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How Much Does Nursing School Cost?

How Much Does Nursing School Cost?
Rebecca Safier
Rebecca SafierUpdated September 8, 2023
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According to NurseJournal, the cost of nursing school can range anywhere from $6,000 to $100,000, depending on the type of degree, school, and program. Understanding these costs — and figuring out how to cover them — can help put you on the right track for earning your nursing credentials without assuming a burdensome amount of debt. Here’s a closer look at the average cost of nursing school, broken down by type of degree. 

Average Nursing School Cost by Degree

There are a variety of pathways to becoming a nurse, including an associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degree in nursing. The answer to “how much does nursing school cost?” will vary depending on the type of program. Where you go to school can also impact your cost of attendance, as in-state tuition at a public school will generally be more affordable than out-of-state tuition or tuition at a private college or university. Online programs also tend to be more affordable than in-person ones, though they may not provide the hands-on experience that’s so important for nursing. 

Practical Nursing Diploma

Average cost: $10,000 - $15,000 Pursuing your practical nursing diploma will allow you to work as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). LPNs generally work as assistants to doctors and registered nurses (RNs). This program often takes one year to complete and can help you find work in a hospital, nursing home, or other healthcare facility.

Associate Degree in Nursing

Average cost: $8,000 - $50,000Associate degrees in nursing (ADN) programs generally span two years. After earning your ADN, you may be able to work as an RN in a hospital, doctor’s office, or other healthcare setting. However, some employers may prefer to hire nurses with a bachelor’s degree, so your options could be limited. Some nurses choose to earn their ADN and work for a few years before returning to school to get their Bachelor of Science in nursing. 

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

Average cost: $40,000 - $120,000Earning your BSN in nursing generally takes twice as long as earning your ADN — four years instead of two. After receiving an education in healthcare, research, social sciences, and other subjects, you’ll be qualified to work as an RN in a variety of healthcare facilities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, RNs earn a median annual salary of $77,600. 

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

Average cost: $20,000 - $100,000A Master of Science in Nursing program often requires one to two additional years of education after earning your bachelor’s degree. Some schools offer accelerated bridge programs that let you earn your bachelor’s and master’s degrees in less time, often three to four years in total. By earning your MSN, you might go on to work as a nurse educator, researcher, or administrator. 

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

Average cost: $20,000 - $75,000A doctorate is known as a terminal degree, since it’s the highest degree you can earn in a field. A DNP program may take another two to three years of education following a master’s program, though you may be able to find accelerated bridge programs. This program will equip you with advanced skills and open the door to various careers, including ones in high-level research.

Additional Nursing School Costs

Tuition and fees won’t be your only expenses when it comes to nursing school. You’ll also need to pay for supplies, textbooks, and licensure exams, specifically the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).  Costs will vary, but expect nursing supplies to cost between $300 and $500, textbooks to add up to a few thousand dollars, and the NCLEX exam to cost $200. You might also pay a few hundred dollars to take an NCLEX prep course or two. Besides these costs, you’ll also need to cover housing, food, transportation, and other living expenses while you’re in the program. These costs can vary widely depending on where you attend school, but you may be able to keep costs down by taking steps such as living with roommates, cooking at home, and taking public transportation instead of using a car.Recommended: 25 Ways to Save Money Fast

How to Pay for Nursing School

While nursing school can be expensive, you won’t necessarily have to cover all the costs out of pocket. There are various sources of financial aid for nursing school that can help ease the burden. Make sure to fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which opens the door to federal grants, student loans, and work-study programs. You can also pursue scholarships and loans from private providers. 

Grants and Scholarships

Grants and scholarships are both forms of gift aid that you don't have to pay back. Fill out the FAFSA to put yourself in the running for federal grants. You can also apply separately to medical school scholarships, such as the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Nurse Corps Scholarship Program. Use scholarship search engines to find opportunities that would be a good fit for you. 

Federal Loans

Federal student loans are also an option for paying for nursing school. Federal loans come with relatively low, fixed rates and are eligible for a variety of repayment plans, such as income-driven repayment. They’re also eligible for federal forgiveness programs, like the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Undergraduate students are eligible for Direct Subsidized Loans, which are need-based student loans, and unsubsidized loans, which are not based on financial need. Graduate students can borrow Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Grad PLUS Loans. As with federal grants, you’ll need to submit the FAFSA to access federal student loans. Before you graduate, make sure to explore ways to pay off your student loans

Private Loans

If you still have a gap in funding, you may consider borrowing a private student loan from a private lender, such as a bank, credit union, or online lender. The rates and terms on a private student loan will vary by lender, and you may get to choose between a fixed and variable rate. Borrowers with the strongest credit generally get the lowest rates on a private student loan. If you can’t meet a lender’s requirements for credit and income, you may have to apply with a cosigner. Recommended: Private vs Federal Student Loans: The Complete Guide

Is Nursing School Worth It?

Whether or not nursing school is worth it depends on your personal goals. Nursing is a challenging career that often requires long hours. The median RN salary is $77,600, but this income can vary widely depending on the position. Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists, for example, make a median salary closer to $200,000, while school nurses make an average salary of $46,840. When determining whether nursing school is worth it, you might compare the costs of your program with your expected return on investment. Before taking on debt, estimate what your future monthly payments will be and determine whether you’ll be able to afford them based on your career goals. You can also look at job growth predictions for your target career. According to BLS, the demand for nursing positions is expected to grow 6% by 2031, which is about average for all occupations. 

The Takeaway

Before you can start your career as a nurse, you’ll need to pursue advanced education in nursing. There are several pathways to becoming a nurse, from a practical nursing diploma or associate’s degree all the way up to a doctorate in nursing. Before enrolling in a program, do some research on tuition, fees, and cost of living so you know what to expect. Pursuing financial aid, including grants, scholarships, and loans, can help you gain the education and experience you need to launch your nursing career. 

Student Loan Tips 

  1. Refinancing your student loan can lower your monthly payments and help you adjust your loan term. Compare student loan refinancing rates to find a loan that works for you.
  2. Paying extra each month on your student loan can reduce the interest you pay and so lower your total loan cost over time. (The law prohibits prepayment penalties on federal or private student loans.)
  3. Depending on their income, qualified borrowers can deduct the interest they pay for student loans, both federal or private, up to $2,500 per year. The deduction phases out for modified adjusted gross incomes of $70,000 to $85,000 for single individuals and $145,000 to $175,000 for people married and filing jointly.
Photo credit: iStock/FatCamera

About the Author

Rebecca Safier

Rebecca Safier

Rebecca Safier has nearly a decade of experience writing about personal finance. Formerly a senior writer with LendingTree and Student Loan Hero, she specializes in student loans, financial aid, and personal loans. She is certified as a student loan counselor with the National Association of Certified Credit Counselors (NACCC).
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