For nurses who already have a bachelor’s degree, earning a Master of Science in Nursing doesn’t have to mean leaving a current job and putting life on hold to make time for school. There are online programs and scholarship opportunities that can relieve the time burden and the financial cost of getting a master’s degree. Getting a Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN) typically takes four to five years, and getting a Master of Science in nursing (MSN) takes an additional two or three years. However, with BSN to MSN programs, you can cut time off of your education while still learning all the skills you need for your nursing career, and earning a higher credential that your employers will respect.
Although BSN to MSN programs are typically shorter than getting your BSN and MSN separately, these programs can still be expensive. The best way to cover the cost of higher education is through a combination of government loans and grants and private scholarships. Taking classes online makes it possible to continue working and earning money during school, which can also ease the financial drain.The average costs of a year of college are different depending whether you attend a for-profit or nonprofit, public or private college. These costs, as of 2009, are displayed in the graph below, and they may seem like a lot, but the U.S. Government gave out over $21 billion in student aid in 2009, and with a little work, you can carve out some of that educational budget for yourself in the coming years.
Federal Student Aid for Nursing Students
The U.S. Government provides billions of dollars of educational financial assistance to students each year, in the form of loans and grants. The amount that they award to any individual student depends on factors like that student’s personal income and wealth, marital status and number of dependents for tax purposes, educational performance, and other data that the government collects, or that must be disclosed upon applying for federal student aid.
The first step in accessing the pile of money the government has set aside for student aid is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is a catch all application that can net a student subsidized or unsubsidized Stafford loans, Perkins loans, and Pell Grants, which are the primary ways that government student aid funds are allocated.
Subsidized…Unsubsidized…What’s the Difference?
An unsubsidized student loan from the U.S. government begins accruing interest immediately upon disbursement. This doesn’t mean that the student has to start paying it right away, it just means that the interest rate of approximately 6.5% starts being charged immediately, and is regularly “capitalized,” or added to the base amount of the loan, so that if a student goes for long enough without paying the interest, they will start having to pay interest on the interest that has already accrued. A subsidized loan does not accrue interest until the end of the grace period, which is usually six months after the student finishes school.
Other Ways to Access Federal Financial Aid
Health professionals have a few more options than other students for accessing public funds to pay for their educations. There are a few government programs that exchange student aid money for a period of volunteerism or a guarantee that the student will do a certain type of work that benefits the public after they graduate. Some of these programs are nursing specific, and others are available to those outside nursing, and even outside health care altogether.
- National Health Service Corps: This program allows nurses to exchange work in high-need areas for assistance with college payments. Participants must work for a predetermined period of time in a rural or inner city area that has insufficient medical service availability.
- Americorps: This is a great volunteer program that is available to anyone in the U.S. Basically, it lets you trade a year of your time for a few thousand dollars in financial aid and some work experience.
- The Bureau of Health Professions: A branch of the Health Resources and Services Administration, this organization offers scholarships and training opportunities for workers in all fields of health care, including nursing. The government is especially interested in increasing the number of primary care providers, and offers an Advanced Education Nursing Traineeship program to try to increase the number of nurses in health professional shortage areas.
The Internal Revenue Service also offers tax breaks for people pursuing higher education. The Lifetime Learning and HOPE tax credits can each knock a couple of thousand dollars off of a student’s tax bill for any year the student spends money on tuition or other education expenses.
Private Financial Aid for BSN to MSN Candidates
In addition, a number of private organizations also provide grants for nurses who want to further their education. Some of these private organizations include the following groups:
These aren’t the only organizations that have grant money available, and a number have scholarships as well. You can also look to general medical organizations that offer grants to anyone studying in any health-related field, and there are also organizations that provide grants to students regardless of field of study, so you can apply whether you’re pursuing a degree in nursing or engineering or art (or anything in between).
Many organizations that hire nurses are willing to invest in continuing education for those nurses in exchange for the promise of continued service. A hospital or clinic will often pay for a few courses for its staffers as long as the staffers promise to continue working there for a period after the courses are completed, so that the employer can benefit from the new knowledge gained by the employee. This has the double benefit of increasing the pool of well-qualified nurses and improving the service that the supporting organization can provide.
Good Debt and Bad Debt: Why Borrowing Money to get an MSN is OK
Student debt is higher now than it has ever been, and many students are claiming that the amount of debt they took on to finance their education has not been worth it. For some people, this is true, but it also isn’t a big surprise, and a little bit of research before writing that first check can save a lot of money in the long run. Here are some tips to help determine whether the cost of an advanced nursing degree is a worthwhile investment.
- Find out how much more someone with an MSN earns than someone with only a BSN in the field you are considering working in. Is the salary increase enough that you’ll be able to pay off the added debt at the same pace that you’re paying off previous debts now?
- How practical are your reasons for earning an MSN? Are you doing it so you can move into a job that requires a master’s degree, or do you have more vague reasons like “a master’s degree looks good on a resume.” The time and money required to get an MSN make it worth doing some soul searching before committing to a program.
- Will you have to take out private loans or use credit cards to finance your education? If you have to pay your school bills with a credit card, your return on investment will take a big downgrade. Credit card interest rates are so high that unless you can pay them off each month, they will almost definitely cost you more in the long run.
Increasing the Value of Your Degree
A two pronged approach is possible for getting the best value out of any educational investment. Minimizing the initial and out-of-pocket costs is important, of course, and that is why applying ahead of time for government and private loans, grants, and scholarships should be a part of the preparations for heading back to school.
Also important is researching the most valuable skill sets and highest paid specialties and deciding whether you can maximize the value of your degree while still doing what you want to do by going into a specialty with a higher average wage. Depending what kinds of classes you take, you might come out of school qualified to work as a family nurse practitioner or a certified nurse anesthetist. Both of those require a master’s degree, but anesthetists are likely to earn more money. There is no way to predict with 100% accuracy how much money you’ll earn with an MSN versus a BSN, but at least attempting to predict those numbers based on your personal experience and a bit of research can bring clarity to the choices you make about whether going back to school is right for you, and if so, where and when.
Choosing an Online BSN to MSN Program
Online programs offer flexibility in a few major ways that make them ideal for certain students. Scheduling is the selling point for many students. Many online schools offer accelerated programs that can be finished much more quickly than a traditional campus based program. Students can take more than the usual number of classes, and some classes finish in only four to six weeks, cutting the typical semester schedule in half, or better! Credit transferability and the option of taking classes at night and working in the day are also big benefits. Any student considering a return to school should examine their goals and decide whether an online program can get them there the fastest, and if so, the list below is a great place to start looking at programs and getting in touch with accredited online schools that offer BSN to MSN programs.
Find the BSN to MSN program that’s right for you by filling out this short form below: