Health Tips

Funding an Advanced Nursing Degree: Everything You Need to Know

Are you a registered nurse currently thinking about pursuing graduate school to get your MSN or DNP? If you are like most graduate students in America, you might be in a situation where you need to think about your borrowing options for at least some of your tuition costs and other expenses. But for many students, the reality of this is that the student loan debt from attending graduate school combined with any current debt that they are repaying from getting their undergraduate degree can be overwhelming and intimidating. According to the New American Foundation, the average debt for graduate students is more than $57k, and one in four graduates owe more than $100k in student loan debt. 

Are Graduate Student Loans Worth It?

Is borrowing that much really worth it for your career? It’s a question that lots of prospective graduate students will have, and it’s easy to see why. Graduate students say that some of the most common issues that they face as a result of being in such a high level of student debt include an inability to earn a full paycheck until much later in life due to a percentage always going towards student debt repayment, difficulties managing and repaying both undergraduate and postgraduate student loan debt, and the fact that employer reimbursement is not always an option. Before deciding on graduate school, some students might opt to wait and save up to be able to pay some or all of the costs outright, which can delay starting your career, while others have to deal with a higher workload as they work full-time throughout graduate school to raise the funds and avoid borrowing. 

However, that being said, taking out a loan to go through graduate school and improve your nursing career with a program like the Marymount DNP is a sure way to help you get to where you want to be and reach your career goals. But it’s important to be realistic when it comes to how this might impact the other milestones and goals in your life, such as using a mortgage to buy your own home or contributing to your retirement savings. 

How Can Getting a Student Loan for Graduate School Benefit You?

While it’s important to be clear on the downsides you might face when borrowing money for graduate school with a student loan, it’s important to consider the advantages too. When you borrow carefully and use your graduate school loan to get into a career that’s going to significantly increase your earnings, it may pay for itself over time. The good news for registered nurses is that getting an advanced degree that is paid for with a loan is almost always a worthwhile investment. Getting your MSN or DNP will provide you with opportunities to work in many different advanced career roles including nurse practitioner, nurse educator, nurse executive and more. Professionals for these roles are currently in very high demand, with competitive salaries and bonuses. 

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Weighing up the pros and cons of getting a loan for graduate nursing school can help you get a clearer idea of why this is still one of the most popular options for advanced nursing students today. For most students, borrowing the money to pay is the only viable option that they have when it comes to meeting their nursing career goals with a graduate degree. 

How to Reduce the Amount of Money You Need

If you’re in a situation where the only way for you to get onto a graduate nursing program is to borrow money, the good news is that there are some options for reducing the amount of money that you need and ultimately reducing your level of student debt in the future. Choosing a flexible, online graduate nursing program might be an ideal option for you since these programs tend to be more cost-effective. While tuition fees are likely to be around the same compared to an on-campus program, you will pay less in other costs such as commuting, and the flexibility makes it easier for you to continue working while you are studying, allowing you to continue making money that you can use to put towards some of the costs rather than facing the need to borrow it all. 

How to Approach Getting a Graduate School Loan

It’s hard to deny that getting a graduate degree such as an MSN or DNP can significantly improve your nursing career outlook, providing you with a wider range of opportunities when it comes to working in advanced career roles in the healthcare sector and beyond. When thinking about getting a graduate school loan to get your advanced nursing degree, the mindset that you apply to the process can make all the difference. Think of it like you would when making any other large investment such as buying a property; while it’s often difficult to invest in something like this without borrowing money, it’s an investment that is worth making since it will pay off in the future. 

Spend some time finding a program that is likely going to help you get out of it as much as you are going to put in. Choose a graduate program that is tailored to the career that you want to get into as a nurse, offers excellent tuition and is from a credible, accredited college or nursing school, and tends to produce graduates that hit their career goals and find work in their chosen field afterwards. 

Student Loan Alternatives to Consider

While most students find that a student loan is the only sure option to consider when it comes to paying for graduate school, there are lots of different alternative options that are worth exploring before you decide on how you’re going to pay for the education you need to further your nursing career. 

Grants, Scholarships and Fellowship Programs

Fellowship programs, grants and scholarships are an option to consider that will provide you with money towards some or all of your advanced nursing program tuition fees that does not have to be repaid. You can find scholarships and grants that are available through various organizations, companies, states and colleges. You will usually be expected to proactively apply for any that you are interested in and eligible for, and most are either merit-based or need-based. 

Grants: A grant is similar to a scholarship in that they are not required to be repaid. However, they will usually come with strict terms that you remain in the program for its duration or maintain eligibility for the grant throughout your period of study, otherwise you may be asked to repay some or all of the grant. Before applying, it is a good idea to ensure that you are very familiar with the rules and eligibility criteria for the grant to avoid being caught out later. One of the main differences between scholarships and grants is that scholarships are typically merit-based, while grants tend to be provided based on need. 

Fellowships: Fellowships are typically a short-term opportunity for students to study or conduct research in their nursing field. They are usually awarded for students who demonstrate academic excellence, and will often include some type of service commitment such as an internship. You can find fellowships that cover the cost of your tuition fees along with some options that include funding for some or all of your living expenses. 

Where to Find Scholarships for Nursing Graduate School

While scholarships for graduate school do not tend to be as generous compared to those available for undergraduate students, they can still provide some extra funding for you that will add up and reduce the amount that you need to borrow in student loans. There are various ways to search for a graduate scholarship, including:

By School: Many nursing schools will offer scholarships that are paid from their own funds, designed to help students that need it most or to attract the students with the best academic performance to study there. It’s always worth starting out with having a conversation with your program leader about any scholarship opportunities that you may be able to apply for. 

By Demographic: There are various graduate scholarships that are available for certain populations, to encourage minorities and others to get into a certain field. For example, you may find scholarships that are designed to provide support to people with disabilities, African American women, care leavers, single moms, and other demographics. 

By Field: Nursing is a field where professionals are in very high demand, especially when it comes to advanced level nurses. Because of this, there are various scholarships on offer within the nursing field and healthcare industry to help more nurses get into advanced career paths. Consider looking for scholarships that are provided by healthcare companies and professional organizations. 

By Region: It is also worth looking out for scholarships that are offered by your state or region. National scholarships often get more attention and more applicants, so narrowing your search to scholarship options that are offered to students from your state or even your town can help you get in with a better chance of getting the funding it offers. 

Asking Your Employer to Pay for Your Graduate School Program

While student loans, grants, scholarships and fellowships might be the first option that you think of when it comes to getting funding for your advanced nursing degree, one option that you should never overlook is employer funding. Employers are increasingly more willing to help their trusted and dedicated employees improve their prospects with an advanced degree, especially since this is beneficial to both the employee and the employer themselves. By agreeing to fund an advanced degree program for an employee, the employer will automatically have access to a more highly-qualified and knowledgeable professional who already works for them. This is becoming more and more common within the nursing field, with advanced nurses in high demand and countless benefits for employers who help their employees achieve an advanced credential. 

How to Ask Your Employer for Funding

The Society for Human Resource Management found that over 50% of employers are now offering some kind of tuition assistance program, so there’s a high chance that your employer may already offer this, or be willing to do so when asked. Even if your employer does not offer a tuition assistance program, asking them could be a way to spark their interest in the topic and encourage them to consider the benefits of doing so. 

It’s best to communicate your request to your employer in writing. Send them a letter or email requesting to set up a meeting about your graduate school plans and outline anything that you might want to discuss during the meeting, including any options for tuition assistance. Communicate openly with both your employer and your line manager about your plans. 

Questions to Ask Your Employer Regarding Tuition Support

Bear in mind that when your employer agrees to cover the cost of your graduate school tuition, there will often be requirements that you will need to meet in order to get this benefit. Most employers are not going to provide tuition without asking for something in return since this would put them at risk of losing money that is invested in employee education for the employee to simply quit their job after graduating. Be sure to ask your employer about any requirements that you will need to meet, such as how long you may be required to continue as an employee of the company after you have graduated with your advanced degree, and if you will need to repay the funding to your employer if you decide to leave earlier. You should also find out more about how you will be reimbursed. Some employers will make direct payments to your college, while others require you to pay with a student loan or out of your own pocket first, before reimbursing you. 

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Getting an advanced nursing degree is the best way to take your career to the next level, but deciding how you are going to fund it can take some careful consideration. 

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