Ways to Pay for Nursing School

By Melissa Brock · June 03, 2024 · 10 minute read

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Ways to Pay for Nursing School

Nurses are in demand. From 2022-2032, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts an average of 177,400 openings for registered nurses. Many of those openings come about due to nurses who switch occupations or exit the labor force, including those who retire.

Because nurses are in demand, you may want to attend nursing school. Let’s walk through 10 ways to help you figure out how to pay for nursing school.

1. Start With the FAFSA

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) is a federal form that students can fill out every year that gives you access to federal and institutional aid to pay for college. Your college or educational institution will use the FAFSA to determine your eligibility for federal grants, work-study, and federal loans to attend college or career school. There is no cost associated with the FAFSA.

You can file the FAFSA starting on October 1 for the subsequent academic year that you plan to attend college. For example, if you plan to attend nursing school in the fall of 2024, you can file the FAFSA starting on October 1 in the fall of 2023.

You’ll need a FSA ID, a username, and a password that confirms your identity when you’re looking at or signing official financial aid documents. You’ll need two separate FSA IDs — one for you and one for your parents, if you’re a dependent student.

You can list up to 10 colleges and universities on the FAFSA using the Federal School Code search to identify each of the schools where you’d like it sent.

The FAFSA’s data retrieval tool (IRS DRT) takes most of the work out of filing the FAFSA. It pulls information directly from the IRS. After you follow the FAFSA directions, you sign with your FSA ID.

2. Nursing School Scholarships

Some colleges may offer scholarships specific to nursing students. You can also look beyond your nursing major. Do you have talents in art, music, or leadership that could qualify you for a merit-based scholarship? (Merit-based scholarships are those that are not based on financial need.) Ask the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend for more information about merit-based scholarships.

You can also take to the web to look for more scholarships. Here are a few examples:

•  The Healthline Stronger Scholarship awards four $5,000 scholarships to students who, based on their education, extracurricular activities, and career goals, are focused on both health and climate change.

•  The National Black Nurses Association, Inc (NBNA) offers several scholarships each year ranging from $1,000 to $15,000. To apply, you must be a member of the NBNA, currently enrolled in a nursing program and in good scholastic standing at the time of application with at least one full year of school remaining.

•  The FNSNA Undergraduate Scholarship awards scholarship funds based on a set of criteria established by the sponsor of the scholarship, which often outline a specific area of specialization within the nursing profession. Successful candidates can earn up to $10,000 per academic year.

In addition to looking into what your college or university can offer and searching online, take a look at local connections for specific educational or vocational programs in a particular field, such as nursing scholarships through local hospitals and privately owned doctor’s offices.

You can also look into community groups like 4-H, Kiwanis Club, and other organizations for available scholarships. Many foundations, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, also offer scholarships.

Recommended: Scholarship Search Tool

3. Grants for Nursing School

Grants are primarily need-based awards, though some grants are awarded based on merit. Like scholarships, grants do not need to be repaid once you complete your program. Filling the FAFSA will give you access to grants through programs like the Federal Pell Grant. The FAFSA automatically considers your eligibility for federal grants based on need.

You may also become eligible for state grants based on the grants available to you in your state.

Recommended: Grants For College – Find Free Money for Students

4. Federal Student Loans

Unlike scholarships and grants, you must pay back college loans. As a nursing student, you may tap into several types of federal student loans or private loans — both graduate or undergraduate loans.

Federal student loans are given to nursing students through the Department of Education, which, as mentioned, means that you must file the FAFSA in order to receive them.

Federal student loans offer flexibility in that you do not need to undergo a credit check, with the exception of the Direct PLUS Loan, which does require a credit check. Federal student loans also offer low-interest rates, various repayment plans, and forgiveness options. You could also use federal student loans to cover living expenses. For example, if you need to pay rent for an apartment while you’re attending nursing school, a federal student loan can help cover those expenses.

Types of Federal Loans

There are three main types of federal student loans: Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Direct PLUS Loans.

Direct Subsidized Loans

Direct Subsidized Loans are low, fixed-rate federal loans for eligible undergraduate students to help cover the costs of college or career school. The government pays the interest while you are in school or during qualifying periods of deferment. Subsidized loans are awarded based on financial need.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans

Direct Unsubsidized Loans have a low, fixed interest rate and flexible repayment terms. Undergraduate, graduate, and professional students can qualify for these loans. In contrast to the Direct Subsidized Loan, the government does not pay the interest while you’re in school. Students do not need to demonstrate financial need in order to qualify for an unsubsidized loan.

Direct PLUS Loans

Direct PLUS Loans are another option available to graduate or professional students and parents of undergraduate students. Unlike other federal loans, PLUS loans do require a credit check. Borrowers are able to borrow up to the full cost of attendance.

Student Loan Forgiveness for Nurses

Student loan forgiveness for nurses means you don’t have to pay for your federal student loans in full. The federal government runs a few loan forgiveness programs that generally offer loan forgiveness after borrowers have fulfilled certain requirements. For example, the Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program pays up to 85% of unpaid nursing education debt for registered nurses (RNs), nurse practitioners, and nurse faculty members. You must qualify by working in a critical shortage facility or an eligible nursing school as a nurse faculty member.

Student Loan Payment Deferrals

Federal student loans do not have to be repaid until October 1, 2022, at the earliest. In March 2020, Congress passed a bill that automatically suspended student loan payments and waived interest. The benefit was originally set to expire but has been reinstituted several times.

Current nursing students who will graduate soon will not have to make student loan payments. Depending on what the federal government does next, they may also experience another extension.

5. Private Student Loans

Private student loans come from a local bank, credit union, or another type of private student loan lender, not the federal government. Like a federal student loan, you can use private student loans to cover living expenses, tuition, and other related school costs.

Lenders evaluate an applicant’s credit history, among other factors. Students who do not have a strong credit history or score may need to add a cosigner in order to qualify or potentially qualify for a lower interest rate. If you can’t pay back the loan, your co-signer is on the hook for paying back the loan.

Private Student Loans vs Federal Student Loans

As you likely know, there are some differences between private and federal student loans, which leads many financial experts to suggest taking out federal student loans over private student loans. Here are some features of private student loans that make them less advantageous over federal student loans:

•  May need a cosigner: Private student loans often require you to have a cosigner. However, if you make a certain number of on-time payments, you can apply to have your cosigner removed from the loan.

•  No federal protections: You can’t tap into income-driven repayment programs, loan forgiveness, and deferment protections with private student loans like you can with federal student loans.

Due to these differences, private student loans are typically considered an option only after all other funding sources have been depleted.

6. Tuition Reimbursement Programs

Through a tuition reimbursement program, a company covers some or all of the costs of an employee’s education as long as you follow the company’s tuition reimbursement requirements. This is a major benefit because you can work at another company, possibly through a part-time job.

7. Hospitals/Employers That Pay for Nursing School

Another option may be to work at a hospital or other health care employer through a tuition reimbursement program. For example, you could get a job in the billing office of the hospital and go to nursing school during your off hours, or you may be able to work with your employer to put together the best schedule for both of your needs.

Hospitals and health care employers want to retain good workers, particularly in nursing, which has such a shortage of employees.

Learn more about the health care employer’s requirements for tuition reimbursement, including the amount they will reimburse. Note that it may not equal 100% — it might be 75% or 50% instead.

8. Getting a Nursing Degree Abroad

Completing a nursing degree abroad can take about two to three years. However, you can find short-term study abroad programs (a fall semester, summer, or a few weeks between terms) in many different countries.

You can often find free programs, scholarships, or grants that will help cover the cost of your study abroad program — some countries offer various options for students. Consider looking into countries that have reputable health care programs, such as Denmark, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, or Sweden.

9. Military Service

You may have a large range of education benefits if you complete military service. For example, you can access the Post-9/11 GI Bill if you served at least 90 days on active duty (either all at once or with breaks in service) on or after September 11, 2001, or received a Purple Heart on or after September 11, 2001 and were honorably discharged (after any amount of time), or served for at least 30 continuous days (all at once, without a break in service) on or after September 11, 2001, and were honorably discharged with a service-connected disability, or are a dependent child using benefits transferred by a qualifying veteran or service member.

Follow the rules regarding military service requirements, depending on your branch of the military. The college and university you plan to attend will have more information about your education benefits and so will your military branch.

10. Nurse Corps Program

The Nurse Corps Program is a scholarship available to eligible nursing students. In exchange for the scholarships, recipients work in critical shortage areas after graduating with their nursing credentials.

Deciding Which Route to Pursue

When you need help paying for nursing school, which option makes sense for you? Your preferences might offer you the most insight into the best option to pay for school. For example, it might make sense to avoid the military programs offered because you have no interest in joining the military. You may also not have the resources to study overseas or have a family who depends on you for financial support. Your goal may also be to learn how to pay for nursing school without loans.

Whatever your goals, one thing you can do is to meet with the financial aid office of the school you plan to attend. A financial aid professional can lay out all your options and help you choose the right option for you.

Private Student Loans From SoFi

When you’re readying yourself for nursing school, it’s good to have options. Options for paying for nursing school include scholarships, grants, federal student loans, and private student loans.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.


Can FAFSA be used for nursing school financial aid?

Yes, you can use the FAFSA in order to qualify for financial aid for nursing school. The amount of financial aid you receive depends on your level of need, year in school, dependency status, and other factors. For example, you can access Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans between $5,500 to $12,500 per year in undergraduate. In graduate or professional school, you can borrow up to $20,500 each year in Direct Unsubsidized Loans.

Can an employer pay for you to attend nursing school?

Yes, an employer may pay for you to attend nursing school. Your current employer may help you pay for nursing school. Talk to the human resources office to learn more about tuition assistance, the amount you can receive for attendance, and the details about your employer’s tuition reimbursement regulations.

If you aren’t currently aware of jobs that pay for nursing school, you may want to contact the college or university you plan to attend and learn more about your employment options, including work-study opportunities.

Can you use private student loans for nursing school?

You can access private student loans to pay for nursing school. SoFi can offer private loans that cover nursing school and even living expenses. Learn more about your private student loan options with SoFi.

Photo credit: iStock/FatCamera

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