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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.

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:

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.
  • NHSC’s NURSE Corps: In addition to its NHSC program, the Department of Health & Human Services offers a nurse-specific program. This program will cover the full cost of attendance in exchange for 1 – 2 years of service in a high-need area.
  • Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP): This program is funded by the military—Army, Navy, and Air Force—for medical and health professions students. You’ll get all your tuition and fees covered, plus a living stipend. In exchange, you’re required to serve in the military for one year.
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness: If you took out 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.

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 Loans: You can usually take out a little over $20,000 in these fixed-rate loans (previously called “Stafford Loans”). They are unsubsidized, meaning you’re responsible for paying all the interest on them.
  • 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 Health Professions Graduate LoanSM, 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. Making in-school interest payments can help you save an average of more than 10% of your total loan cost compared to the deferred repayment option. 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 so you have one less bill to pay. 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.

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Interest rates for Fixed and Deferred Repayment Options are higher than interest rates for the Interest Repayment Option. You’re charged interest and your selected repayment option applies starting at disbursement, while in school and during your separation or grace period. When you enter principal and interest repayment, Unpaid Interest will be added to your loan's Current Principal. Variable rates may increase over the life of the loan. Advertised variable rates reflect the starting range of rates and may vary outside of that range over the life of the loan. Advertised APRs assume a $10,000 Loan to a first-year graduate. Graduate student pricing for this loan is limited to students enrolling in a Masters/Doctorate level degree program.

Savings based on a typical loan to a first-year graduate student.