How I Paid for Nursing School With Free Money

Paying for nursing school wasn’t easy for me. I did not have parents paying for my tuition and I knew I’d be on my own to repay any loans I accepted to finance my education. Still, I knew I had to find a way. I am a single mother, and when I started school, I was struggling to make ends meet with two kids under the age of three in a tiny two bedroom apartment in town. Getting through nursing school was going to be my way out! For me, nursing school wasn’t just a goal; my future and that of my kids depended on it! Determined to keep my loans to a minimum, I chose NHTI in Concord, NH, a school with a stellar reputation that would grant me an Associate’s degree in Nursing in two years and for a fraction of the cost of some of the bigger schools in my state. I also set about finding scholarship opportunities and making sure that I was a great applicant for them.

How to be “scholarship material”

In another post, I wrote about some of the specific things you can do, even as a nursing student, to gain experience and patient contact. These don’t have to be time-intensive, but they will impress scholarship committees by demonstrating how involved you are, not only at school, but in your community. I also recommend getting involved in your National Student Nurses’ Association chapter and Sigma Theta Tau (or the honor society at your school), and to take a leadership role. This isn’t as scary as it might sound. I was President of our NSNA chapter, and not only was it fun to meet people and get involved in community service, but my kids loved seeing what “mama” was up to when I brought them along to events.

How to find free money!

There are some well-known websites that help students find scholarships, and some are for nursing students in particular. You can also find scholarships for students in minority groups, for those with disabilities, or even with specific life experiences. Get creative in your searches!
  • Discover Nursing

    (from Johnson & Johnson) allows you to search through 370 nursing scholarships (as of June 2015)
  • The NURSE Corps Scholarship Program

    provides nursing students with financial support (books, tuition, and a living stipend) in exchange for a commitment to serve at least two-years in a qualifying NURSE Corps Critical Shortage Facility - a health care facility located in, designated as, or serving a primary medical care or mental health Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA).
  • Your school’s financial aid office.

    Don’t discount local scholarships! This was actually where I made most of my money for college. Everyone applies for the more well-known scholarships, but there is often less competition for those grants awarded only to people in your community. These are usually posted in the financial aid office, but ask inside as well. They often have blank copies of the application available.

    . I can’t write this post and not mention the office of Federal Student Aid, which provides grants, loans, and work-study funds for college students. While their loans have to be repaid, the PELL Grants do not, so always apply!

How to “hack” scholarship applications

  • Scholarship application season is usually spring, though deadlines do vary. Spend some time going through each resource and put the deadline for every application on your calendar. If you use Google Calendar or something similar, you can even set a reminder for 30-60 days before the deadline to get your ducks in a row: get the required letters and write that essay!
  • Get ready to spend your spring break writing essays and collecting letters of recommendation. With all your contacts from the NSNA and your volunteer efforts from the earlier post you’ll have plenty of those!
  • Always save your essays, because they can often be edited or rewritten for another application,. Don’t reinvent the wheel for every application!
  • Submit every application on time with all the supporting documents and reapply every year. Many scholarship committees give preference to previous recipients!

Go get that money!

Carolyn Mallon, RN