- The HRSA Nurse Corps Scholarship Program can pay for tuition and fees and provide a monthly stipend.
- Applications are rigorous, and nurses must be willing to work full-time in a critical shortage area for two years to pay back the financial aid.
- Graduates can apply for positions they choose in critical shortage facilities.
It’s no surprise that higher education is not exactly cheap, and nursing school is no exception. The good news is there are ways to help offset these costs — or even attend nursing school at a greatly reduced cost or no cost at all.
One way to go to nursing school for free is through the Nurse Corps Scholarship Program.
Administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the program pays tuition, fees, and other educational costs for accepted applicants. In return, students agree to work for two years or more in facilities where the nursing or overall healthcare workforce shortage is particularly acute. It can be challenging to gain acceptance, with a rigorous application process involved.
This historically underutilized program more than doubled participation during the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing from 227 accepted students in 2019 to 567 in 2022.
Applications recently closed for 2023, with no dates announced yet for 2024 application deadlines. But now is an ideal time to determine whether you might be a good fit for the program.
What Is The Nurse Corps Scholarship Program?
HRSA is a federal agency that helps provide quality healthcare to the highest-need communities and people, from patients in rural areas to those in need of a transplant.
The Nurse Corps scholarship program helps students attend free nursing school to address the nursing shortage in high-need areas or populations.
Graduates work in an HRSA-designated area of high need, including Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA), Maternity Care Target Areas (MCTA), or Medically Underserved Areas/Populations (MUA/P).
Nursing students must meet eligibility requirements to apply for the HRSA Nurse Corps Scholarship Program.
The scholarship pays for tuition and fees and offers a monthly stipend. The entire scholarship award is taxable. In exchange, recipients agree to work full-time in a critical shortage facility for two years after graduation. A critical shortage facility is located in, or designated as, an HPSA.
Am I Eligible to Apply for the Nurse Corps Scholarship Program?
Anyone is eligible to apply for the program if they meet the following criteria:
- Are a United States citizen (born or naturalized), a national, or a lawful permanent resident
- Are enrolled — or accepted for enrollment — in a professional nursing degree program at an accredited school of nursing in the U.S.
- Begin classes no later than September 30
- Have no federal judgment liens
- Have no existing service commitment
- Not be overdue on a federal debt
Applying to the Nurse Corps Scholarship Program: What to Know
The application process for 2023 has closed. You can sign up for an email notification when the 2024 application cycle opens. Preparing the application documentation can take weeks or months, so now is a good time to begin the process.
Before applying, here are some things to consider:
Are you willing and able to move to an underserved area and work in a critical shortage facility full-time for two years after graduating from nursing school?
Understand that you will be required to sign a contract that you will meet your obligations.
The minimum service obligation is two years full-time, but students who receive support beyond two years will have a longer service obligation.
Participants in the program can apply for open positions in critical shortage facilities they choose.
They will have up to nine months from graduation to get a permanent nursing license, accept an employment offer, and begin full-time work.
Some participants may be granted part-time status but must still fulfill two years of full-time work.
Students who begin the program but cannot continue can submit a written request to terminate the contract and are obligated to repay all money, including pre-tax tuition and stipends.
The application package consists of an online application and supporting documentation, including:
- Eligibility screening
- Confirmation the student will be full-time
- General and background information including individual and family background, emergency contacts, and education
- Two professional letters of recommendation:
- One academic letter should be from a faculty advisor, department share, or faculty member attesting to the applicant’s qualifications.
- One non-academic letter of recommendation should be from an individual familiar with the applicant’s community or civic activities, especially related to underserved communities.
- Required supporting documents may include:
- An authorization to release information form
- Proof of status as a U.S. citizen or U.S. national
- Verification of acceptance or enrollment form in an accredited nursing program
- Current tuition and fee schedule
- Completed essay question
- Resume or curriculum vitae
- Academic transcript
- If students have an outstanding service obligation to another program, additional documentation may be required.
The Nurse Corps Scholarship program allows many nurse students to enter a professional career by reducing financial barriers while helping to alleviate the nursing shortage.
The program may be a good option for students who want to become nurses but have limited financial options. It may also be a good fit for nurses who prefer working off their loan obligation in 2-3 years at a critical shortage rather than spending nearly a decade paying back school loans.