Nursing school is a must if you would like to work in a clinical setting, but it is not always inexpensive. There are ways to avoid nursing school debt, though, if you are dedicated and resourceful. The cost to earn a nursing degree ranges between $5,000 to $200,000 or more depending on the type of degree you are pursuing, whether you are attending a public or private institution, and what the going rate of tuition is at the time you apply to school.

Not only do you need to decide which nursing degree will be practical based on your career goals, you need to plan how you will pay for the costs of education. Accruing debt in the form of federal and private student loans is an option, but avoiding debt at all costs can make life much easier when you graduate. Here are a few valuable tips to help you find financial aid and programs to keep your student debt down.

Apply for Scholarships on a National or School Level

One of the best ways to avoid getting into debt while you study nursing is to apply for scholarships. Scholarships are “free” money that does not have to be repaid. They help cover the cost of tuition, books, fees, and sometimes housing costs for students who meet the eligibility requirements. Many times, a scholarship committee will request that you submit your transcripts, an essay or another type of project to be selected for an award. There are both national scholarships and other opportunities offered to students in specific regions or attending specific schools.

Because there is a growing gap between the supply of nurses in the field and the demand for new graduates, more and more associations and non-profit agencies are offering awards. From awards issued by Johnson & Johnson and the Department of Health and Human Services, to opportunities through the American Cancer Society and Ronald McDonald House, there are many options. Do your homework, check the deadlines, and apply well in advance. Please also visit: What Kind of Scholarships are Available for Nursing Students?

Apply for Federal Financial Aid

While federal financial aid will not pay for all of your tuition fees and educational costs, it can help you avoid debt if you qualify. Many schools require all of their students to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to be admitted into a program. There are Federal Pell Grants, up to $5,500 per year, which can be applied to tuition or sent to you in the form of a check. You may also be able to qualify for additional grants through your state or other agencies. The only time that this is an option is if you are attending a regionally accredited school that is recognized by the US Department of Education.

Just because you take out student loans does not mean that you will be swimming in debt following graduation. To encourage more people to go to school, there are student loan forgiveness programs that will reduce debt or wipe debt out entirely for people who seek careers in approved settings. If you have a Direct Loan through the Federal government, your debt may be cancelled or forgiven if you become a public health nurse. Make sure you know about awards and programs that exist, and avoid nursing school debt as much as possible.