The Inside Scoop on Financial Aid for NP Students
I'm certainly not an accountant, but I'm not bad with numbers either. I can plan and maintain a budget (unless I find myself at Nordstrom...), and make appropriate decisions regarding my finances. Despite my personal financial know-how, reviewing financial aid options for nurse practitioner students makes me cringe.
Financial aid can be a confusing beast to conquer. There are government loan programs, private scholarships, and personal contributions to consider. You much think about interest rates, inflation, and the rising cost of education in planning to pay for your nurse practitioner program. In case you haven't noticed, I have shied away in the past from covering financial aid issues on the blog simply because they seemed too difficult a topic to master. So, today I have enlisted the help of an expert to answer some of MidlevelU reader's most burning questions regarding NP program financial aid.
Becka Claasen, Senior Program Coordinator at the University of Arizona, is a financial aid guru and works with U of A's nursing students to help them finance their education. She has graciously agreed to give us at MidlevelU some insight into how to get the dollars and cents required to advance your nursing education. Here's what she had to say.
MidlevelU: We know Federal Student Aid is available to many graduate students. Are there any other places you recommend NP students look for help financing their education?
Becka: Oftentimes graduate-level aid (scholarships, stipends, grants, assistantships, etc.) is provided directly through the departments at an institution, not necessarily through the financial aid office. Students should actively pursue opportunities through their department directly, in order to maximize their options and minimize their overall loan debt.
I also recommend that nursing students work directly with their financial aid coordinator and/or the nursing department at their institution to pursue funding opportunities outside of the institution. There may be donors who provide private funding for students at a specific institution. There are also options through HRSA, such as the NURSE Corps Scholarship and the Nursing Faculty Loan Program. Each institution may operate slightly differently, but representatives from the financial aid office or the department will be able to provide information or refer students to the appropriate contact.
Students are also encouraged to research private educational loans with private lenders as an alternative to Federal Loans. Private educational loans are generally credit based, and some may request or require a cosigner. As private educational loans are based on credit, some students may be able to obtain a lower interest rate with a private loan than a Federal Loan, while other students may find that Federal Loan(s) are their best option. After researching lenders, students should apply to the lender(s) they have selected within a 30-day timeframe as this will prevent multiple inquiries on their credit.
MidlevelU: If NP students aren't happy with the amount of assistance they receive, is it ever possible to 'negotiate' for a larger aid package? How would you recommend students go about this process?
Becka: The Federal Direct Unsubsidized loan is offered at a fixed amount based on a student's graduate-level status. The Graduate PLUS loan can be offered up to a student's full estimated cost of attendance, however. Some institutions do not automatically offer the Graduate PLUS loan and require that a student request to be offered the loan.
Negotiation for increased institutional awards will vary from institution to institution. The best advice for students who would like to negotiate their award(s) is to reach out to the financial aid office and/or department representatives regarding the award and inquire about the possibility for an increase. It never hurts to ask.
MidlevelU: Some NP students worry that applying for financial aid will affect their admissions decision. Does applying for financial aid affect acceptance? If so, how much?
Becka: Some universities do consider financial need in the application process; other schools, like the University of Arizona, do not. If financial need is a consideration for the admissions application, the student may be asked to complete the FAFSA or another form of need analysis prior to admission.
Schools also have limited fellowships and assistantship positions to offer and may ask on the admissions application if the student needs to receive an assistantship in order to attend. This will not necessarily impact the admissions decision. Answering "yes" does not guarantee a fellowship or assistantship will be extended.
MidlevelU: What are the most common mistakes you see your graduate school applicants make when it comes to applying for financial aid?
Becka: Students sometimes do not realize that the FAFSA is required every year to be offered federal financial aid. We encourage nursing students to complete their FAFSA early (by March or April each year, for the upcoming Fall semester) to ensure that they receive their award early and are able to plan ahead for their educational expenses and seek funding alternatives if necessary.
Students who continue into a graduate-level program immediately after completing their Bachelor's degree often do not update their FAFSA to reflect that their BA is complete, and that they are now in a graduate-degree seeking program. This is especially true for students who graduate after the Fall semester and enter their graduate-level program in the Spring, as the FAFSA is used for both semesters, and therefore both careers for the academic year.
MidlevelU: If you could give one piece of advice to MSN students applying for financial aid, what would it be?
Becka: Be sure to utilize the department of financial aid websites at your institution as resources for financial aid processes, policies and opportunities. Quite a bit of information is readily accessible online, and at a student's convenience!
A big "Thank You" to Becka and the University of Arizona School of Nursing for giving valuable guidance when it comes to financial aid for NP students.
What questions do you have about financial aid for nurse practitioner programs?
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