Retirement Planning for Nurses

Retirement Planning for Nurses

Are you saving for retirement? Here’s your guide to getting on track with securing your financial future.

Saving for retirement can often feel so daunting that you push it to the back of your mind. When trying to manage your career and other personal finance goals such as buying a house and paying down debt, retirement planning and investing often takes a back seat. You know you should ask your HR department about the 401(k) plan your company offers, but you never get around to it. But it’s worth the effort now so that you are well-prepared for the future.

The truth is many Americans are not saving for their golden years. According to a 2018 survey by Northwestern Mutual, one in five Americans has nothing saved for retirement. And 78% of Americans are “extremely” or “somewhat” concerned about affording a comfortable retirement. One in three Baby Boomers (33%), the generation closest to retirement age, have between $0-$25,000 in retirement savings.

Generations X and Y are often saddled with student loan debt and stagnant wages, making it a struggle to save.

While these are scary facts, the good news is that once you take the time to educate yourself on the basics of retirement planning and you take a few smart steps to invest, you can largely put retirement investing in the back of your mind and not feel guilty that you aren’t taking necessary action.

Jane Bryant Quinn, author of How to Make Your Money Last: The Indispensable Retirement Guide, says many people don’t want to think about retirement planning. She also says that making projections and calculating retirement budgets can be a pain but is important to do.

“You have to add up your savings, estimate what you’ll get from Social Security, make an investment plan, estimate how much income your investments will provide, and estimate your retirement expenses,” says Bryant Quinn.

To help figure all of this out, Bryant Quinn says to

create budgets. “If you’re married, make three estimated budgets—one for you as a couple, one for you if your mate dies first, one for your mate if you die first. For example, married couples get two Social Security checks (one for each). When one of you dies, the survivor will get the larger check but lose the other one. So, you have to plan for all circumstances,” she says.

Daniel Burke, CFP, ChFC, president of Burke Financial Group, LLC, says nurses spend their entire working careers caring for the needs of others, but often by doing this, they tend to neglect important planning components for themselves.

Are you ready to take action? Below are answers to the most common questions about retirement planning and investing to get you started on the road to a secure future.

What Are My Retirement Dreams?

Start with finding your why. What motivates you when you dream about your retirement? Do you want to spend a year traveling around the country in an RV? Do you want to move to a new city? Do you want to spend more time on hobbies such as gardening, crafts, or learning to speak Spanish? Or perhaps you want more time to devote to friends and family or a cause close to your heart.

Identifying the life you’d like to retire to can serve as a strong motivator as you start down the path of savings. It’s much easier to devote 15% of your income to your retirement account versus spending that money on something fleeting when you can envision the life you’re saving for.

How Do I Get Started?

“Benefits through the employer are a great place to start as nurses begin planning for themselves and their families,” says Burke.

Educate yourself on the retirement benefits offered by your employer. If your employer offers a 401(k) or 403(b) option with a matching benefit, sign up for the match immediately. If you are not taking advantage of your employer’s match, you are literally leaving free money on the table.

If your employer doesn’t offer a 401(k) option, then open a Roth IRA through a brokerage such as Fidelity or Vanguard. Contributions made to a Roth are after-tax contributions, but your money and earnings grow tax-free (meaning you will not pay taxes on any returns you earn from your investments).

What If I Haven’t Been Saving?

If you haven’t been saving anything for retirement, it’s important not to beat yourself up. You can’t go back and change the past, but you can commit to saving going forward.

Bryant Quinn offers the following advice, depending on your age.

New Grads: “Start a savings account, to have a little cash on hand. Put a little into your employer’s retirement plan, despite your student loan. If you change jobs, don’t cash out the amount you saved, take it with you to a new job,” says Bryant Quinn.

Mid-Career: Higher earning years means higher savings. “In your retirement plan, chose funds that lean heavily to stock market investments. It doesn’t matter if stocks go down. Throughout history, they have always come back,” says Bryant Quinn. “You have the time to wait. It’s your best shot at a nest egg. Keep contributing to your plan, even if your kids are in college (or at least try to).”

Near Retirement: Time to plan. “Keep investing in stock-owning mutual funds,” says Bryant Quinn. “You will probably live another 30 years (or more—my mom made it to 103). Over such a long period of time, stocks always go up.”

How Much Should I Save?

If you’re starting from scratch, a good starting point is to invest enough to get any company match offered by your employer. This is essentially free money and everyone should take advantage of it. For instance, if your company offers a 5% 401(k) match, you should invest no less than 5%. But that’s just a starting point.

Another strategy that Bryant Quinn suggests is to simply start by taking at least 5% out of every paycheck and putting it into your 401(k) or 403(b). “If you’re already contributing, increase the amount. What will happen when you get a slightly smaller net paycheck? Nothing will happen. We all tend to spend whatever money we have in our checking accounts. If there’s less in your account, you’ll spend less—even without a budget,” she says. “You’ll make small adjustments without realizing it. It’s the only magic I know in personal finance.”

If your company does not offer a 401(k) program or a match, you can open a Roth IRA through a brokerage service on your own.

“If you have no plan [at work], Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) can be purchased at low-cost no-load mutual fund groups such as Vanguard. They’re available at banks, too, but usually with higher fees. Always choose low-cost investments,” says Bryant Quinn.

Once you start gaining some confidence in your knowledge and are eager to save more Bryant Quinn suggests utilizing financial resources, such as online retirement calculators and budgeting tools to estimate retirement living expenses.

Overall, determine a percentage goal that works for you and challenge yourself to increase it incrementally (e.g., every six months or annually). You can also boost your savings effortlessly by automatically investing any annual or performance raises you receive. If you were living on what you made before you got a raise, just keep living off of that amount and invest the extra income.

Do I Need A Financial Planner?

If all of this sounds complicated and you would like a helping hand, consider working with a financial advisor. But choose wisely as many financial advisors get paid by selling you on specific mutual funds, often with high fees. These fees will eat away at your nest egg.

Your best bet is to hire an independent advisor who is fee-only or paid directly by you by the hour. Your company may provide consultations with an advisor from the administrator of your 401(k)/403(b) plan, but it’s important to remember that their loyalty is first and foremost with their employer, not you.

What Is the Biggest Mistake I Could Make?

“Not saving enough,” says Bryant Quinn. “You can save money, even if you’re living paycheck to paycheck.”

Practical Steps to Paying Off Your Student Loan

Practical Steps to Paying Off Your Student Loan

If you have student loan debt as a recent nursing school graduate or if you’ve been in the field for years and have been paying the minimum payments on your loan, it’s a good idea to consider ramping up your payments.

You may have to sacrifice your lifestyle for a while to pay off your loans fast, but it will be worth it. Freeing up the monthly payment will allow you to use those funds for other goals such as saving up to start an advanced degree program or put you in a more stable financial position for large purchases such as buying a house.

Below are some practical steps you can take that will make a huge dent in your student loan.

Avoid Lifestyle Inflation

Once you graduate from nursing school and enter the repayment period on your loan, avoid lifestyle inflation. Instead, continue to live like you’re still in college. While it’s tempting to increase your lifestyle after you start making a full-time nursing income by getting a nicer home and new car, avoiding these lifestyle upgrades and instead focusing on paying off your loans will set you up for long-term financial success.

Cut Expenses

If you have been in the workforce a while, try cutting skimming the fat from your budget and redirecting those funds towards your loan repayment. Budget items for cable TV, cell phone plans, the latest tech gadget and eating out are all great categories to look at squeezing extra money from each month.

Work Overtime

Nurses work in a field where there is often a shortage of qualified professionals to fill the needs of patients. If overtime is offered by your employer, take it with the goal of using the extra money to pay off your loans. If no overtime is available, consider taking a second job until your loan is paid off.

Stay Focused

Paying off a student loan is often a longer-term goal, so it’s important to stay motivated and focused. Have a target date in mind for when you’ll pay off your loan and set some exciting life goals that you can begin working on after they’re paid. Try using an online debt calculator such as to create an optimized debt repayment plan to help minimize interest and keep you motivated throughout the process.

If you follow these tips, you will cut down the repayment period of your loan substantially. Just by delaying some lifestyle upgrades or cutting back your discretionary expenses for a few years, you’ll set yourself up for financial success for the rest of your career.

5 Ways to Boost Your Bank Account

5 Ways to Boost Your Bank Account

Feeling underpaid, undervalued, and overworked? Nurses make up the largest single component of hospital staff. Even though nurses comprise the majority of staff personnel, adequate compensation remains at the top of the list of issues voiced by many nurses. With the extensive skill set and vast knowledge base that nurses hold, earning additional income doesn’t have to be hard. Earning additional income may provide you with the ability to do away with overtime, go part-time, or even achieve PRN status. This flexibility can provide you with the time to do more of what you love and spend more time with your family without sacrificing your income. Let’s explore five ways to boost your bank account.

1. Ask for What You Want

This seems easy, but you would be amazed at how many nurses don’t ask for anything (monetary) more than what they’re offered. The thought of asking for more money appears “unlady like” for some and “unprofessional” to others. But this way of thinking doesn’t have to be. If this sounds like you, start off by writing out a list of why you deserve to be paid more and memorize it. Be prepared to discuss what’s on your list boldly and confidently when you speak to your manager. Ask for what you want and most likely deserve. It’s up to you to make them see your value. Only you know what you are deserving of, no one else. Remember, if you don’t ask for it, how will anyone ever know that you want more?

2. Rental Property

Now before you go saying, “I don’t have a second or third home to rent out,” consider this: converting an extra storage space or a guest room into a nice room for a student or better yet a travel nurse! There are plenty of travel nurses, students, and business professionals who seek out temporary quarters and sublease from homeowners all the time. I know this from experience, because I’ve rented a room from a homeowner while on a travel assignment in Maryland. This option has proven time and time again to be a great source of additional income for singles, couples, and families alike. Do your due diligence as a renter. Complete full background checks and ask for references. By completing these two screening tools beforehand, it will help reduce your risks drastically. If these potential renters are who they say they are, a background and reference check won’t be a concern at all. Just make sure to have a thoroughly written out rental agreement.

3. Multi-Level Marketing

This is an EXCELLENT way to make money and have fun! I am amazed that more nurses don’t take advantage of this money avenue. A few nurses I have worked with in the past have done this with Tupperware, makeup, jewelry, and clothes. Most of these items are used by your coworkers and colleagues, so why not be their supplier? This income stream can also be used with vitamins, weight loss meals, hair products, etc. You get to decide. The best part of this option is the opportunity to meet other individuals who may assist you in new business ventures.

4. Consulting

Who better to ask about nursing-based projects, apps, and clinical development than someone who holds a ton of experience in the profession? How wonderful would it be to get paid for your insight about the profession you’ve been a part of for “X” amount of years? A few months ago, the owner of a staffing company was looking to expand by adding nurses to his roster of professionals but had no idea where to start. A mutual friend gave him my contact number and 2 days later, I became a consultant for his business. Individuals who are focused on the growth and profit of their business will not hesitate to pay for your expertise. If paying you a few hundred dollars will make them thousands in return, smart business owners will quickly and happily invest in you. Position yourself as an expert with a vast amount of experience and knowledge so that others will seek you out or refer others to you.

5. Teaching

The profession that never goes out of style. We as nurses do this every single shift we work, so why not be paid for it and teach on your own schedule? Become a BLS, ACLS, and/or PALS instructor, why not? Get certified. Focus on a specific group: maybe nursing agencies or travel nurses as your focus market. You can also reach out to rural schools and businesses to offer your teaching services. Take advantage of the fact that most places are requiring some basic knowledge of life support for employment. Make yourself a resource for these business and you are sure to always have clients. Teachers are always needed.

Practical Steps to Paying Off Your Student Loan

5 Ways to Reduce Your Student Loan Debt

While student loan debt has become a real problem among American adults, a recent study from the Urban Institute shows that college debt falls disproportionately on borrowers of color. In fact, 42% of African Americans ages 25 to 55 carried student loan debt from 1989 to 2013, compared to just 28% of white adults.

Experts offer various explanations for this unfairness, including the fact that African Americans are more likely to attend for-profit schools—not to mention, the general wealth disparity that affects families of color.

The growing costs of college also play a role at a time when the return on a college degree has stagnated due to frozen wages and high costs of living. Add in the ridiculous financial costs of earning a graduate degree, and it’s easy to see how all borrowers—and especially borrowers of color—have gotten into this mess.

Real Answers for Nurses With Real Debt

On the flip side, there is some good news to report. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that registered nurses should see 16% growth in employment opportunities from 2014 to 2024. That surge should add 439,300 new jobs nationally over the course of a decade, which will make it easier for nurses, and especially minority nurses, to enter thriving careers that will make loan repayment possible.

Those looking for a way to escape their debts quickly will find plenty of ways out as well, although some repayment plans will take longer than others. If you’re looking for real ways to get out of student loan debt, consider these five options:

1. Federal Perkins Loan Cancellation and Forgiveness

Federal Perkins Loans were created as a meaningful aid option for low-income students. If you have Federal Perkins Loans to repay, you could potentially have 100% of your balances forgiven after working full-time as a nurse for at least five years. To qualify, you must apply through the school that disbursed the loans or through your student loan servicer.

2. NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program

The NURSE Corps Loan Repayment offers another option for nurses willing to meet certain criteria. This program is available to nurses who are willing to work at least 32 hours per week in a critical shortage facility. To qualify, you must register for the program and work full-time at a facility with a high level of need. After two years of working there, you can have up to 60% of your loans forgiven. Add on another year and you can have an additional 25% of your loans forgiven.

3. Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Commonly referred to as PSLF, this is yet another program geared at nurses who are willing to jump through a few hoops to get their loans forgiven. Through PSLF, nurses can earn total forgiveness of their Direct Loans after working full-time in a public service position and making consecutive, on-time payments for 10 years. To be eligible, you have to work at least 30 hours per week for a public service health agency.

4. State-Based Loan Forgiveness for Nurses

Plenty of states offer their own version of loan forgiveness for nurses, although the requirements and stipulations vary quite a lot between each program.

5. Student Loan Refinancing

While nurses would have to give up government student loan protections like income-driven repayment, forgiveness, deferment, and forbearance when they refinance federal loans with a private lender, the payoff for doing so can be huge. If your loans are currently at a high interest rate, you can potentially save thousands of dollars on interest and potentially pay your loans off faster by refinancing into a new loan with better terms and rates. Of course, it’s crucial to run the numbers and weigh the pros and cons of this option before you dive in.

The Bottom Line

As a nurse, you’re able to help people overcome some of the biggest struggles of their lives. But, as a student borrower, you’re on your own.

With nearly $1.3 trillion in total U.S. student loan debt, it’s possible that most people you know are struggling with this issue. The key to finding a way out is to research as many programs and plans as you can until you find one that makes sense for your situation.

Finance Your Nursing School Education with Scholarships

Finance Your Nursing School Education with Scholarships

Often, minority nurses are encouraged to pursue more education so that they can advance in their careers. Going into deep debt to finance that education, though, isn’t always a smart move. Fortunately, there is scholarship money available for nurses who go after it. Unfortunately, the hunt for funds can be daunting.

Six scholarship-savvy nursing students, financial aid pros, award grantees, and thought leaders offer their advice and insights. Follow it and win the funds you deserve. It works for scholarships (e.g., merit-based awards), grants (e.g., needs-based awards), and fellowships (for graduate students, and either merit- or needs-based).

Austin Nation Austin Nation, RN, PHN, MSN
PhD student at University of California–San Francisco School of Nursing

What’s your greatest scholarship success?

I just did a workshop, a “Scholarships 101,” because people found out that I was able to pay for most of my graduate education, and now my PhD, with awards. In the past, I garnered enough scholarship monies to get the down payment for a house! If students are also interested in teaching, there’s a lot of need and money available. I now have a stipend that’s routed directly to me, which is ideal. Before that, I was using credit cards to pay for financial aid. Remember, besides tuition and books, there are living expenses you need to cover, like housing and food.

What are the best resources for finding scholarships for students?

Look for departmental, college-wide, and university-wide scholarships. There’s a goldmine at the local level, and then at the professional and cultural organizations. Corporations, like Pepsi and Coke, may have scholarships. Also, go after scholarships for people with disabilities—which could mean being the first generation in your family to go to college.

Do you have any advice for nursing students about the whole process?

Just mining this stuff is almost like a little part-time job. The scholarship application period is in April of each year. Cast a wide net; my goal was always to do 10 to 15 applications a year, which seemed to yield the best results. Recently, the fifteenth application I sent out was the one I got. It was federal funding for a minority student that’s good for five years. (It’s capped at $30,000 or $40,000 a year, based on the state.) I’m graduating in June of next year and going back to get additional certification. This program will pick up the tab, so why not?

Are there any tactics you employ to stand out from the competition?

The cornerstone of an application is the personal statement. What makes me a good applicant? Who am I? What have I done in the community? My specialty area and who I am as a person are very specific. I’m a male nurse. I’m a queer nurse. I’m a nurse doing work in HIV. Disclosing my background and status isn’t easy. I’m the first person in my family to go to college. My dad has only a fourth-grade education. That may be embarrassing, but that’s who I am. That’s where I came from. It’s a reflection of my character and how I’ve dealt with adverse circumstances.

Jake SchubertJake Schubert, RN, BSN
Founder of the nurse licensure prep site and a travel nurse

What’s your greatest scholarship success?

I won a scholarship provided by a woman’s club made up of wives of university faculty. Very few men applied. When shown a list provided by the university of available scholarships, most men would say, “Oh, it’s a woman’s club…” But you have to put yourself out there—the club was for women, but their scholarship was for anyone. They were glad I applied because most men don’t, and guess which application stood out?

What are the best resources for finding scholarships for students?

Do ask what is available at different institutions you’re looking to attend. But don’t stop there. I know a student who got a 50% offer at a private school and a 100% ride at a state school. He wrote the private school a polite letter, explained his preference and the situation, then asked, “would you consider giving me 100%?” They gave it to him and called his mom to say how amazing he was, and how they’d never had anyone ask for more aid before.

Reach out to organizations of various kinds. Many have scholarships, though they might not be publicized. They may be discretionary, instead, based on a faculty member’s recommendation. I won a university scholarship that wasn’t even listed and wasn’t available to the public—all based on my relationships with the faculty at my university.

Do you have any advice for nursing students about the whole process?

You have to get in the game. Many people are reluctant to apply because they’re afraid of failure. A lot of times people think they’re going to get a full-ride scholarship that will take them all the way through school. It doesn’t work that way. Most are only $500 to $3,500. Think not of winning one, but of winning lots of scholarships; they add up over time. Once you apply for one, it’s easier to apply for the second, and when you get to the fifth application it’s almost a piece of cake. You can just recycle parts of other applications.

Are there any tactics you employ to stand out from the competition?

Look for what makes you remarkable and highlight that trait or activity. It doesn’t have to be the standard nursing things. One applicant I know used to be a music producer, and that stood out. But be careful not to spread your message too thin—pick one or two activities and dive in; invest time and energy in those. Take a leadership role and show your passion and commitment. Focus on one really rich experience on your application and weed out the minor ones. For example, when I was in nursing school I had written an article to highlight the work of a physician I admired and worked with. At my first job interview, that magazine issue was on the nurse manager’s desk. I casually mentioned, “Have you read my article…?” At my second interview, another manager greeted me with “So… we read your article.” That made a remarkable difference. That’s not why I wrote the article, but it showed that I’m engaged in the community. I’m not somebody who will take the money and run and never be seen or heard from again.

Brittney WilsonBrittney Wilson, RN, BSN
“The Nerdy Nurse” author, social media influencer, and blogger at  

Do you have any advice for nursing students about the whole process?

My best piece of advice for nursing scholarships is to apply for everything. You often hear people joke to “vote early and vote often.” This actually does apply to scholarships. Apply early and apply often. Even if you’re not 100% sure you’re the perfect fit for the scholarship or don’t feel you meet the right demographics, go ahead and give it a shot. Unless the guidelines specifically exclude you, then you should assume they include you.

Are there any tactics you suggest to stand out from the competition?

I would also suggest to apply to scholarships that aren’t just for nursing students. Because nurses hold such a strong place in many hearts and are constantly voted as the most trustworthy profession, you may have an edge over other candidates for more general scholarships. You’ll also likely be competing with fewer nursing students and have an ability to stand out. Applying for scholarships that you wouldn’t think would be a good fit could actually give you an edge and let you stand out against other applicants.

Donna CardilloDonna Cardillo, RN, MA
“The Inspiration Nurse” keynote speaker, author, and columnist at

What’s your greatest scholarship success?

Free money is the best kind of money. Some scholarships will even give you money for living expenses. I was going to have to drop out, but I got that scholarship for the next year. I was recommended for the scholarship by a professor at school. Community and women’s groups sometimes contact the school and ask for the name of a deserving student. In this case, they wanted to find a community leader. I’d talked to this professor about my personal and financial situation, so she recommended me. Share your story. People want to help and support you.

Do you have any advice for nursing students about the whole process?

The more you apply, the better your chances of getting money. Every scholarship has different criteria. Some are for entry to practice, some are for advanced levels. Don’t get hung up on meeting all the criteria. You have to cast your net wide if you’re going to catch some fish. Try ethnic community associations, like the Hispanic American Club, in addition to ethnic nursing associations. It’s worth making the scholarship search a part-time job. Contact your state chapter of the American Nurses Association and ask if there’s anyone there who can help you with scholarship information. Ask at the financial aid office, too. Ask a librarian for resources, such as the current edition of Peterson’s Scholarships, Grants and Prizes. Remember, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Make as much effort to apply for scholarships as to apply to school.

Are there any tactics you suggest to stand out from the competition?

Read the questions carefully and tailor your application to match, each time. Learn how to write a good essay. They don’t know you, so you have to convince them. Don’t hesitate to share your difficulties; for instance, a background as a single parent or with an illness. People want to be touched, moved. “Oh, I don’t want to go into that,” students say, but it’s important to tell your personal story.

I know many people who’ve financed their whole education through scholarships and grants. When I went to graduate school, I had literally no money. I presumed I’d apply for student loans and pay them off the rest of my life. I applied for a scholarship that I didn’t qualify for because I wasn’t taking enough credits. (I was only taking one course a semester.) In my application, I explained that I wanted to take a full course load but had to work and care for a family, so I couldn’t fit it all in without financial support. I was awarded a special scholarship that year because of my circumstances.

Cynthia J. Hickman, RN, BSN, MSN/Ed
PhD student, established the Cynthia J. Hickman “Pay It Forward” Nursing Scholarship

What’s your greatest scholarship success?

I received the Johnson & Johnson [Community Health Care Leadership] award while working for St. Luke’s hospital [in Houston, Texas]; someone suggested I “pay it forward.” My way of making the world a better place is to help others complete their education toward the goal of becoming a registered nurse. Students must have the first two years, and the scholarship is for the last two.  The scholarships at the national and local Black Nurses Association are for $1,000; however, they have not been active the past few years. When my foundation application and nonprofit status has been complete, I plan to make them available back to my organizations. The scholarship at St. Luke’s is self-renewing, for $2,000 or whatever is the interest for that year. Recipients are encouraged to pay it forward when they graduate. I want to expand the scholarship to high schools—Houston has health services focused schools and some are already offering college courses.

Do you have any advice for nursing students about the whole process?

The scholarship search turns many people off—they see the scholarship application and what they ask for, put it aside and say “No.” I tried to make it easier to apply by talking to other schools and looking at their guidelines. Once I ascertained that, I knew I didn’t have to include certain questions, for instance GPA. Nursing schools require a 2.5 GPA.

Are there any tactics you suggest to stand out from the competition?

Do a dummy application before the real one. You have to be able to write. It’s not as hard to write if you pick your passion. If I applied for an engineering degree I’d have difficulty, but I’m a nurse so I can write with passion about that. Examples are everything. I always wrote about early on, when I was a lifeguard, and saved a life. That job turned into my career in nursing. Safety is part of both fields; be someone who thinks beyond the obvious.Q: Are there any tactics you employ to narrow down applications for a winner?

Be dedicated, focused, and pay attention to instructions—that’s very important. Complete the application. As a nurse, you have to complete things. Someone’s life is at stake; you can’t half do it. I’ve heard about application review committees who break up into teams. One team looks only for completions. Another team looks only for errors. They may start with 3,000 applications, but quickly narrow it down to 150. Each scholarship committee has its own specific criteria. Mine is community service; you have to show a history of community service. If you’re a pediatric nurse, that’s great, but then do something else outside of that. If they’ve had breast cancer, then volunteer for that cause. Now you’ve added another layer of expertise based on your personal experience and passion.

Maria Elena C De GuzmanMaria Elena C. De Guzman
Student funding coordinator at University of California–San Francisco School of Nursing

What’s your greatest scholarship success story?

The greatest success story I’ve encountered so far is from one of our students who is a single parent with a daughter who is also in school. She’s a minority student and is the first in her family to attend a university. She came to my office to get counseled on how to improve on her scholarship applications since she has not been very successful. After that visit, she received a number of awards. Her success was about not so much the amount of scholarship money she received, but how she managed to overcome the personal challenges in her life, with funding being one of them. She was then able to focus more on her studies.

What are the best resources for finding scholarships for students?

Start with your school. Then there are professional organizations, employers, and organizations related to cultural or ethnic backgrounds. I don’t know if something similar is available for undergraduate students, but the UCSF COS [Community of Science] Pivot database that we offer our graduate students is one of the best and most comprehensive. It covers funding opportunities for most disciplines from federal agencies, and private U.S. as well as international foundations. It alerts users every time a new funding opportunity comes up related to their discipline or area of interest. It also has a tool for research networking—quite cool!

Do you have any advice for nursing students about the whole process?

Make sure you meet all the eligibility criteria. Take your time, and do your research when applying for scholarships and grants because they are competitive. After spending time and effort writing an application, use it as a template for other applications. Apply to as many scholarships as possible, including those that are not just for minorities. There are substantial amounts of free money available, but scholarships and grants are always competitive, which is why preparation is so important. Be aware that there are some “free” monies which are not really free because there are commitments attached. These need careful consideration.

Continue to gain experience at work or in school, and do your share for the community by volunteering. Whether the money comes from private or public sources, other people have contributed to put up the scholarship. Your education is a gift that will enable you not only to help improve your life, but also to make a more meaningful contribution for others to succeed as well.