It may take Alex Morgan years after graduation to pay off tens of thousands of dollars in college loans. The 24-year-old senior at the University of Colorado College of Nursing at the Anschutz Medical Campus has taken out 25 grants and loans to pursue two bachelor of science degrees. One in biology and the second in nursing. While it may be more debt than other students have, they all face rising college tuition in the next four years, according to MEFA. Tuition at a national public four-year college for in-state residents will cost an average $24,000 this year and rise to more than $26,000 per year in 2026.
Alex Morgan CU Nursing
Since Morgan has to pay her own way, she’s spent months figuring out what financial aid is available and how to get it. She’s from California and wanted to attend CU Denver for her first undergraduate degree. So she’s had to navigate – (and pay) out-of-state and in-state tuition. She recalls working on one loan application for months to gather all of the needed documentation, only to be later denied.
“There’s probably a 25-page document out there that explains it all,” said Morgan, BSN candidate class of 2023 at CU Nursing.
In time, Morgan mastered the application process. She now has enough aid to take her through graduation this May.
She’s using her experience to guide other students through the process. As the vice president of the CU Nursing Student Council, Morgan holds Zoom sessions about financial aid with undergrads and takes questions frequently from students by email.
“I want to help them with their financial aid journey because I’m definitely in the same boat and it took me a long time to learn. I’d like to save them that time and send them the information,” she said.
“I love helping other students navigate where I had gaps in my knowledge. So, I’m excited to share that and help them. I plan on helping students even after I graduate.”
Morgan has created a financial aid checklist of tips that she emails students. But first, she tries to calm their fears about the bills.
“It’s very stressful thinking about that number looming over you. You get out of school and are so excited and you’re making a full-time paycheck, and you have this cost that’s following you.” Morgan said. “But I tell people you are investing in yourself. It’s not going to make a serious impact on your day-to-day living with the monthly cost of the loan no matter what amount you have to pay back. There’s a bigger picture. If it’s what you love, then go for it. Don’t let this scare you.”
Here are Morgan’s six strategies to afford college:
If you want to go to college in another state, use the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education website to find colleges that are part of the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) WUE shows you which colleges, like the University of Colorado, offer significantly discounted tuition rates to out-of-state students. Note: If you are accepted as a WUE student, you have to wait one year or until you turn 23 years old, to apply for in-state tuition.
Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA loans and grants. This is the best place to start applying for student aid. It’s free to apply and shows you what the government can offer students. It also has one of the least expensive interest rates. Note: Each year the application opens in October and closes in April. The sooner you apply, the more money you are able to receive in your package.
Sallie Mae student loans. This is another option for those looking outside FAFSA. Their interest loan rates are slightly higher than FAFSA, but still lower than getting a personal loan. Sallie Mae loans can cover your fees, books housing, meals, travel and a laptop for the entire year. Note: I do not personally have experience with Sallie Mae, but I do know other nursing students who use it!
Scholarships at Anschutz. Scholarships can be competitive and need-based, so read the application carefully. The awards can range from $1,000 to $10,000. Note: The deadlines vary, so make sure that you apply on time.
College Opportunity Fund or Most Colorado residents qualify for COF which gives you a credit for your tuition each semester. If you have not done so already, you can apply for COF and apply it to your account within 72 hours. COF pays for a percentage of your tuition, so it will change with each semester. Note: Remember to authorize it to your account each semester, which only takes a couple of clicks through UCD Access.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration (VA program for tuition). If you choose a healthcare career and provide care to veterans, you can receive a student loan repayment of up to $200,000 through the VA’s Education Debt Reduction program. As a VA employee, you gain access to many educational incentives from scholarships to loan repayment programs.
Hospitals may offer tuition reimbursement. While it varies by hospital, several will offer stipends for tuition reimbursement and pay for future education if you agree to work there for a specified period of time. Note: Make sure you ask about financial aid incentives when you apply for a job.
Private, personal loans. Use these as a last resort because they often charge the highest interest rates and may require a co-signor.
Earning residency in Colorado can be especially tricky. Here are Morgan’s tips:
- You must be over 23 years old and a resident of Colorado for at least a year to be awarded residency or considered “in-state”.
- You must not have received WUE tuition rate at any other institution for at least a year before applying (view the WUE website to find out if your home state is a part of the program).
- BS in Nursing at CU Nursing now allows WUE rates for their program! If you choose to accept, you most likely will not be able to earn in-state tuition throughout the entire program
- For more information about your own circumstances, please refer to the CU College of Nursing residency information website.