First Things First: What is FAFSA?
The first step in receiving any sort of scholarship or financial aid for college is to complete the FAFSA. FAFSA, or free application for student aid, is a form that is filled out by every student wishing to be considered for college tuition. This is a federal form, and you only have to complete it once, unlike the past when you had to complete separate paperwork for each college you hoped to attend.
The FAFSA form will provide you with information that will determine the amount of money your family is expected to provide for your education. The difference between what your family is expected to pay and the amount of tuition at your chosen college can be covered by federally backed grants and loans. To reduce the amount that you are expected to pay further, you can apply for a variety of scholarships.
Academic Based or Need Based Scholarships
While there are a variety of scholarships available, they generally fall into two categories, academic based and need based. Academic based scholarships are determined on grades and test scores. Financial need is not a consideration. Competition for these awards is typically stiff, with many very strong candidates vying for the same scholarship. You may be required to submit an essay, or chronicle any previous volunteer work.
Need based scholarships are determined on the financial need of applicants. While grades are typically considered, the academic pressure is usually not as intense as with an academic based scholarship. Many scholarships are a combination of the two: needs based scholarships that require a high GPA, a concentration in certain subjects, community involvement, or specific career goals.
The Nursing Shortage
There is currently a nursing shortage, and the future outlook is that a shortage will remain through the immediate future. As our population lives longer and medical technology continues to grow, the need for nurses outstrips the rate in which they are completing school. This nursing shortage means that an industrious student is likely to earn enough scholarship money to pay his or her way through college and graduate debt free.
One program many hospitals have implemented is paying tuition for current nursing students. Of course, this does come with strings attached. Once the student graduates from nursing school, he or she is expected to work for the hospital for a prearranged period of time. If the nurse leaves before that time, he or she is responsible for paying back part or all of the tuition. This can be an excellent way for students who would otherwise not be able to afford college to earn a degree. Not only does the student graduate debt free, but they automatically have a job once they leave school. The years after nursing school can be spent gaining experience in a variety of hospital settings, and if they decide to move on once their obligation is fulfilled, they have a good idea of what field of nursing they are most interested in.
Financial Help for Graduate Degrees
The lack of nurses with graduate degrees indicates that it is possible for you to earn a Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Midwife, or Nurse Anesthetist degree without the burden of taking on a significant debt. Previously, it was often difficult to weigh the benefits of returning to graduate school against the problem of expensive graduate school credit hours. With many hospitals and clinics lowering costs by employing Nurse Practitioners in place of physicians, and Nurse Anesthetists to assist the Anesthesiologist, it is very likely that the medical group that you currently work for offers tuition reimbursement. If they do not, you should speak to your supervisor or human resources personnel. They may be willing to offer tuition reimbursement on a case by case basis. If your current employer does not offer tuition reimbursement, you may want to consider moving to a different employer. Many employers will offer full tuition reimbursement or even allow you to attend school full time, with the agreement that you will work for them for a specified time once you receive your graduate degree.
Increasing Your Likelihood of Receiving a Scholarship
Whether you are looking for a needs based scholarship for an undergraduate nursing degree, or are searching for a hospital financed scholarship offer to complete your graduate degree, there are several things that you can do to improve your chances of success.
Work in your field. It does not matter if it is paid employment or volunteer work, but working in the field you plan to earn a degree in shows the decision makers that you understand the work and are less likely to switch majors or drop out.
Watch your grades and your money. No matter if you are looking for a need based or academic based scholarship, keep your grades high, even in classes that you do not think matter, and watch your money. When you receive your scholarship money be sure to buy the books and study materials that you will need to succeed. If possible, hold some money back so that you can afford a tutor before exams if you find yourself struggling.