Physician assistant school students are unlikely to work during the program to alleviate the expense of tuition and other costs. The workload is demanding, and clinical rotations often require travel and a varied schedule. In fact, most schools specifically recommend against working during the program and emphasize that accommodations will not be made for outside work schedules. Consequently, it is imperative that students plan to manage the cost of physician assistant school in advance.
The good news is that options exist. Most physician assistant students come from a work environment where it may be possible to set aside some money to help defray the cost of further school. Some locales or workplaces may offer to cover the expense of physician assistant school in exchange for a promise of returning to that locale or workplace upon graduation. Even the United State government offers an education for a promise of work upon program completion.
Federal government loan programs are a reliable source for students who have demonstrated financial need. Additionally, scholarships are available from private programs and from physician assistant schools themselves. The Internet is a tremendous resource for researching more obscure opportunities for support, a scholarship from the local Lions’ Club, for example, or a low-interest loan from a charitable organization.
Grants are financial awards, usually offered by the federal government, to support a public purpose. Grants are not loans and do not need to be repaid. The United States government grants can be researched and applied for at their website. Some grants come with obligations. The National Health Service Corps(NHSC) will repay a physician assistant’s loans in return for years of service. Providers that work full-time at an NHSC-approved site for a minimum of two years, or part-time for four or more years, are eligible for up to $60,000 loan repayment. Higher awards are available for longer service. NHSC-approved sites include federally supported health centers, rural and Indian Health Service clinics, public health locations, and prisons.
Physician assistant school students in undergraduate programs may be eligible for a federal Pell Grant. Undergraduate students may also be eligible for a Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant. As a rule, graduate students are not eligible for these grants. To apply for these, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
After a student has properly applied for financial aid, individual schools may offer grants to students with demonstrated financial need greater than their resources.
Physician assistant school scholarships come in varied amounts and with different obligations. While scholarships do not, as a rule, need to be paid back as loans do, some scholarships have special requirements or commitments. Some, such as scholarships for women or minorities, are only available to members of particular demographic groups.
Scholarships are offered by many different sources. Some physician assistant schools have their own scholarship programs, as do physician assistant organizations. Other scholarships are available to physician assistant students through science and health care organizations and agencies. Physician assistant students may also find scholarships that are not oriented toward their profession but are available to someone from their town, of their heritage, or with their special skill.
A diligent Internet search and discussion with a school’s financial aid counselor are great ways to learn about and apply for scholarships. Most physician assistant schools have their own scholarship programs, some run by the school’s financial aid program and others separate from the financial aid program. Investigate early. Scholarship information is generally available from each school’s financial aid department and often on the school’s website.
Physician assistant school students may apply for the annual scholarships offered by the American Academy of Physician Assistants, the Society of Emergency Medicine Physician Assistants, and the American Association of Surgical Physician Assistants. The latter is offered to a student with a particular interest in surgery. State physician assistant chapters also offer scholarship programs. Tylenol offers $5,000 and $10,000 scholarships to students pursuing careers in the medical field.
The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) provides scholarship money to schools with health care programs. Schools can then distribute those funds to disadvantaged students with financial aid needs. The NHSC offers the National Health Service Corps Scholarship to former NHSC scholars, disadvantaged students, and students of exceptional financial need. Applications are accepted online with scholarships issued annually.
Keep in mind that many scholarships are a one-time offering. Others may be repeated, but students may need to reapply.
For students interested in service to country, the Armed Forces Health Profession Scholarship Program provides full tuition, books, fees, and a monthly stipend in return for one year of active service as a commissioned officer for each year of support. There is a three-year minimum obligation. The National Health Service Corps scholarship covers tuition, books, fees, and a monthly stipend in return for service in a designated medically underserved area of the country. Physician assistants must commit to one year for each year of support, with a minimum of two years.
The Indian Health Service Scholarship Program gives preference to American Indian applicants. This scholarship provides tuition, fees, and a stipend. Awardees must provide one year of health service in a location needed by the Indian Health Service for each year of support.
Oklahoma residents who agree to work in the state’s rural areas are eligible for scholarships that repay $1,000 of student loan value per month. Students must practice in a rural area for one month for every month of scholarship received. Texas has a similar program, offering up to $5,000 loan repayment for a year or more working in a rural Texas county. Students should check with their state health departments for supported opportunities in rural and underserved communities.
Financial aid, simply put, is any financial support offered to physician assistant students to lower the cost of schooling. Each school has its own financial aid department, which is a tremendous resource for process, critical dates, and lesser-known available loans and scholarships. The overall financial aid process, however, is centralized and requires an application.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) must be filed after January 1 to be eligible for federal government aid and loans. Federal programs include the Pell Grant, Perkins Loan, Stafford Loan, and work-study, though physician assistant school students are not offered work-study due to the demands of the PA program. The College Scholarship Service (CSS) PROFILE can be completed online as early as fall and is often used by school financial aid officers to determine eligibility and awards. Each school has its own process, however, and may require supplemental forms or applications. Deadlines for applications should be marked on a calendar so they won’t be missed.
Whether or not a student intends to take out loans, it is wise to complete a financial aid application. Some scholarships and awards will only be given to students with a financial aid record. A school’s financial aid office guides students to available programs and necessary forms.
The site provides detailed information on the financial aid process and different ways to pay for college from college saving plans, loans, scholarships, and military aid. The site also offers links to applications and financial aid calculators.
The financial aid process is an important piece in assessing the true cost of a physician assistant education. At the end of the process, students should know the cost of a program, the amount of resources they have to allocate to these expenses, and the availability of outside resources to cover the difference.
Careful consideration should be given before taking out high-value loans. At the start of school, the priority may be figuring out a way to balance the books for the next two or three years. At the end of school, however, when those notes and any undergraduate loan notes become due, the priority will quickly change. Students should add the cost of all student loans and calculate an expected monthly loan payment. Budget post-school income and all living expenses, including the monthly loan cost, to ensure all obligations can be met.
Money borrowed from a bank or the federal government must be paid back at the interest rate and repayment schedule defined in the promissory note. The most common and substantial student loans programs are run by the federal government and accessed by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) online or by mail. More information can be found athttp://www.financialaidtips.org or studentaid.ed.gov.
Graduate and professional-degree students are eligible for federal student loans under the Direct PLUS Loan program. Applicants must have a good credit history and use the loaned funds to pay for education expenses. School-determined eligibility is used and the Direct PLUS Loan Application must be completed. Physician assistant school students can borrow the difference of school-determined cost of attendance and other financial aid awards. Public-service employees may be eligible to have part of their loan balance forgiven.
Physician assistant school students may also be eligible for Direct Stafford Loans through the U.S. Department of Education. A FAFSA must be completed for eligibility. The Stafford Loan program limits the amount students may borrow for undergraduate and graduate programs combined. Graduate and professional-degree students may borrow no more than $138,500 and no more than $65,500 from subsidized loans. Annual loan limits also exist: $20,500 for graduate and professional-degree students.
School financial aid offices administer the Federal Perkins Loan program. Undergraduate and graduate students with exceptional financial need are eligible for low-interest loans of up to $5,000 per year for an undergraduate program and $8,000 per year for a graduate program. Schools have limits on how much money they can loan each year, so early financial aid applicants may have an advantage.
Students would be wise to evaluate non-federal loan programs and compare the cost of borrowing money before signing a promissory note. Sallie Mae and its Nellie Mae arm offer the Smart Option Student Loan. Students with good credit may find loans with an interest amount competitive with or better than federal loan programs. Some banks offer health professions loans; physician assistant students will be eligible for some but not all of these loan programs. While banks tend to offer higher interest rates and less favorable payback terms, a quick check of rates and availability is advisable to ensure optimal loan terms.
Physician assistant work in public service or rural areas may qualify PAs for repayment or partial repayment of student loans. Federal agencies generally provide loan program information online. State health departments are the most likely source of state program information.