuition and school-related expenses for each student in the taxpayer's family. The maximum credit a taxpayer may claim is $2,000. In other words, the credit is equal to 20 percent of the taxpayer's first $10,000 out of pocket tuition and related expenses.

The Hope Scholarship Tax Credit can be claimed for qualified tuition and school-related expenses for each student in the tax payer's family. The student must be enrolled half-time and be in either the first or second years of a post-secondary education program that will lead to a degree or certificate. The maximum credit a taxpayer can claim is $1,500 for each student in the family.

Loan Default

A common barrier to receiving financial aid is a loan default. Unpaid federal loans will automatically disqualify you for additional aid in the future. Organizations such as American Student Assistance can help you clear your credit history. They staff a program called Bright Beginnings that will put you on a path of “loan rehabilitation.” The program requires realistic monthly payment plan by which you can begin to pay off your former loan. If you can consistently meet your former loan payments over a twelve month period in a “timely and consecutive” manner, you will be reinstated, your credit status will be changed, and you will be eligible to apply for more student loans. Contact the Payment Advisory Services Department ASA, 800-343-2120 at or check their website at for more details.

U.S. Citizenship and Financial Aid

You are considered eligible for financial aid if you are a US citizen or an eligible non-citizen. To be an eligible non-citizen, you must be a U.S. permanent resident and have an Alien Registration Receipt Card (I-551); be a conditional permanent resident (I-551C), or another eligible non-citizen with an Arrival-Departure Record (I-94) from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (UCIS). In the eligible non-citizen category, you must be able to prove one of the following designations:

  • Refugee
  • Asylum granted
  • Indefinite parole
  • Humanitarian parole
  • Cuban-Haitian entrant

The many financial aid options available to nurses can make you task of how to pay for nursing school much more affordable than you think. No matter what your personal situation, paying for an education with financial aid assistance is something you can do. The life time earning of nurse holding a bachelor of science in nursing compared to someone with a high school diploma or a GED is over one million dollars. While the cost of education seems expensive, it is even more expensive to ignore your career goal because of your current economic limitations.

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