A nursing education can be extremely expensive, and two-year programs don’t qualify graduates to obtain positions good enough to offer both upward career mobility and competitive wages. Whether you’re contemplating nursing school as a high school student or you’re an older adult returning to school, the expense of nursing school can be formidable. Fortunately, financial aid can help mitigate some or all of the costs ‒ but are you eligible? Contrary to popular belief, almost everyone is eligible for some type of financial assistance to cover continuing education expenses. Here’s what you need to know about financial aid eligibility.
The Basic Requirements
You must meet a number of basic requirements to qualify for financial aid, including the following criteria:
Citizen of the U.S. (or an Eligible Non-Citizen)
To qualify for government aid for continuing education, you must be a citizen of the United States. If you’re not a citizen, you still may be able to receive assistance if you are an eligible non-citizen, which means you are a permanent resident alien or have a green card. Other immigration statuses may also be eligible.
Valid Social Security Number
If you don’t have a copy of your social security card, now is the time to apply ‒ a valid social security number is required to qualify for financial aid. However, this requirement does not apply to residents of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, or the Republic of Palau.
High School Graduate (or Have a GED)
You cannot be approved for financial aid until you have graduated from high school or have received your General Equivalency Diploma (GED). Homeschoolers can apply for financial aid with a homeschool transcript that shows completion of a qualified high school education. If you were enrolled in college or a career college before July 1, 2012, you also may be eligible.
Enrollment in a Satisfactory Career Program
You must be enrolled in a degree- or certificate-seeking program or hold a certificate as a regular student. Most traditional nursing programs qualify.
Good Standing on Any Previous Federal Student Loans or Grants
To receive new financial aid, you must not owe anything on a previous federal student grant, nor can you be in default on any federal student loans. If you are, you must pay back the grant or get back on track with your student loan payments to become eligible for financial aid.
Register for Selective Service if You Are Male
If you are a male between the ages of 18 to 25, you must register with the U.S. Selective Service to qualify for federally funded financial aid. If you are currently in active duty in any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, you are exempt from this requirement. You also are exempt if you are a student from the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, or the Republic of Palau.
Must Not Have Certain Criminal Convictions
Students who have been convicted of the illegal possession or sale of drugs while receiving federal student aid will have to complete a separate worksheet (the Student Aid Eligibility Worksheet) to determine full or partial eligibility. Additionally, individuals who are currently incarcerated or subject to involuntary civil commitments after being convicted and incarcerated for a sexual offense also may have limited eligibility. A criminal conviction does not automatically render someone ineligible for financial aid; however, the application process may be more involved, and the individual may only be considered partially eligible for funding.
Not Already Have a Degree
If you previously have earned a professional or a bachelor’s degree, you are unlikely to be considered eligible for a Pell Grant or the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant.
Can I Get Financial Aid if I Have an Intellectual Disability?
An intellectual disability may make it more difficult to complete a nursing degree program, but it won’t automatically disqualify you from being eligible for federal financial aid. In some cases, individuals with an intellectual disability may be considered eligible for Federal Work-Study programs, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, and/or the Pell Grant.
How to Stay Eligible
Once you are considered eligible and have received federal aid, you must remain in good academic standing to continue receiving aid. With the demands of nursing school, this can prove challenging, but losing eligibility can make getting your degree even more difficult. To stay eligible for your grants, you must maintain satisfactory progress in your chosen academic program, avoid getting into legal trouble or defaulting on your student loans and remember to complete your FAFSA form every year.
How to Regain Eligibility if You’ve Lost It
If you’ve lost eligibility for financial aid while going to nursing school, you’re not alone. However, you must regain your eligibility as soon as possible to continue receiving aid. If you’ve lost eligibility as a result of defaulting on a student loan, you may be able to regain it by simply getting back on track with your loan payments. If you’ve lost your eligibility because of a drug offense, regaining your aid may be more difficult. Start by filling out the Student Aid Eligibility Worksheet; depending on your circumstances, you may still have full or partial eligibility.
How to Apply for Financial Aid for Nursing School
If you meet all the requirements necessary to receive financial aid for nursing school, it’s time to apply. The application process may seem daunting; however, it’s well worth the payoff if you are awarded enough federal funding to make receiving your degree a reality. The first step is to complete the FAFSA form, and you must continue to submit it every year to renew your federal aid.
Before starting the application process, make sure you have everything you need, including your parents’ most recent tax return (or your own return if you are an adult returning to nursing school); your social security number or Alien Registration Number if you’re not a U.S. citizen; other financial records, such as bank statements and records of investments; and an FSA ID so you can sign your form electronically.
Going through the process of determining eligibility for nursing school financial aid and applying for it isn’t always an easy task ‒ it takes both time and effort. And it’s so time-consuming that many students must pause the process and return to it a few times before they’re ready to submit. But the time you invest into applying for federal financial aid and continuing your education is well worth it, especially if it enables you to pursue a rewarding career as a nurse. Consider this a small but necessary stepping stone that allows you to support yourself and your family while helping others.