Going to school while working full-time as a nurse and raising a four-year-old with her husband isn’t easy, so Ashley Willie knew she wanted an online nursing program with supportive instructors and a flexible schedule.
“I wanted instructors who were interested in their students’ personal and career goals as well as their educational goals,” she said.
In addition, she said, “I was looking for a program that didn’t require me to be online at a certain time. I wanted more freedom and autonomy.”
Willie said prospective nursing students should look at what kind of financial support and resources are available for minority students, as well as what past and current students and instructors have to say about the program. And of course, they should check the matriculation rate and accreditation of a school, she said.
Financial support: putting your money where your mouth is
Sheldon Fields, the inaugural associate dean for equity and inclusion at the Penn State Ross and Carol Nese College of Nursing, agreed that prospective students should look at what kind of financial resources an institution commits to multicultural students.
Sheldon Fields, PhD, RN, CRNP, FNP-BC, AACRN, FNAP, FAANP, FAAN. Associate Dean for Equity and Inclusion, Ross and Carol Nese College of Nursing.
“To put their money where their mouths are, schools need to be committing resources — sponsoring lecture series, offering scholarships, resources specifically focused on supporting multicultural students,” he said.
Fields, who has been a nurse for 30 years, said schools should have a clear stance on diversity, equity and inclusion that is reflected in their mission statement and their strategic plan, which should be available online, and should also teach diversity, equity and inclusion issues as part of their undergraduate and graduate curricula.
If there are no multicultural nursing student groups and the topic appears to be ignored, “It’s a big red flag,” Fields said. “A multicultural student is not going to find support for who they are, for the unique perspectives and talents that they bring, and the needs they have.”
Fields urged prospective students to look carefully at a school’s nursing faculty.
“It’s one thing to say you want a diverse faculty; it’s another to actually make it happen,” he said.
Denita Wright Watson, associate director of equity, inclusion, and advocacy for the Penn State World Campus Student Affairs office, urged students to seek out institutions that focus on addressing health care disparities, inequities, and bias in health care and that are focused not only on attracting diverse talent, but also retaining it. Schools should go beyond lip service to invest in students’ academic and professional success, she said, by providing professional development opportunities and other career services, as well as supporting students’ personal well-being through mental health support, student identity groups and DEI–related programs.
Denita Wright Watson, MLD, Assoc. Director of Equity, Inclusion, & Advocacy for Student Affairs. Penn State World Campus.
Students should ask, “What support is out there for me, beyond academic support?” Wright Watson said. “What support is there to aid in my growth as a person?”
Prospective students should “scour and scour” a school’s website not only for their mission and values statements, but also to see what service projects the institution is involved in and what kind of speakers and events are offered, Wright Watson said.
“Google should be their best friends,” she said. “Just ask questions: Why should I pick this university? Why should I pick this program? What are they doing to meet the needs of underserved students and communities?”
Fields added: “Ask them, ‘What did you learn in a program about diversity, equity and inclusion?’ If they tell you nothing — run the other way.”
Willie agreed that it’s important to look for an institution that recognizes health care inequities and equips students with tools to help reduce health care disparities, seeking to improve health care outcomes at both the individual and the population levels. An example of that is teaching students methods of recognizing vulnerable populations and using evidence-based tactics to improve health care literacy and health and wellness, she said.
All her professors at Penn State have valued both her cultural and professional background and make time to meet with individual students to discuss their goals and aspirations, Willie said.
“For me this is very important because not only do I feel valued individually, I feel like the instructors are invested in my success as a woman of color.”
We have all heard it before – save for retirement before you start filling up your children’s college funds. The idea goes against the grain for many parents. Not only do they want to provide money so their kids can go to school, but they also, as parents, tend to put their kids needs before their own. But saving for your own retirement is a great way to protect your kids, too.
Saving for retirement before college isn’t an all-or-nothing plan. Of course, you need to put aside money for college if you hope to have your kids get an education. But the old adage is true that while there are lots of other financial supports and resources to help pay for education, you are on your own when it comes to your retirement years. If you don’t have enough saved up, you risk financial peril and you risk dragging your kids into it, too.
There are also some immediate financial benefits when you save for retirement first. If you invest as much as you possibly can into your retirement funds, you’re still investing in your kids’ futures. You are helping them avoid paying for all your expenses in your old age. Since those costs add up even faster than tuition, you’re saving your offspring a real hardship. Even if they graduate with student loans, those payback schedules are spread out over many years and at low interest rates. That’s not the case if they need to help you pay for senior care costs.
Socking away money in your retirement can also give you big benefits long before you retire. Saving for your golden years also helps when your kids hit college age, and the family starts applying for financial aid. If you have been diligent about saving for retirement and have amassed a good amount in your accounts, this won’t impact your financial aid benefits. Colleges do not count the money in retirement funds as assets. Those are protected funds and are not considered as funds you can use to help pay for college.
Believe it or not, if you happen to split the amount you are saving, say putting half in your retirement and half into an account for your child, you could reduce your financial aid awards. That’s because the money is the child’s account is an asset and is considered as money that could help pay for college expenses.
Another tip is to make sure any money you set aside for college has a parent or guardian’s name as the primary name on the account. Because this kind of money is considered an asset, colleges will assess a certain percentage of the account to pay for college. But assets in a child’s name are assessed at a much higher rate than assets in a parent’s name so more of that money has to pay for college.
And of course, there are the tax benefits of putting money in your retirement accounts as well. By doing so, you can reduce the amount of taxes you pay, save a significant amount for retirement, and increase your chances at getting financial aid because all that money is being invested into savings vehicles that are not included in financial aid decisions.
So even if you think saving for retirement before you save for your kids’ college plans sounds like it’s selfish, it’s not. In truth, taking care of your own expenses is smart in the long run, but it can also give you an advantage when it comes to receiving financial aid. There’s no down side to that.
When the Institute of Medicine recommended that 80 percent of nurses have a BSN by 2020, lots of nurses didn’t know what to think. While many in the field like the idea of having a higher degree, the logistics of going back to school can be challenging.
If you want to go back to school to earn your BSN or a higher degree, figuring out where you will get the time to attend and the money to pay for college are the biggest challenges. And while the next blog will tackle the time issue, this one will focus on paying for college.
Consider these six tips when you are wondering how you will pay for this next big step in your education.
Check With Your Employer
Before you look into anything, check to see if your employer has any kind of tuition assistance available. They might pay for some of your classes, all of them, or only specific ones that will enhance your job. But any benefit is better than none at all, so be sure to find out all the details.
Consider a 529 Plan
You might have set up a 529 plan for your own kids or might have used one when your own parents set up a plan to fund your education. But adults can benefit from the tax advantages of a 529 plan, too. As long as the money is used for your education, you can sock away funds to help pay for things like tuition and supplies. If you already have 529 plans for your kids, you can still open one for yourself.
Set Up an Automatic Plan
Maybe your employer offers an automatic withdrawal for your retirement and you have found that a great method of savings. You hardly miss what you don’t have in the first place. You don’t want to divert any retirement funds to pay for your education, but setting up an additional withdrawal is a fantastic way to save. If you can divert some of your paycheck through your automatic deposit plan or even on your own through your bank, you can start putting aside some money.
Create a Specific Fund
If you can’t manage to do an automatic withdrawal, you can still set up a specific fund (some kind of money market fund is better than a savings account). Determine how much you want to accrue each year and figure out how much you need to contribute each week to meet that goal. The type of fund you choose depends on how soon you will need the money. For example, if you are going to start school in two years, you need something you can have fast access to. If your plan includes starting classes five years from now, you have more time to let your money grow and less immediate need for it.
Find Money Sources
There’s no doubt your schedule is packed and you are wondering how you will find the time, let alone the money, when it comes time to start your degree program. But if you plan right, you can take some time now and try to raise funds you will only use for your education. Teach community classes, make a specialized craft, fix computer equipment, take per diem work when you can, build websites – whatever fits your skills and your time. Use the money only for your education.
Make Friends With the Financial Aid Office
Always make sure you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to be put into consideration for financial aid to help you pay for college. Although some schools cannot or will not budge on their allocated aid, it never hurts to ask to see if they have any wiggle room. If a little extra money means you can earn your degree that much faster, it only makes sense to appeal your amounts.
Going back to school is a huge life transition, but it shouldn’t be one that puts you into enormous debt. There are lots of places where you can get assistance or you can establish ways to save steadily and successfully on your own.
You finally got accepted into your first-choice nursing school and now you have to figure out if you can afford to go there. How do you do that? Take a long, exacting look at the award letter any school where you have been accepted sends you. Understanding the fine points in your financial aid award letter is crucial to making a financially sound decision.
What does your award letter really mean?
According to the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority (MEFA), there are several ways colleges can give you money, but each one means something different. If a college says it meets 100 percent of your full financial need, realize that a big chunk of that money could be in the form of interest-bearing loans that have to be paid back or it could be in the form of free-money scholarships. It’s up to you to know the difference so you can compare costs accurately.
Money That’s Yours
Grants or scholarships can come from private organizations, government sources, or your school. Grants and scholarships include funds you use for your education and don’t need to be paid back. Many schools give need-based or merit-based scholarships, so if your financial situation changes or your grades don’t meet the scholarship requirements, your funds could be withdrawn. Know what each grant or scholarship requires so you continue to meet the correct requirements.
Money You Have to Pay Back
Any kind of loan, whether it’s a Stafford loan, a PLUS parent loan, or a private bank loan, needs to be paid back. If you are taking out loans or they are awarded to you as part of your financial aid package, pay attention to the interest rates and the repayment plan once you graduate. Calculate the monthly cost over four (or more) years of accruing loans and interest. If the figure startles you, you might want to consider another school with a better package.
Something in the Middle
Work study awards afford you the opportunity to make money through an on-campus job. Work study jobs are often found in a cafeteria, in a library, in an office, or even in a lab environment. The money isn’t given to you by the school outright – you earn it through the job. So although the school has the money on your award letter, you’re responsible for the cost up front. For example, if your work study award is for $1,000, you’re responsible for finding a job on campus from available work study job openings. You generally pay the college the money up front with your tuition bill, but then you get it back as you work at your work study position.
Financial aid packages vary greatly from school to school and can depend on something as simple as your need, your grades, and the school’s available funds. If you have any kind of special circumstance, call the financial aid office and set up an appointment to talk about it. They might not be able to budge on the amount of aid they are offering, but you won’t ever know unless you ask.
Did you know there are lots of hidden secrets to financial aid – how to find it, get it, keep it, and use it wisely? There’s no one-size-fits-all for financial aid either. Believe it or not, all financial aid isn’t the same. Knowing the difference helps you manage your tuition budget.
Remember financial aid awards are often based on requirements, so make sure you know what they are. For instance, if you are required to take a full load of classes, understand that dropping below that minimum required credit load could jeopardize your funding.
Always remember that you can ask for a formal financial aid review at your school. If you can explain your hardship, the school might be able to offer more.
What kinds of financial aid exist and what’s the difference?
1. Loans – Students and their families can apply for various federal and private loans to pay for their education. Look carefully into each as there are important differences in repaying the loans, limits, and loan terms (like interest rates and when they start accruing).
2. Scholarships – Scholarships can come from the school itself, another educational institution, or private and public organizations (from a local garden or business club to national ones like Minority Nurse Magazine, The Society of Women Engineers, or Lions Clubs International, for example). They don’t have to be repaid. Scholarships can seem like a real process – often requiring applications, essays, recommendations, and other documents. But it’s worth the effort to seek out scholarships that will be a good match for you. Start looking early!
3. Grants – Like a scholarship, a grant is given to you and doesn’t have to be repaid. Grants are often based on merit or merit plus a financial need and can come as part of your financial aid package. This is what we all like to call “free money.” But, like scholarships, some grants are based on strict requirements. You might have to apply, so look around and start the process early.
4. Work Study – Work study jobs are often given by a school’s financial aid office as part of the student’s aid package. Students can generally pick from a range of jobs and will work in exchange for money from the institution.
5. Federal Aid Programs – The government offers several types of aid – from loans to grants. You can apply for various aid packages using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
6. State Aid Programs – Many states have their own aid programs. Check the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators’ website to find potential funding sources in your state.
Stay focused and on track when looking for financial aid, as it’s not always obvious and schools don’t always wave their free money in front of you! Check and double check all the deadlines, so you don’t miss out on anything because you were supposed to apply two months ago.