Over 2.6 million people work as registered nurses; there are a greater number of people employed as nurses than the number of people employed in any other profession. Approximately 60% of nurses work in hospitals around the country. In addition to hospitals, nurses work in doctor’s offices, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, on cruise ships, as a traveling nurse or the military. This article focuses on scholarships for individuals interested in becoming registered nurses.

Nursing Specialties

Emergency room, pediatrics, forensics, and mental health are just a few of the many specialties open to nurses. Nursing specialties exist for nearly every major illness, population group and life situation requiring medical care. A great number of these specialties have professional associations that sponsor scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students in nursing.

Projected Job Growth

According to the Department of Labor, the need for nurses will continue to grow by 22% between 2008 and 2018. This is much faster than average. The area of most growth is expected to be in doctor’s offices and nursing homes due to the increasing population of elderly patients.


Nurses salaries range from a low of $42,000 per year to a high of over $90,000 per year. The average registered nurse salary is $62,000. In order to attract top nursing candidates to a particular area, some employers pay for re-location and/or offer substantial sign-on bonuses amounting to hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Would You Make a Good Nurse?

Nursing is a good career choice for people who want to make a difference in the lives of other people and who want a stable career that pays well. People who enjoy science, want a flexible schedule and the opportunity for advancement will find that nursing meets all of these criteria.

Paths to Becoming a Registered Nurse

To become a registered nurse, one can attend a technical school, a two-year college to earn an associates degree or attend a four-year college to earn a bachelors degree in nursing. The last step to becoming a registered nurse is to take and pass the National Council Licensing Exam (NCLE). Each state’s board of nursing has more information about this exam, including study guides and suggestions. Once this exam is passed, the student is officially a registered nurse.


Once the path to earning an registered nurse diploma or degree is decided upon, the next step is to figure out how to finance that education. Fortunately, nursing is one of the fields that has an abundance of scholarship opportunities.

Merit-based Scholarships

Scholarships are either merit-based, need-based or with specific service criteria attached. Merit-based scholarships can be awarded by a college or university or a private foundation. These types of scholarships usually require an essay and an interview with the committee in charge of selecting the scholarship winners for a given organization. Applicants will also submit letters of reference from teachers or employers to the scholarship committee. Winners are evaluated by the scholarship committee based on academic performance and community service, as well as future goals. The applicant deemed most worthy is then awarded the scholarship.

Need-based Scholarships

Need-based scholarships are scholarships based on financial need or to members of groups that are under-represented in higher education. Financial need scholarships require an application, as well as submission of tax returns or other financial documents. Some need-based scholarships focus on particular ethnic backgrounds, such as African-American, Hispanic, Arab or Japanese. Need-based scholarships are also available to individuals with a learning or physical disability. Most states (listed at the bottom of this page) have scholarships for nurses, as well.

Obligatory-service Scholarships

Scholarships with service obligations are sponsored by the United States government. In addition to ROTC military scholarships in all four branches of the service (Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines), the government also has nursing scholarships in the National Health Service Corps and the Veterans Affairs Health Careers. After graduation, recipients of scholarships with service obligations are required to serve between two and eight years, depending on the agreed upon arrangement when the scholarship was awarded.

The number of applicants for any one scholarship varies greatly. Some have an abundance of applicants, while others have very few. When searching for a nursing scholarship, apply for lesser known scholarships or scholarships with small award amounts, as well as larger, well-known scholarships. There are no limits to the number of scholarships one student can earn and all of the money, no matter how small the award, does add up quickly.

Increase Your Chances of Receiving a Scholarship

To increase your chances of receiving a nursing scholarship you should make sure you follow these tips.

General Tips

  • Follow all of the instructions in the application packet precisely.
  • Write down scholarship deadlines on your calendar. Keep track of them and meet them.
  • Give your references plenty of time to write letters of recommendation.

Essay Tips

  • Write what you think, feel, believe and not what you presume the scholarship committee wants to hear.
  • Proofread your essay; read it aloud.
  • Have someone else look your essay over.
  • Use concrete examples and descriptive language.
  • Be clear and concise.

Interview Tips

  • Make sure you are on time to the interview.
  • Dress professionally and conservatively. Men wear a shirt and tie. Women wear a dress or work pants and blouse. No jeans or sneakers.
  • Answer questions confidently.
  • Practice interview with someone else before the actual interview.
  • Come with your own questions to ask the committee.
  • Be polite and positive; stay on topic.

Scholarships Can Help Nursing Students

Recent high school graduates rarely have the financial means to even consider paying for years of expensive tuition. Adults in the midst of a career change could find the prospect of student loans intimidating. Workers already employed in the health care field may wish to advance, but lack the resources to do so.

Men, minorities, and other underrepresented groups might simply lack the necessary information that could help them enter the field. Many more individuals that are talented would probably join the nursing profession if money issues did not interfere.

Fortunately, there are many scholarships available. Federal scholarship funding has been allocated to nursing programs at colleges and universities. Nearly all of the states have implemented grant and scholarship programs for nursing students.

Private foundations offer varying amounts of one-time and continuing scholarship awards. Professional organizations offer support as well. Even military organizations offer scholarships for their members who wish to pursue studies in nursing. Special programs exist, also, to encourage men and minorities to enter the profession.

Most of these scholarships are open to applicants at all levels of education. Nursing school scholarships can be found in:

  • Professional Associations
  • Government and Military programs
  • Private foundations

Professional Association Scholarship Opportunities

Professional associations have a strong interest in developing high quality in the nursing field. Most members of professional associations are highly motivated individuals who take their career seriously. These nurses tend to read widely. They study research about current trends and advancements in technology that may affect their patients. They tend to be leaders in the workplace, and enthusiastic participants in outside discussions. For this reason, professional associations want o encourage the most highly qualified candidates to reach their academic goals.

Some associations are based on educational achievement. Sigma Theta Tau International is an honor society that rewards high grades in nursing students. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing connects professionals in higher education. The National Student Nurses Association draws together pre-service nurse from across the country.

Some organizations simply emphasize certain special experiences or locations. Their scholarships may be limited in scope, or they may be open to all applicants. The Midwest Alliance for Nursing serves nurses in several states. The National Black Nurses Association seeks to draw members together to form supportive collaborations. The HOSA and SGNA RN scholarships are directed toward certain types of nursing practice. The AORN offers nursing scholarships as well.

Government and Military Scholarship Options

The Federal government offers scholarships to nursing students nationwide. The National Health Service Corps offers students the opportunity to serve in needy locations in return for financial support. The Us Department of Health sponsors several forms of information about scholarships on its website.

Individual states offer various forms of scholarship money. Some states require that the student attend school within the state, or agree to serve in the state after graduation. Often, applying for state money can lead to other opportunities including grants and loans.

Military branches also offer funding for nursing students. Most often, applicants must be ROTC corps members. The Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marines all offer economic assistance to help with nursing school.

Nursing Grants

Many organizations provide nursing grants. Here are some categories you may want to look through

A Few Final Words of Caution on Scholarships & Grants: Beware of Scam Artists

The nursing profession has a gap that ought to be filled by smart, dedicated graduates with quality education and skills. Potential nursing students need not fear starting a new career thousands of dollars in debt. Nursing school scholarships can help bring new students into this valuable occupation. However, there are unscrupulous individuals who will take advantage of students in financial need. Be cautious when searching for scholarship opportunities. With patience and diligence, the right scholarship opportunity can be found.

Most of the research prospective nursing students need to do when determining which scholarships to apply for is available for free online. It is not necessary for any prospective student to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars to so-called scholarship companies. Be especially careful not to get involved with any scholarship company that guarantees a student will absolutely receive the scholarship he or she applies for.

From government sponsored scholarships to scholarships given out by historical societies, sororities and fraternities and professional nurse associations, with a bit of research and persistence the chances of receiving a nursing scholarship are good. But, it is important to look into other ways to finance your nursing education, such as federal loans and grants because scholarships alone (unless you receive a full-tuition scholarship) will not be enough to finance the entire education completely.

Legitimate scholarships:

  • DO NOT require handling fees
  • DO NOT charge money for information
  • DO NOT complete applications for students
  • DO NOT request credit card or bank information
  • DO NOT claim to have exclusive access to information
  • DO NOT guarantee anyone a scholarship before application
  • DO NOT schedule informational appointments at hotels or other public places

Legitimate scholarships:

  • DO take time and effort to locate
  • DO publicize their requirements
  • DO offer applications free of charge
  • DO have deadlines and requirements
  • DO seek qualified applicants through a competitive process
  • DO occasionally interview candidates at appropriate places and times

Student Loans

While not as appealing as grants or scholarships, student loans are reality of college life for most student nurses. Make sure to fill out your FAFSA and apply for federal funds before applying for private student loans. Many states (and the federal government) have loan forgiveness programs which help repay student loans.

Student Loan Forgiveness Programs

Most federal student loan forgiveness programs are exempt from taxes; however, there are a few instances in which they are taxed. If an individual has loan forgiveness in exchange for a service obligation, the amount of the forgiven loan is not taxable. See The Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 for more information. The cancellation of a debt $600 or more is reported on IRS form 1099-C.

Federal Loan Forgiveness Programs

Nursing Education Loan Repayment Program

The US Department of Health and Human Services will repay 60% of a nursing loan balance in exchange for two years to four of service in a critical shortage area. Particular criteria must be met, including holding a permanent registered nurse license, full-time employment and others. Travel nurses, nurses working on-call, in default on a loan or under other service obligations are not eligible. The URL for more information is http://bhpr.hrsa.gov/nursing/loanrepay.htm.

The National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program

Up to $50,000 in loan repayment is available to US citizens or nationals who are trained as certified nurse-midwives, primary care nurse practitioner or psychiatric nurse specialists, as well as other medical and dental fields. Recipients have a two-year service obligation to work full-time at an approved site that has a critical shortage of health professionals. Current employees of approved sites are eligible to apply for this program.

State Loan Forgiveness Programs

States in every corner of the United States have loan repayment programs for nurses who agree to work in under-served areas of the state. The following loan forgiveness programs are just a sampling of what is available in each part of the country.

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