Paying for health professions graduate school

A well-researched plan can help you pay for your health professions graduate degree.

Make a plan to pay for a health professions graduate degree

The category of health professions encompasses 30+ fields, from nursing and occupational therapy to psychology and public health. No matter what area you’re studying, using a 1-2-3 approach can help you pay for your health professions degree.

1. Start with money you don’t have to pay back. To supplement any savings you want to use, apply for scholarships, grants, fellowships, and assistantship positions.

2. Apply for federal student aid. Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if you can get government loans and grants as well as state and school aid.

3. Explore private student loans. A private student loan can cover the cost of any tuition bills, fees, or living expenses that are left over.

Compare the Sallie Mae® Graduate School Loan for Health Professions to the Federal Direct Grad PLUS Loan. It can be a good alternative and, if you’re highly qualified, you may receive a lower interest rate.footnote 1

Learn about the Sallie Mae® Graduate School Loan for Health Professions

1. Find money you don’t have to pay back

Personal savings

If you want to use your savings to help pay for your health professions degree, you should consider a few things first. You’ll want to make sure you can still pay your monthly bills as well as have some money set aside for any unplanned expenses. Creating a budget can help you understand what your monthly expenses are and how much of your savings you can put toward your education. Talk to a financial advisor if you have any questions.

School-based scholarships, assistantships, and grants
Some schools may have scholarships, assistantships, and grants their health professions students can apply to. Grants are often need-based while scholarships can be need- or merit-based. Assistantships tend to be merit-based. In exchange for 10 – 15 hours of work on campus, graduate students can get tuition remission and/or a living stipend. Look at the websites of the schools you’re applying to and talk to their financial aid offices to find out more.

Other scholarships
Some professional associations and for-profit companies offer scholarships, fellowships, and grants to graduate health professions students and/or are a good resource for find funding opportunities. Here are a few of associations that health professions students may find helpful:

  • National Student Nurses’ Association: This association’s foundation offers the Promise of Nursing Regional Faculty Fellowship Program for nurses who want to be educators. The awards, ranging from $1,000 to $7,500, are given out yearly based on nurses’ academic records, financial need, and more.footnote 2
  • American Pharmacists Association (APhA) Foundation: This group offers grants, fellowships, and scholarships for pharmacists at all stages of their career.footnote 3
  • Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health: Public health students can find a comprehensive list of resources for finding scholarships, fellowships, and internships.footnote 4
  • Association of University Programs in Health Administration: This association sponsors a few scholarships each year for health administration graduate students. These include the Corris Boyd Scholars Program, which is worth $40,000, and the David A. Winston Scholarship, which gives 10 students each a $10,000 scholarship.footnote 5

You can search for more scholarships using our Scholarship Search tool. You can also reach out directly to the organizations for more information or ask your department head for recommendations on which scholarships, awards, or grants may be right for you.

Service programs
Depending on your area of study, you could qualify for a program that covers your health professions school costs in return for a set number of years of service to that organization. A few of the programs available to you include the following:

  • National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Scholarship: This Department of Health & Human Services program will cover the cost of tuition, books, and living expenses for health professions students like nurses. In exchange, you must work for one to two years in an approved high-need area, either in a city or rural town.footnote 6 In return for scholarship awards, scholars commit to providing primary care health services in underserved communities. The program provides support to students who seek financial assistance to complete primary care health professions education. The NHSC SP pays for tuition and various other reasonable education-related expenses and also provides a monthly stipend to assist with living expenses in exchange for a minimum of two (2) years of full-time service.
  • NHSC’s NURSE Corps: In addition to its NHSC program, the Department of Health & Human Services awards scholarships to nurse practitioner students in return for a commitment to provide health care in a community with limited access to care upon graduation.footnote 7
  • Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP): This program is funded by the military—ArmyNavy, and Air Force—for medical and health professions students. You can get all your tuition and fees covered, plus a living stipend.footnote 8
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness: If you took out federal loans for health professions school, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness if you work at a certain qualifying institute like a nonprofit organization, government organization, or teaching hospital. Typically, you must have already made 120 consecutive payments toward your loan to qualify.footnote 9

2. Apply for federal student aid

To see if you qualify for any federal loans and grants, you’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The FAFSA could give you access to the following types of federal, state, and school aid:

  • Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans: You can usually take out these fixed-rate loans (sometimes called “Stafford Loans”). They are unsubsidized, meaning you’re responsible for paying all the interest on them.
  • Federal Direct Graduate PLUS Loans: If you need additional help covering expenses, you may be able to take out PLUS Loans. These are fixed rate and typically have a higher interest rate than Federal Direct Loans.
  • School-based aid: Your school may distribute additional aid based off the FAFSA. You could qualify for loans, scholarships, or a Federal Work-Study position, which allows you to work on campus part-time to earn money for your living expenses.
  • State aid: Like college-based aid, state financial help varies. When you file your FAFSA, you’ll find out what is available in your state.

3. Explore a private student loan

After you’ve considered your sources for “free” money and financial aid, you can consider applying for a private student loan. Private student loans can help pay for any gaps in your school tuition, fees, or living expenses.

Private student loans are available through a bank or credit union. The interest rate you receive for your loans depends on your credit—the better your credit, the lower your interest rate usually is. Private student loans, like the Sallie Mae® Graduate School Loan for Health Professions, are available with a fixed interest or variable interest rate. It also gives you the option to make in-school payments or defer until after you graduate.footnote 10 As with federal student loans, you’ll have to pay back the money you borrowed, plus interest.

Deferring undergraduate student loans
If you have private or federal student loans from your undergraduate degree, you can consider deferring them while you’re enrolled in a graduate health professions program. Contact your loan servicer to find out what options you have. Be aware that although you won’t have to make monthly payments on these loans while you’re studying, they will likely still accrue interest.

How to borrow responsibly

Borrowing is often a necessary part of getting the education you need to start your health professions career. But it’s important to borrow responsibly so you can pay back your loans on time after you earn your degree. Limit your borrowing to the amount you’ll need for the cost of tuition and related expenses. Evaluate what your anticipated monthly loan payments might be versus how much you expect to earn in your post-school career. You can research your potential salary through professional associations and the U.S. Department of Labor, which lists the median pay for many fields.

Related topics

footnote 1. Explore federal loans and compare to make sure you understand the terms and features. Graduate School Loans for Health Professions  that have variable rates can go up over the life of the loan. Federal student loans are required by law to provide a range of flexible repayment options, including, but not limited to, income-based repayment and income-contingent repayment plans, and loan forgiveness and deferment benefits, which other student loans are not required to provide. Federal loans generally have origination fees, but are available to students regardless of income.

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footnote 9. This information was gathered on 7/10/23 from

footnote 10. Advertised APRs for Graduate School Loan, MBA Loans, and Graduate School Loan for Health Professions assume a $10,000 loan with a 2-year in-school period. Interest rates for variable rate loans may increase or decrease over the life of the loan based on changes to the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent.  Advertised variable rates are the starting range of rates and may vary outside of that range over the life of the loan. Interest is charged starting when funds are sent to the school. With the Fixed and Deferred Repayment Options, the interest rate is higher than with the Interest Repayment Option and Unpaid Interest is added to the loan’s Current Principal at the end of the grace/separation period. To receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate discount, the borrower or cosigner must enroll in auto debit through Sallie Mae. The discount applies only during active repayment for as long as the Current Amount Due or Designated Amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. It may be suspended during forbearance or deferment.

footnote Sallie Mae does not provide, and these materials are not meant to convey, financial, tax, or legal advice. Consult your own financial advisor, tax advisor, or attorney about your specific circumstances.

footnote External links and third party references are provided for informational purposes only. Sallie Mae cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information provided by any third parties and assumes no responsibility for any errors or omissions contained therein. Any copyrights, trademarks and/or service marks used in these materials are the property of their respective owners.

footnote FAFSA® is a registered service mark of U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid.