In part 1 of Paying For PA School, I talked about how much PA school can cost, why cost is not the same as quality, and why you shouldn’t rely on working to get you through it. So if you aren’t going to work, and you aren’t independently wealthy (*ahem*) how do you pay for it? That’s where today’s topic comes in…
I’m guessing that got your attention. Free money? Yes. The synonyms for it are grants scholarships. If you haven’t had to finance something like a degree before – maybe your parents had a college fund or you did the community college + work thing – it’s time you learned about free money, because it’s the best kind (duh).
Grant is a general term for a gift of money – often, but not always from a government – that is awarded for specific purposes. Scholarships are gifts of money that are more specifically for study, and are given to students who meet specific criteria. If grants and scholarships sound about the same, you can think of them that way. Because grants and scholarships are totally free money, you pursue them with a vengeance.
Finding Grants and Scholarships
When you are accepted to a PA program, you will complete a financial aid application called a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), which will help determine if you qualify to receive money from nine federal programs and many more state and local programs. Your school’s financial aid office will let you know what your FAFSA makes you eligible to receive. They will also use the FAFSA to determine how much money you can borrow in the form of loans. These are the kinds of aid you want to minimize, so they won’t show up until 3 of the scintillating series on paying for PA school…
But there are private grants and scholarships that are not administered by the government that you can and should apply for. In fact, you should apply for as many of these as you can find and have time to. For me, the limiting factor was time. Some of the applications require an essay, a letter of recommendation, etc, so you have to decide which are the best use of your time. Most of these will only cover a small fraction of the cost of your schooling. But $500 here, $1000 there – pretty soon we’re talking about real money! And the more free money you get, the less you’ll need to borrow and pay back for (always) longer than you want to.
Paying for PA School: 5-Step To-Do List
- Go to www.fastweb.com and open a free account. They’re funded with loads of advertising, but you can easily ignore it. Take the time to answer the many questions about your ethnic, cultural, religious, geographic, occupational blah blah background. Do not blow through these questions – EACH ONE HAS MONEY TIED TO IT. Believe me, there is a scholarship out there for you if you’re a red-headed yachting enthusiast from Kazakhstan. Fastweb will take your information, plug it into their big database, and churn out a list of grants for which you may qualify. They will even give you clickable links to download the applications. Believe me, it has never been easier. One more note – even if you think you’re only 1/344th Native American or whatever, put it down. Most of these monies are given out on paper, and no one will ever know that as far as you’re concerned you didn’t deserve it. Let them decide. Of course, be honest.
- Ask friends, family members or others you know if they know of any educational grants or scholarships in the community. There are plenty of local community groups that literally have money sitting in a bank waiting for someone to show up deserving it, and often no one does. If you are somehow connected to someone who is a member of such a group, you have an advantage. Many of fraternal organizations have national and international chapters, but the place to start is your local chapter, since often your city’s chapter will have specific opportunities for individuals that the larger chapters won’t. A few examples:
- Contact the career or job placement center of your undergraduate college and ask them about scholarships for alumni.
- Talk with your employer, particularly if you work for a larger company or corporation. Every years, companies like Genentech, Walmart, and Bank of America offer scholarship money for employees or their family members. Don’t think your employer has such a program? Ask. Or just google your company’s name and the word scholarships. They might have one, and if they don’t, some smaller companies have been known to come up with a scholarship on the fly to help out an employee whom they feel is deserving.
- Contact the National Health Service Corps. They pay for tuition, expenses, and stipend for students in exchange for an equivalent number of years of schooling. Example: they pay for two years of your education, then upon graduation you repay them by working at an NHSC site as a PA for two years (with pay, of course). Voila – you’re paid for.
The Most Important Tip of All
Paying for PA school demands that you apply early. Free money often can’t be rushed. Start early and put your best foot forward to maximize your chances of success.
Know of other scholarships and aid specific to physician assistant or medical education? Please visit the forum and post a comment – we’d love to hear about it! -P