Financial Aid Overview and Scholarships

Pursuing an RN to BSN degree is an exciting step toward a lucrative and fulfilling career. Earning a degree can be expensive, however, and understanding how to finance a degree without going into debt is essential. Exploring the types of financial aid available, including grants, scholarships, and loans, may help relieve students of some of the cost of their degree programs. Students should also consider the balance of schoolwork alongside existing professional commitments.

This guide will provide you with some basic information about the financial aid options for students in RN to BSN programs, including the different types of aid you may qualify for, as well as loan repayment plans and opportunities for debt forgiveness. Several scholarships for students in RN to BSN degree programs are also listed. Read on to learn about paying for your RN to BSN degree.

Paying for Your RN to BSN Degree With Financial Aid


The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an online form students fill out and submit each year for federal financial aid. The FAFSA becomes available on October 1 every year for the upcoming academic year. Federal financial aid is available to all U.S. citizens or eligible noncitizens who have financial need and enrolled in a certificate or degree program in the U.S..

The FAFSA application determines how much and what types of federal aid you may accept. Many states and schools also use the information on your FAFSA to decide if you are eligible for financial aid from states and schools. Some private financial aid organizations may also consult your FAFSA before they award aid to you as a student.

To fill out the FAFSA, you will need your Social Security number, as well as your parents’ Social Security numbers if you live with them. An Alien Registration number is required if you are not a U.S. citizen. A valid driver’s license number may also be needed. The FAFSA also requests information located on your federal tax returns, as well as untaxed income belonging to you and your parents (if you are a dependent).

Determining Your Financial Need

Several factors coalesce to determine the amount of financial aid for which you may be eligible. Based on your family’s income, as well as the number of people in the family and how many attend college during the academic year, the expected family contribution is the first factor. The second factor is the COA, or cost of attendance, calculated by combining a school’s tuition and fees with the cost of room and board, books, supplies, transportation, childcare, and other expenses.

By subtracting the expected family contribution from the COA, FAFSA determines how much financial aid to allocate to each student. Types of need-based federal student aid include the Federal Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, Direct Subsidized Loan, Federal Perkins Loan, and Federal Work Study.

Federal student aid programs which are not need-based subtract the amount of financial aid awarded so far from the COA. These forms of aid types include the Direct Unsubsidized Loan, Federal PLUS Loan and the Teacher Education Access for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant.

Sources of Financial Aid

  • School Aid: School aid refers to funds that universities and colleges award to students directly from either private donors or state-funded contributions. These awards may be need-based or not. Recipients of this type of aid must attend the school bestowing the aid. Additionally, some school aid may be restricted to students in certain departments or majors.
  • Federal Aid: Federal aid is money given to students attending eligible colleges and universities to help cover educational expenses. Examples of federal aid include loans, grants, and work study programs. Students must fill out a FAFSA to qualify for federal aid.
  • State Financial Aid: State financial aid refers to monetary assistance provided by a state to its residents to help fund their educational pursuits. These gifts are often restricted to students attending in-state colleges or universities, but not always. State aid is awarded on a yearly basis, which requires reapplication each year.
  • Privately Funded Scholarships: Privately funded scholarships are financial gifts bestowed to qualified students by individuals or organizations. These scholarships may be based on financial need and/or academic achievement. Often, applicants for the awards have demonstrated a commitment to service in their local community.

Types of Financial Aid

  • Scholarships: Scholarships are often merit-based (based on academic performance) as opposed to need-based (based on financial need). Scholarships may be awarded by federal and state agencies, schools, or private organizations and do not need to be repaid following graduation.
  • Grants: Grants also do not require repayment, but in contrast to scholarships, grants are more often awarded on the basis of demonstrated financial need. The federal government, state agencies, institutions of higher learning, and private or nonprofit organizations may distribute grants.
  • Federal loans: Federal loans are money lent from the federal government to students. These loans generally have lower interest rates and more flexible repayment plans than private loans. The two main types of federal student aid are the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program and the Federal Perkins Loan Program.
  • Private loans: Private or nonprofit organizations award private loans. These loans have variable interest rates, some as high as 18%. Private loans are unsubsidized, may not be consolidated, and may require you to have strong credit and/or a cosigner to qualify. Students repaying private loans are unlikely to benefit from loan forgiveness programs and probably won’t be able to defer their loan repayment.
  • Work Study: Federal work-study programs give students the opportunity to work on or off campus in order to earn money. These programs are often for students with demonstrated financial need. Jobs available for inclusion in worK-study programs frequently involve an element of community service or may be related to a student’s field of study.

Nursing Grants

In addition to loans and BSN scholarships, nursing grants may be available through employers. Nursing grants cover tuition and fees, as well as provide a monthly stipend for the duration of the nursing program. In exchange for this financial assistance, students agree to work for an approved employer for a certain amount of time after completing the degree.

The NURSE Corps program offers nursing grants to students who then work for eligible facilities with a critical shortage of nurses after graduation. You may be eligible for a NURSE Corps Scholarship if you are a U.S. citizen enrolled in a professional nursing degree program at an accredited nursing school in the U.S., start classes no later than September 30, and not overdue on a federal debt.

For more information on state-level grants, contact your local board of higher education.

Finding RN to BSN Scholarships

Scholarships for RN-to-BSN degrees can potentially cover a large portion of your college tuition. RN-to-BSN scholarships come in several forms and can be awarded based on academic or athletic performance or can be aimed towards specific groups, such as minority and LGBTQ+ students.

Research about scholarships for RN-to-BSN students helps ensure you receive scholarships relevant to your major or field, geographic location, and interests/talents. Several scholarships aimed specifically towards those entering the field of nursing are listed below.

What Kind of Loan Should You Take Out?

In general, federal loans are a more appealing option to help finance your degree than private loans. Federal loans have a fixed interest rate rather than the variable interest rates different private lenders have. Students with financial need may receive subsidized federal loans that the federal government will pay the interest on your loan while you are in school. Private loans are unsubsidized, meaning you are responsible for the interest on your loan.

Additionally, some private loans require you begin repayment while still enrolled, while federal loans don’t require repayment until you finish, leave school, or drop below half-time enrollment. Private loans can sometimes require an established strong credit history and may necessitate a cosigner, while federal loans have an easier approval process through the FAFSA.

Loan Repayment

Students who have taken out federal loans for school have several repayment options. The standard repayment plan involves fixed monthly payments of at least $50 over a maximum of 10 years. Combining multiple federal loans into one consolidated loan allows for one easy monthly payment. Consolidated loans on a standard repayment plan can be repaid in 10-30 years.

Another option for student loan repayment is an income-driven repayment plan. An income-driven repayment plan calculates monthly payments based on income and family size, which may be lower than the original repayment schedule.

Depending on your situation, consolidation, income-driven repayment, or both may help decrease the stress of looming student loans following graduation. The U.S. Department of Education provides a Repayment Estimator calculator for students to evaluate their repayment options.

More Financing Programs Available for Nursing Students

Fellowship and Residency Programs

Fellowship and residency programs in the field of nursing cater to graduates of nursing programs at different stages with varying levels of experience. Both types of programs help aspiring nursing professionals transition from university to careers in healthcare. Residencies and fellowships increase graduates’ capabilities, reduce employment turnover, and improve retention rates.

The primary divergence between fellowships and residencies concerns eligibility for the programs; while a nursing graduate can be eligible for residency with less than 12 months of experience, a fellowship program typically requires applicants to have at least a year’s worth of direct experience in the field.

Additionally, residencies are generally longer in length and focus on organizational adjustment while fellowships center around research and professional development. Fellowship programs also require recipients to focus their work in a certain area of the field, while residencies involve more generalized training across fields.

Generally, nursing graduates in both fellowship and residency programs receive a limited paycheck used for living expenses and further pursuit of education and training.

Career Ladder Programs

Another method of offsetting the cost of an RN-to-BSN program is a career ladder program available through an employer. Employers often use career ladder programs to provide incentives in the form of salary increases or tuition reimbursement as encouragement for their employees to further their education.

Employers benefit from a more highly skilled workforce who can perform a wider range of tasks with expertise. Nurses also benefit from career ladder programs by acquiring broader skill sets and years of experience. If you’re a nurse currently, or a prospective student in a nursing program, you may want to investigate whether your employer or potential employer participates in career ladder programs.

Loan Forgiveness Programs

Loan forgiveness programs allow graduates to be relieved of the student loan debts they owe if they meet certain employment requirements. Full-time registered nurses who received financial aid before September 30, 2017 through a Federal Perkins loan may qualify for 100% of their loans to be forgiven over a period of five years.

Loan forgiveness is also available through the Federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Forgiveness of the remaining balance of Federal Direct Loans may be available after students make 120 monthly payments under an eligible repayment plan while working full time for a qualifying employer. Eligible repayment plans include income-driven and standard repayment plans. Qualifying employers include federal, state, local, or tribal governmental organizations; 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations; AmeriCorps; and the Peace Corps.

RN to BSN Scholarships

AfterCollege/AACN Scholarship Fund Scholarship
Who Can Apply: AfterCollege and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing jointly offer this scholarship for students in nursing programs. Applicants must be enrolled at an institution of higher learning that is a member of the AACN.
Amount: $2,500 per quarter

Geraldine “Polly” Bednash Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Sponsored by the AACN and Castle Branch, The Geraldine “Polly” Bednash scholarship is awarded to nursing school applicants admitted or enrolled in a nursing program at an AACN member institution affiliated with Castle Branch. Applicants must have a minimum GPA of 3.2.
Amount: $5,000

DiversityNursing.Com Education Award
Who Can Apply: This scholarship is available to full- and part-time students who are U.S. citizens in accredited nursing schools. Applicants must create a Jobseeker account and fill out a registration form.
Amount: $5,000

Foundation of the National Student Nurses’ Association’s the Promise of Nursing Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The FNSNA, in conjunction with Johnson & Johnson offers this scholarship to undergraduate students in nursing programs. Applicants must attend a state-approved school of nursing in a “Promise of Nursing” state.
Amount: $1,000-$7,500 per year

Tylenol Future Care Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The Future Care Scholarship, sponsored by Tylenol, is awarded annually to students who demonstrate high academic achievement in the pursuit of a career in healthcare. Qualified applicants should have at least one year of their degree program remaining and be in pursuit of a degree leading to a career with direct patient treatment.
Amount: $5,000 to $10,000

Good Samaritan Foundation Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The Good Samaritan Foundation established this scholarship to help address the shortage of nurses in Houston, the state of Texas, and in the U.S. as a whole. Student applicants must be in good standing with their school of nursing.
Amount: $1,000 per semester

Maxine Williams Scholarship Fund
Who Can Apply: The American Association of Medical Assistants awards the Maxine Williams Scholarship to students enrolled in medical assisting programs with a minimum GPA of 3.0. Student nursing programs must be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.
Amount: $1,000

Hurst Review/AACN Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The Hurst Review, in partnership with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, offers this scholarship to pre-licensure students pursuing professional nursing degrees enrolled at AACN member schools.
Amount: $2,500

A Place for Mom Senior Wisdom Video Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Sponsored by a referral service for senior living, the Senior Wisdom Scholarship is meant for students interested in the fields of gerontology and aging. Applicants must submit a video entry with an interview with or story about an inspirational senior.
Amount: $1,000

NBNA Dr. Lauranne Sams Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The National Black Nurses Association presents this scholarship in honor of the founder and first president of the NBNA, Dr. Lauranne Sams. This award is available to NBNA member students pursuing a nursing degree. Applicants are considered on the basis of academic achievement, financial need, and community service.
Amount: $5,000

Henry Welch Scholarship in Aging
Who Can Apply: The Henry Welch Scholarship is presented by the Colorado Gerontological Society and awarded to full-time students in the state of Colorado working toward a nursing degree and planning to work with the elderly. Those interested should submit an essay about their experience with geriatrics/gerontology.
Amount: $1,000 Healthcare Leaders Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The Healthcare Leaders Scholarship is available to students 17 years of age or older, with a minimum GPA of 3.0, who have been accepted to or currently attend a nursing program at an accredited institution. Applicants must submit an essay on their career goals and how the scholarship would help them.
Amount: $1,000

Mary Opal Wolanin Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The National Gerontological Nursing Association offers the Mary Opal Wolanin Scholarship every year to two nursing students with a minimum GPA of 3.0 who plan to work in geriatrics or gerontology.
Amount: $500

United Health Foundation Diverse Scholars Initiative Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The United Health Foundation and the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN) offer this scholarship to NAHN members in the hopes of developing an increased workforce of culturally aware healthcare workers in underserved communities.
Amount: $5,000 per year for three years

Madeline Pickett Cogswell Nursing Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The Madeline Pickett Cogswell Nursing Scholarship is awarded every year to two nursing students in accredited programs. In order to be eligible, applicants must be members, descendants of members, or eligible for membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Amount: $2,500