It’s a fact of life that earning a DNP is going to cost you money. In addition to tuition fees, you’ll be paying for materials, commuting costs, medical insurance, babysitters… the list goes on. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways you can avoid mortgaging your life to pay for graduate school. In this section, we examine the well-known and less well-known ways you can finance your doctorate.
Sources of DNP Aid
You’re probably already aware that the federal government is a huge source of merit-based aid, need-based aid, and graduate loans. Whether you’re an undergraduate or a graduate, the first step in applying for federal aid is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This information will be forwarded to your school’s financial aid office.
As always, the FAFSA must be filled out annually. Potential graduate students will also have to provide proof of their income. Have your tax returns handy!
Attending a state-funded university in your area is usually going to be cheaper than a private university or going out of state. However, some universities participate in regional college exchanges or allow students in neighboring states to qualify for in-state tuition. Ask your favored schools about your options.
You should also check with your State Board of Nursing for information on nursing awards, scholarships, and loan forgiveness programs. There are often grants and awards designed to reward homegrown heroes.
Like the federal government, universities have a variety of funds at their disposal. As well as completing your FAFSA, you will be expected to fill in a university aid application. Visit the website of your school’s financial aid office to learn what steps you need to take to apply.
Keep in mind that scholarships, grants, and assistantships may be distributed by individual departments or graduate schools, not the central financial aid office. So be sure you also talk to a graduate advisor at the School of Nursing about your goals.
Federal vs. Private
Many DNP students end up financing their education through federal loans such as the Direct Unsubsidized Stafford loan or the Direct Graduate PLUS loan. A reminder that these loans start accruing interest from day one. That means you’ll be making payments during your time in school. Also remember that graduate loans will come with extra fees (e.g. processing fee).
You can also consider loans from private lenders, but these may not have the same reasonable terms as federal loans. Whatever you do, think carefully about how much money you borrow. Interest and loan repayments can be a crushing burden after graduation.
Being a nurse puts you in an excellent position to get help with your loans. Healthcare loan forgiveness programs (a.k.a. LRAPs) are aimed at graduates who pursue a career in non-profit sectors or medically underserved areas. They are offered by universities, states, and the federal government.
Examples of nursing loan forgiveness programs include:
- Faculty Loan Repayment Program (FLRP)
- Indian Health Service (IHS) Loan Repayment Program
- NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program
The AACN maintains a useful list of loan repayment or forgiveness programs for nurses. Take a look at the website of your school’s financial aid office and do some independent research on state programs.
Scholarships & More
Scholarships & Fellowships
Graduate scholarships and fellowships are usually awarded on the basis of merit (e.g. high academic achievement) or the promise of service. They fall into 2 broad categories – institutional scholarships that are funded by the university and must be used to pay for your education at the school or external scholarships that are funded by the federal government or independent organizations and can be applied to the university of your choice.
Take some time to evaluate each university on your DNP shortlist. Big private schools (e.g. Vanderbilt) may be expensive, but they also tend to have generous scholarships, courtesy of endowments and donors. In contrast, public schools may have specific awards for state residents. Check the School of Nursing’s section on scholarships and the Graduate School’s section on graduate aid.
You can also do your own research. There are plenty of merit & need-based scholarships for nurses and healthcare workers. National organizations offering nursing scholarships include:
- American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP)
- Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN)
- ENA Foundation
- Giva Nursing Student Scholarship
- Indian Health Service (IHS)
- National Health Service Corps (NHSC)
For a substantial list of scholarship & grant opportunities, visit the AACN’s page on Scholarships and Financial Aid Resources.
Assistantships & Traineeships
Assistantships and traineeships are designed to give graduate students real-world experience and allow them to make back part of their tuition. During an assistantship, graduates may be asked to teach undergraduate classes, help with research projects, or work in student services (e.g. administrative roles in a university office). A teaching assistantship can be particularly valuable if you’re thinking about becoming a nursing professor after graduation. You’re likely to find a lot of assistantships in large state universities.
Student grants provide you with free money for education costs such as travel, training, or research. Sums are not always large, but every little bit helps! Grants come from the federal government, universities, states, and private institutions.
Examples of organizations that provide nursing grants include:
- Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)
- American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP)
- American Nurses Foundation (ANF)
- Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN)
- National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- Sigma Theta Tau
Talk to your employer – you may be eligible to participate in a tuition assistance or tuition reimbursement program. To improve employee skill levels, many companies are willing to help pay for graduate tuition costs. For instance, while the company takes care of tuition fees, you could work part-time at your current job and use your wages to cover living costs.
It’s not a free ride. Your employer will often expect you to work at your job for a certain number of years and/or pay the company back over time. If your GPA dips below a certain line or you decide to quit your job, you may end up having to pay the entire debt.
A lot of DNP students continue to work part-time or even full-time while completing their degree. It can be exhausting, but it’s doable. If you’re evaluating this option, consider going high-tech. Hybrid and online DNP programs will help you save on time and commuting costs. Just be conscious that you may need to alter your work schedule in order to complete the mandated clinical hours.