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Like most health care professionals, the demand for new nurses is very high and expected to skyrocket over the next couple of decades. While this may be bad news for hospitals trying to hire nurses, it’s great for individuals who are considering or attending nursing school. Learn how to use this to your advantage by getting nursing school paid for by grants, current or future employers, and other sources of financial aid.

Paying for Nursing School with Grants and Typical Financial Aid

One of the first steps you should take when you’re accepted to a nursing school (if not before) is the same as all college students seeking financial aid for college in the United States: fill out the FAFSA. The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and it will tell you how much money the government will expect you and your family to contribute to the cost of your education. The numbers from this form will be used to determine how much – if any – financial aid you will be offered in the form of grants and loans from federal and state governments. This is just a starting point in getting nursing school paid for, so don’t panic yet if you can’t cover the remaining expenses.

Again, because nurses are in such high demand, there are a variety of additional sources of financial aid grants and scholarships that you can apply for to attend nursing school for free. These grants may come from the government, private health care agencies, service organizations, individuals, or your college. Make an appointment with a financial aid adviser at your school, and they should be able to point you toward many opportunities. However, financial aid advisers don’t know everything and yours may not be an expert on nursing school, so it’s also a good idea to search on your own. One of these opportunities is the Nurse Reinvestment Act, which grants loan repayment to nurses who agree to work in shortage areas. The Bureau of Health Professions website is a good place to start looking for additional financial aid options.

Getting an Employer to Pay for Nursing School

Another source of financial aid is to work for an employer that offers tuition assistance. Regardless of where you’re going to school, hospitals will often hire nursing students as CNA’s after they’ve gotten far enough in school to be certified as one–typically by the end of the first semester. They will then hire a nursing student as an LPN after additional courses have been completed, usually a year in Associates Degree programs. Most hospitals offer tuition assistance (and they are especially eager to pay for nursing school), as long as you work a certain number of hours per week and agree to work for them for a set amount of time after you graduate. Not only can you receive a significant amount of financial aid this way, but you will be gaining valuable experience and earning money at the same time.

Before you even start nursing school, there are a lot of related jobs you can get. Some hospitals will train you for a few weeks to be a “tech” or “personal care associate” or some other similar name that is actually the same job as a CNA–they just change the job title so you don’t have to be technically certified. Or, they may have a short CNA course for you. You could also train to be an EMT, which only takes a couple of months, and do that while attending nursing school. As an EMT, you may be able to get nursing school paid for and make decent money at the same time.

Contact hospitals near where you want to attend nursing school or check out their websites, as policies differ. Don’t be shy about asking what they have to offer nursing students in terms of employment and tuition assistance. And always mention your achievements thus far, such as published essays and research papers. Remember, there is a nursing shortage in 95% of the United States they will be eager to have you there. It is important to note that there are a few small areas of the country that are dense with nursing schools and thus have an abundance of nurses. You may not be able to get quite as much assistance or financial aid while in nursing school in these locations.

Getting Nursing School Paid For After Graduation

In some circumstances, students may wish to “float” their nursing school expenses with loans while they’re in college, then try to get an employer to pay off those loans after they graduate. Many hospitals and other large employers now offer sign-on bonuses for new nurses who haven’t worked for them before. These sign-on bonuses vary widely by location but can easily be thousands of dollars; depending upon how much you took out in student loans, that alone could pay off your nursing school debt. Be aware that bonuses are taxed at a higher rate than regular wages, so you shouldn’t expect to receive the full dollar amount you’re promised. Aside from sign-on bonuses, some hospitals will agree to pay off a nursing degree you’ve already received if you promise to work for them for a certain amount of time (typically two years). If you quit your job before that time is up, you will be responsible for paying back the employer.