The Definitive Guide to Financial Aid for Healthcare Students
How to pay for their training is a concern for most prospective students who are considering a vocational career in healthcare such as medical assisting or nursing. The cost of financing postsecondary education can be significant and those enrolling on a medical assistant, Registered Nurse (RN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program will need to find the money to cover the costs of tuition, fees and books, as well as transport and accommodation. Medical assisting students can spend 2 years earning their degree and BSN students will need 4 years to complete their education. The cost of earning these credentials can be thousands of dollars.
Fortunately there is financial aid available to help students in all kinds of vocational healthcare programs, not just medical assisting and nursing. There are different types of financial aid, such as grants, loans and scholarships, and it is worth medical assistant, nursing and RN to BSN students taking the time to research the options open to them and finding out what assistance they qualify for.
Sources of Financial Aid
- Federal Aid
- Health Resources and Services Administration
- State Aid
- Educational Institutions
- Private Sources
- Professional Bodies
- Scholarship Websites
The federal government offers a range of student loans, grants and work-study programs for students that can demonstrate financial need and the application process is managed by the US Department of Education. Full details can be obtained from the Office of Federal Student Aid.
The first step to applying for any kind of financial aid, be it a grant, loan or work-study program, is to complete and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the information from which is used to determine a student’s financial need and eligibility for assistance.The deadline for submitting the FAFSA is between January 1 and June 30. The form can be completed in around 30 minutes and applicants will need to have certain information on hand, such as their Social Security number and bank statements. Once a student has completed the FAFSA they will get their own Student Aid Report (SAR), which will include their Expected Family Contribution (EFC) that is used to assess eligibility for federal financial aid.
Health Resources and Services Administration
The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, offers a number of financial aid programs, such as loans and scholarships, designed to encourage healthcare professionals to work in underserved areas where there is a shortage of health professionals. Currently some of these programs are open to nursing students but not medical assisting students, and the assistance is dependent on the recipient committing to working in a particular place for a specified length of time.
Every state has its own department of education that is in charge of financial aid in its state and can provide students with information on financial aid available from its member colleges. Prospective students should contact the financial aid office at their chosen school for information on state-sponsored financial aid or visit the U.S. Department of Education.
Many colleges and universities offer their own scholarship programs, which are financed by non-profit foundations, community members, faculty or alumni. Scholarships awarded by schools typically are used to pay towards the cost of tuition, fees and books. Each school will have its own eligibility criteria and application process. Students should contact their school’s office of financial aid to find out about scholarship opportunities that may be available to them.
A number of private organizations offer scholarships for medical assisting and other vocational students, such as businesses, civic groups and non-profit organizations. Some also provide grants and loans. Students should be careful to check the terms and conditions before applying for a private loan or grant that isn’t backed by the federal government.
Professional organizations can help healthcare students find sources of financial aid, such as grants and scholarships.
National organizations for medical assistants include the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) and American Medical Technologists . There are state societies of the AAMA in many states as well as local AAMA chapters in many areas that can offer useful advice.
For nursing students the National Student Nurses Association, the American Nurses Association (ANA) and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) are some of the national organizations dedicated to nursing that can give advice to their members on financial aid.
There are a number of websites that list all kinds of scholarships, so it is worth medical assistant and nursing students searching online to find scholarship opportunities relevant to their niche. While searching for a nursing or medical assistant specific scholarship may narrow the options significantly, students should bear in mind that there are likely to be many more general scholarships that they can apply for. We offer a $500 healthcare scholarship which runs twice a year in December and June.
Types of Financial Aid
The difference between a grant and a loan is that grant does not have to be repaid and is effectively free money. Grants are awarded according to an individual’s financial circumstances, so different students will receive different amounts based on their particular needs. Federal and state grants are available, as well as grants offered by educational institutions, private organizations and non-profits.
The terms of grants will vary with some covering one year of study and others longer. Some require students to work in a certain area or facility after graduation.
The main federal grants for medical assisting students are:
- The Pell Grant
- The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant
The Pell Grant is a grant for low-income students who haven’t completed a degree and who are enrolled in a program at a participating school. Pell Grants are based on financial need and things such as the cost of the program and how much a student’s family can contribute are taken into consideration.
The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) is designed for students with exceptional financial need. It is only available from participating schools and is administered by the financial office of a school. The FSEOG is based on financial need as well as the availability of funds at the school. This is a campus-based grant that differs from the Pell Grant in that the Pell Grant is awarded to all eligible students and the FSEOG is awarded on a first come, first served basis. Once a school has awarded its full amount of FSEOG funds for the year there are no more funds available to award grants that year. Students will need to check the deadline for applications at their school and apply as early as possible.
Unlike grants, loans are not free and they have to be paid back with interest. Federal student loans have a fixed interest rate, unlike loans from other sources such as banks, credit bureaus or private organizations that are likely to have a variable interest rate. Loans are more widely available than grants and there are two federal loan programs:
- The William D. Ford Direct Loan Program
- The Federal Perkins Loan Program
The William D. Ford Direct Loan Program has three types of direct loan: Subsidized; Unsubsidized, PLUS; and Consolidation loans. Students can borrow between $5,500 and $12,500 per year in direct loans.
The Federal Perkins Loan Program is available to students with financial need and the loan is borrowed from the school. The maximum loan available under this program is $5,500 per year. Students who are enrolled at or have been accepted on an accredited medical assisting or nursing program are likely to qualify for one or more federal student loans.
Nurses and medical assistants who receive a federal student loan may qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF), which means that they get forgiveness on their outstanding student loan debts after 10 years. To qualify for PSLF medical assistants and nurses must have been employed full time (30 hours per week) for those 10 years in the public service or public health sector and have made 120 qualifying payments towards their loan.
The HRSA (Health Resources and Services Administration) also runs a couple of loan programs that nursing students may be eligible for:
- The NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program
- The Nursing Student Loan Program
The NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program aims to get more registered nurses working in Critical Shortage Facilities (CSF) in poor communities where there is a shortage of healthcare staff. Participants can have 60 percent of their unpaid student loans paid off in 2 years, with the option to have 25 percent of the original loan repaid in the third year. In exchange, NURSE Corps nursing students are contractually obliged to work for 2 years at a specified CSF.
The Nursing Student Loan Program is available only at participating schools and it is the schools who select which students qualify for a loan and the amount each student receives. Eligible student must be able to demonstrate a financial need and be studying for a nursing diploma, associate, baccalaureate or graduate degree.
Scholarships do not have to be repaid, but can be harder to obtain that grants and loans. The amount awarded depends on the specific scholarship program and can vary greatly from a few hundred dollars to the full cost of tuition. Scholarships are offered by many different sources, including educational institutions, employers, commercial organizations, community or religious groups, state and local governments.
The criteria for being awarded a scholarship vary according to the individual scholarship terms, and may be based on financial need or merit. Often the application process requires students to write an essay on a specified topic. The eligibility criteria of scholarships vary. For example, some are only available to a particular demographic.
Students can begin looking for scholarships at high school as many can be applied for before or during senior year. Prospective students should contact the school running their program for advice on any scholarships they know about. Professional organizations for nurses and medical assistants may also be able to help students find scholarship programs.
Nursing scholarships are sometimes conditional on students committing to working for a particular healthcare facility for a specified time period after graduation. For example, the US Department of Health and Human Services runs the NURSE Corps Scholarship Program where in exchange for receiving funding to pay their tuition and fee costs, students are obligated to work for 2 years after graduation at a facility in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA).
The HRSA (Health Resources and Services Administration) also runs a program offering Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students. These scholarships are awarded by participating schools to students from disadvantaged backgrounds that have a financial need and are enrolled in a full time nursing or other health profession program.
Federal Work-Study Program
The Federal Work-Study Program is offered only by participating schools and is not available from all schools. The Federal Work-Study Program helps students with financial need find part time jobs to enable them to earn money to help pay for their education. The part time jobs provided relate to the program the student is studying.
Part time and full time students can participate in the Federal Work-Study Program. How much aid is awarded under the Federal Work-Study Program depends on an individual’s financial circumstances as well as how much is available from the school.
A career in healthcare can be really rewarding and students shouldn’t be deterred from pursuing a career in medical assisting or nursing just because of a lack of funds to pay for their education. Yes it can be expensive to complete a training program, but financial aid is available to those who know where to look. Students should explore all the options available to them for grants and loans, and take the time to apply for additional help from scholarships. Below are links to useful resources for healthcare students.
Federal Financial Aid
- Office of Federal Student Aid
- Pell Grant
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)
- William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program
- Federal Perkins Loan Program
- Federal Work-Study Program
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF)
- Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)
- U.S. Department of Education
State Financial Aid
- American Association of Medical Assistants
- American Medical Technologists
- American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants
- American Registry of Medical Assistants
- National Association for Health Professionals
- National Student Nurses Association (NSNA)
- American Nurses Association (ANA)
- American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP)