The moment you decide to make a change and pursue a better career is empowering. You take your future into your own hands and make a choice that you hope will improve your life and the lives of your loved ones. Choosing to become a nurse is a big deal. Naturally, you want to make sure you’ve considered every angle possible. Likely one of the biggest considerations on your mind is how to pay for nursing school.
There are many types of nursing programs out there, with different delivery models, approaches and operating styles. But they all have one thing in common—tuition. While there’s certainly a range in how much nursing schools cost, depending on the institution, prospective nursing students everywhere should consider a few things before enrolling in their program of choice. If you’re worried about the cost of nursing school and how you’ll manage the expense, it’s worth taking the time to review your options for potentially keeping expenses down.
To help facilitate that, we asked nurses how they handled paying for nursing school. Let their advice lead you in a good direction.
Paying for nursing school: Options and advice to consider
1. Consider working for your school
If your university has student jobs, they can be very compatible with your school schedule and a great way to support yourself while gaining extra training.
“The most important thing I did to lower the financial impact of my nursing school program was to work for the university,” says Karin Ashley, NP. Ashley applied for positions that would pay a portion of the tuition and found that these work arrangements were also beneficial to her overall studies and future nursing career.
“Opportunities to work in the university system have double the benefits,” Ashley says. “You are able to get out of school with less debt, you get experience in your field and gain valuable references.” Ashley also emphasizes the value of expanding your experience and network through a job. Her experience working in a medical clinic during her program helped her decide which type of facility she wanted to work in and the specialties she liked. “And I gained connections for the job hunt when I graduated.”
2. Get serious about scholarship applications
“There are many financial aid opportunities, but you have to seek them out,” says Lisa Nicholas, MSN-RN and clinical instructor at UNLV Nursing.
Many of these scholarship or grant applications take time. You need to do some research to find them, then you have to fill out the applications and sometimes ask for letters of recommendation, all of which can feel like extra work for an unsure payoff. But Nicholas says the chance of winning some financial assistance is worth it.
When seeking out nursing scholarships, it can help to explore some of the niche options offered by specialty nursing organizations, according to Alice Benjamin, family nurse practitioner and chief nursing officer for Nurse.org. Benjamin explains many people don’t ever think to apply to these highly specific scholarship options—and that can be to your benefit, as a smaller application pool will likely help your odds.
3. Don’t wait to make payments if feasible
It’s incredibly easy to think of student loan payments as a problem to solve later when you’re a student. But depending on your situation and the type of loan you’re taking on, you may be adding some unnecessary overall cost by not chipping away what you can while still enrolled. Private and unsubsidized federal loans will begin to accumulate interest while you’re in school—and even a small monthly payment can result in substantial savings.
Benjamin says she wished she would have started paying back her unsubsidized loans while still in nursing school. “That would have really knocked down a lot of the interest that accumulated.”
“I would recommend paying as much as possible on a monthly basis,” Ashley says. “Paying even small amounts on the principal loan amount will make a huge difference in interest over the life of the loan.”
Your comfort level with this advice may vary. If you feel like you have enough of a financial cushion to safely chip away and help keep interest accruals from snowballing, then this is a move you’ll thank yourself for later.
4. Look into employer tuition assistance
In today’s competitive healthcare market, many employers offer tuition reimbursement or assistance programs and scholarships as a recruitment tactic, Benjamin says. These programs help employees afford additional training and education and are used as an incentive to help bolster the company’s workforce.
The details of these programs will vary depending on your employer—some prefer or require employees to enroll in programs directly related to their current role, while others are less restrictive. Before enrolling, you’ll want to do your research regarding employer restrictions or eligibility requirements.
“The downside is that much of that information is written in fine print somewhere and not well advertised,” Benjamin says. She recommends talking to someone from your organization’s human resources department or with a union representative to learn more about what options may be available. “Do so well in advance because there will be deadlines and requirements that need to be met in order to participate in these programs,” Benjamin says.
5. Contact your school’s financial aid office
Once you’ve chosen a nursing program, your university’s financial aid office can really assist with locating opportunities for qualified students to keep costs down. Nicholas suggests connecting with a member of the financial aid office to ask questions about scholarships, tuition assistance, loans, grants and anything else you may qualify for.