Financial Aid Overview and Scholarships

Medical assistance is a rewarding career that gives individuals the opportunity to work in doctors’ offices, hospitals, and healthcare facilities. Although there are no formal educational requirements to become a medical assistant, most employers prefer to hire individuals who have completed a postsecondary education program at a community college or university and earned a medical assistant certification. Completing a formal medical assistant program gives students the opportunity to gain laboratory experience and learn medical terminology.

While higher education is ideal for individuals interested in becoming medical assistants, many are concerned about how to pay for the program. Fortunately, there are plenty of financial aid options available to students who want to earn a certificate in medical assistance. Many schools offer merit-based and need-based financial aid packages, as well as loans, grants, medical assistant scholarships, flexible payment options, discounts for special student populations, and employer reimbursement and tuition deferment programs. When students consider costs, they should factor in tuition and other related expenses, such as books, special equipment, and materials. The following guide discusses the types of financial aid available to medical assistant students.

How Much Does it Cost to Get a Medical Assistant Certification?

The total cost of a medical assistant certification depends on several factors. Many schools charge a per-credit fee, which means the cost of tuition varies depending on how many courses the student takes each semester. Residency and location are also factors. Residents typically pay lower tuition rates than out-of-state students, and there may be different rates for on-campus students versus distance learners. There may be fees associated with technology, facilities, equipment, and other learning materials, as well as expenses for books, housing, health insurance, placement tests, and transportation. This is why it’s important for students to research medical assistant scholarships and grants.

Paying for Your Medical Assistant Certification with Financial Aid


The U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid provides more than $120 billion each year in loans, grants, and work-study funds to help students pay for college and education-related expenses. To apply for financial aid, students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA not only allows students to apply for federal aid, but also state, school, and private aid, including medical assistant scholarships and grants.

To apply for student aid with the FAFSA, students must hold a high school diploma or GED certificate and cannot owe money or be in default on a current loan. They must have a clean record with no convictions for possession or sale of illegal drugs and have a valid Social Security number. Applicants must submit all records of income, such as state and federal income tax returns, W-2s, bank statements, and investment records. Students who are dependents must have their parent’s financial information as well.

To apply for the 2018-2019 school year, students must submit the FAFSA by June 30, 2019. FAFSA corrections and updates must be made by September 14, 2019. Some states provide funding on a first-come, first-served basis, so it’s prudent to apply for aid early in those states. The FAFSA4caster gives students an estimate of the amount of aid they are likely to receive.

Determining Your Financial Need

Students must know their expected family contribution (EFC) and the cost of attendance (COA) to figure out how much financial aid for which they are eligible. EFC is an index number that the school uses to determine how much financial aid students should receive. Factors such as household income, assets, and family size are considered to determine EFC. Keep in mind, the EFC is not the amount of money students have to pay for college, it’s an estimate that helps schools decide on an appropriate financial aid package for their students.

COA is the total amount of money it costs to go to school for the duration of a program. To determine the amount of need-based aid a student is eligible for, students must subtract their EFC from COA. Need-based federal student aid programs include the Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), direct subsidized loans, Perkins Loan, and work-study programs.

Non-need-based aid is calculated without using the EFC. To determine the amount of merit-based money, including money awarded for scholarships for medical assistant programs, students must subtract the total financial aid awards from the total COA. Non-need-based federal student aid programs include direct unsubsidized loans, PLUS Loans, and the Teacher Education Access for College and Higher Education grant.

Sources of Financial Aid

  • School aid: School-based financial aid is awarded to students from an educational institution’s funds and may be based on academic excellence or financial need. Schools often offer financial aid to specific student populations, such as scholarships for medical assistant students. Other financial aid opportunities include flexible payment plans and loans. Students should contact their school’s financial aid office to get more specific information about their options.
  • Federal aid: Federal aid is awarded by the federal government. Authorized under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, federal aid options include loans, grants, and work-study programs, and they must be used to pay for education-related expenses. Students apply for federal aid using the FAFSA, and the federal government shares FAFSA information with applicable schools. A school’s financial aid office determines the amount of money awarded to each student.
  • State financial aid: State financial aid is state-sponsored money awarded to students to help pay for college. State aid includes loans, grants, and scholarships and may be based on academic excellence or financial need. State aid is sometimes aimed at specific student populations, such as low-income students or veterans. Students apply for state aid using the FAFSA, though some states require additional documentation.
  • Privately-funded scholarships: A privately-funded scholarship does not need to be repaid. Scholarships are typically based on merit, considering factors such as essay submissions, official SAT or ACT scores, class rank, and GPA. Sometimes preference is given to students who demonstrate the most financial need. Some awards are limited to specific student populations, such as scholarships for medical assistant students. When students complete the FAFSA, they automatically apply for scholarships.

Types of Financial Aid

  • Scholarships: A scholarship is a financial gift to a student based on academic merit. Scholarship money does not require repayment. Scholarships are awarded by many institutions, including government agencies, colleges and universities, nonprofit organizations, and private foundations. Some scholarships are renewable. There are no limits to how many medical assistant scholarships for which students can apply, so some students may choose to apply for many scholarships to increase their chances of receiving an award. Requirements and deadlines vary.
  • Grants: A grant is a gift based on financial need. Grant money does not require repayment, with some exceptions, such as withdrawing from classes. Grant money is often awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Grants are awarded by federal and state government agencies, colleges and universities, private organizations and foundations, and corporations. When students submit the FAFSA, they automatically apply for grants. Private grants may have additional requirements and deadlines.
  • Federal Loans: A federal loan is awarded by the U.S. government and must be repaid with interest. The U.S. Department of Education offers federal student loans through the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program. There are four loans offered through this program: subsidized loans, unsubsidized loans, parent PLUS loans, and loan consolidation options. Each type of loan has its own benefits and features.
  • Private Loans: A private loan is awarded to a student from a private lending institution that must be repaid with interest. Private student loans typically require an established credit history or a good credit score. There is often a cosign option to help students with low or no credit receive private loans. Private loans may have adjustable or variable interest rates. Repayment options vary based on the lending institution, which may include fees for late or defaulted payments.
  • Work-Study: Federal work-study is a program that allows students to earn money by working part-time jobs on or off campus. Eligibility for work-study is based on financial need. The total work-study award depends on when students submit their application and the availability of funds at the school. Work-study is available for part-time and full-time students but is often not a practical option for nontraditional students.

Federal Grants

The U.S. Department of Education offers grants to students to help pay for higher education at four-year universities, community colleges, and career schools. Grants are similar to scholarships in that they don’t require repayment. When students submit the FAFSA, they automatically apply for federal grants. Grants are typically awarded based on financial need, though there are a few exceptions. Students must consult the financial aid office at their school to determine how much grant money they are eligible to receive.

  • Federal Pell Grants: The Pell Grant is the largest federally-funded grant available from the U.S. Department of Education. Students can receive up to 150% of a scheduled award per year. The maximum award for the 2018–2019 school year is $6,095.
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG): FSEOG is a grant for students who demonstrate exceptional financial need. With this grant, students are awarded between $100 and $4,000 each year. Participating schools receive limited FSEOG funds each year.
  • TEACH Grants: The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant is designed for students who are pursuing a career in teaching. To be eligible for a TEACH grant, students must score above the 75th percentile on the college admissions test. Students are awarded up to $4,000 each year.
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants: The Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant is available for students who are not eligible for a Pell Grant whose parent or guardian was a member of the military and died on the line of duty after 9/11. The maximum award for the 2018–2019 school year is $6,095.

State Grants

State governments award college grants to help students pay for their education. Students that qualify for federal aid are not likely eligible for state financial aid; however, students who are not eligible for federal aid may still be qualified for state aid. Most state agencies offer grants and other financial aid opportunities. Students who are interested in exploring grants in their state should visit the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators website.

Finding Scholarships

A scholarship is a gift for students to cover a large portion of their college tuition and does not require repayment. Scholarships are typically awarded based on merit, considering factors such as academic standing, official SAT or ACT scores, class rank, and GPA. Other awards are aimed at special groups or student populations, such as medical assistant scholarships. Students can apply for scholarships by submitting the FAFSA. Some scholarships require an essay and letters of recommendation. Students should apply to as many scholarships as possible to increase their award chances.

Taking Out Loans to Pay for Your Medical Assistant Certification

Medical assistant scholarships and grants are ideal payment options for students because they do not require repayment. However, these awards do not necessarily cover all education-related expenses. Students also have the option of taking out loans to help pay for their medical assistant certification programs. More than 70% of students at four-year colleges take out loans to help pay for school. There are many types of loans available, including federal and state loans and private loans from banks and other lending institutions. Students should do their research to determine the best options for their needs.

What Kind of Loan Should You Take Out?

Several loans, including federal and private loans, are available to students to help cover education costs. Private loans are offered through schools, banks, and other private lending institutions, while federal loans are available through the U.S. Department of Education’s William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program. There are several factors to consider when deciding what kind of loan to take out, including interest rates, annual percentage rates, interest capitalizations, prepayment penalties, and application fees, as well as forgiveness, forbearance, and repayment options.

The U.S. government offers students subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Subsidized loans are based on financial need, and the government pays interest while the student is in school. Unsubsidized loans are not based on financial need and students are responsible for paying interest at all times. The government also offers PLUS loans to parents of dependent undergraduate students as well as loan consolidation programs, in which students can consolidate debt into monthly payments. Federal loans often feature fixed interest rates, while private loans may have variable or adjustable interest rates. Generally, private loans are more expensive and less flexible than government-funded loans. Additionally, private loans typically have a more stringent approval process and may require a cosigner.

Loan Repayment

With federal loans, students have many options for repayment. The default repayment option is a standard 10-year repayment plan, but students can switch to a different plan at any time. Students can also opt for the extended repayment plan, which gives them 25 years to pay back their loans. Another option is the graduated repayment plan, in which payments start off at a lower rate and then increase every two years. Several repayment options are based on income, including the pay-as-you-earn plan and the income-contingent, income-based, and income-driven plans. Each plan has different eligibility requirements and schedules. The repayment estimator calculator is a great resource for students to figure out the best option for repayment.

When students are facing financial difficulty, they may have trouble repaying their loans. When they can’t make a payment, the government typically allows students to change their monthly payment due dates or consolidate their loans. A direct consolidation loan is a federal loan that consolidates debt into monthly payments. Consolidating loans allows students to extend the amount of time they have to repay their debt. If those options don’t work, students can postpone their payments through deferment or forbearance. Students should keep in mind that private loans are typically not as flexible.

Loan Forgiveness

Students are required to repay their loans even if they do not graduate or find a job in their desired field. However, certain circumstances can lead to the cancellation of a student’s payment obligation, which is called loan forgiveness. Loan forgiveness is often used for direct loans. Forgiveness is an option for students with special circumstances, such as those who follow certain career pathways, like teaching, or individuals who work in public service. Loan forgiveness is sometimes called loan cancellation, which means that the the borrower’s obligation to repay is canceled. Loan cancellation is often used for Perkins Loan program benefits. Loans that are forgiven or canceled based on qualifying employment do not require income tax payments. Loan discharge is a type of loan forgiveness in which the borrower’s obligation to repay the balance is canceled due to circumstances such as when a school closes or a student goes bankrupt or becomes permanently disabled. In rare cases, loan discharges entitle borrowers to receive refunds, such as if a school misleads students or engages in misconduct or violates a state or federal law.

Financial Aid for Graduate Students

Graduate school can be expensive, but there are many financial aid options available, including federal work-study programs, loans, grants, and medical assistant scholarships. Student loans are available through the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program, which includes subsidized and unsubsidized loan options, loan consolidation programs, PLUS loans for parents and guardians, and several loan forgiveness and repayment options. Students can potentially take out loans from their state government, school, bank, or other private lending institutions. Private loans are often more expensive than government-funded loans. All loans accrue interest over time and require repayment over a certain number of years.

Grants and scholarships are ideal for students because they don’t require repayment. These gifts are offered through federal or state governments, schools, nonprofit organizations, and private foundations. Scholarships are typically awarded to students based on academic merit, while grants are based on financial need. Some awards are aimed at specific student populations, such as scholarships for medical assistant students.

Scholarships for Medical Assistant Certification Students

Medical Assisting Scholarship Award
Who Can Apply: Aspiring medical assistant students can earn money to help pay for their education through this scholarship contest. Students must submit a 500-word essay or a two-to-three-minute video explaining why they want to become medical assistants.
Amount: $2,000

NCMSA Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Eligible medical, nursing, and physician assistant students can apply for scholarships through the Northampton County Medical Society Alliance, an organization of physicians and their spouses. Awards are based on academic, financial, and community service criteria.
Amount: $1,000

Maxine Williams Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Medical assistant students can receive educational assistance through the American Association of Medical Assistant’s Maxine Williams Scholarship Fund. Awards are based on academic ability and financial need. Students must have a minimum GPA of 3.0.
Amount: $1,000 and a one-year membership in the AAMA

Alice Newell Joslyn Medical Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The Alice Newell Joslyn Medical Scholarship is for students entering the medical and healthcare profession. This scholarship is designed for Latinx high school graduates in San Diego County. Applicants must submit a personal statement and an estimated family contribution based on their student aid report.
Amount: $500–$2,000

ASCP Foundation Laboratory Student Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The American Society for Clinical Pathology offers 10 high-achieving laboratory student scholarships each year. Students must be enrolled in an accredited laboratory science program or phlebotomy training program. Learners must also have a minimum GPA of 3.0.
Amount: $1,000

ASCP Foundation STEM Student Scholarship
Who Can Apply: High school students interested in pursuing a medical science degree can earn scholarship money through the American Society for Clinical Pathology STEM student scholarships.
Amount: $2,000 and an invitation to attend the NEXTPO event

ASCP Foundation Leadership Institute Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Medical assistants with five to eight years of work experience in laboratory science are eligible for the American Society for Clinical Pathology Leadership Scholarship. This scholarship program gives laboratory professionals and pathologists five hours of one-on-one coaching and a certificate.
Amount: 10 courses; 25 credits

Zelda Walling Vicha Memorial Trust Fund
Who Can Apply: Through the Zelda Walling Vicha Memorial Trust Fund, the American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants awards two scholarships to fourth-year podiatry students throughout the United States. Awards are based on high scholastic achievement and financial need.
Amount: $2,000

The Medical Professionals of Tomorrow Scholarship
Who Can Apply: U.S. Medical Supplies, an online provider of lift chairs and mobility products, hosts a merit-based scholarship contest for full-time students at two-year or four-year colleges pursuing a medical-related program. Students must submit a 500-word essay about their decision to enter the medical field.
Amount: $1,000

Laboratory Control Ltd Health Care Career Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Medical assistants and healthcare students can earn scholarship money through the Ottumwa Regional Health Legacy Foundation. Applicants must be enrolled in a nationally accredited program and have a minimum GPA of 3.0.
Amount: $1,000 minimum

Gilberto and Lennetta Pesquera Medical School Scholarships
Who Can Apply: The Glens Falls Foundation Gilberto and Lennetta Pesquera Fund offers merit-based scholarship money for medical school education. Applicants must submit a paragraph about their area of medical interest and career goals.
Amount: $4,000

HIMSS Foundation Scholarships
Who Can Apply: Medical assistant and healthcare students can earn scholarship money through the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). Applicants must be enrolled at an accredited undergraduate or graduate school.
Amount: $5,000 and a trip to the HIMSS Annual Conference and Exhibition

The Robert & Virginia Hoffmeier Oncology Scholarship Fund
Who Can Apply: The Robert & Virginia Hoffmeier Oncology Scholarship is an annual scholarship for a member of the support staff at the Oncology Unit at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold, New Jersey. Applicants must plan on attending a nationally recognized conference or lecture.
Amount: $1,000

AMES Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The Alliance Medical Education Scholarship is for second-year and third-year medical students enrolled in a Pennsylvania medical school. Applicants must be Pennsylvania residents.
Amount: $2,500

Foster G. McGaw Graduate Student Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Students in healthcare management graduate programs can apply for the Foundation of the American College of Healthcare Executives scholarship. Applicants must submit an application essay about their reasons for pursuing a career in healthcare.
Amount: $5,000