Financial Aid for Nurses

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), registered nurses earn $70,000 per year, nearly twice the median salary for all occupations. In addition, the BLS projects employment for nurses to grow 15% by 2026, significantly faster than the average growth for all fields.

Students can finance nursing school tuition in several ways. Because of a nursing shortage, many states offer grants or loan forgiveness programs to draw more individuals into the profession. Students can also apply for scholarships, loans, grants, and work-study opportunities.

Many online nursing programs allow students to take classes and complete assignments on their own schedule, making it easier to balance professional and personal obligations with school. However, all nursing programs require an in-person, supervised clinical experience.

How Much is Nursing School?

Prospective nurses need to understand the full cost of their nursing education as they begin to research scholarships and other funding opportunities. On top of tuition, nursing students must consider school fees and the cost of books and other course materials. On-campus students also typically need to pay room and board, an expense that online students avoid.

Nursing School Tuition

Associate Degree in Nursing

In addition to passing the National Council Licensure Examination, you typically need at least an associate degree in nursing to become a registered nurse. Through courses in anatomy, physiology, nutrition, and other sciences, associate programs provide an introduction to the knowledge and skills needed in the medical field. Most students earn an associate degree in 2-3 years.

Associate programs cost significantly less than bachelor's and master's programs. While tuition varies, students typically pay between $100-$400 per credit for an associate degree in nursing. By paying in-state tuition at a community college, students can earn their degree for as little as $6,000. At a larger university, prospective nurses may pay upwards of $20,000.

Because employers seek nurses with bachelor's degrees, many associate degree holders continue their education in an RN-to-BSN bridge program. By applying credits from prior college studies, students in these programs can earn a bachelor of science in nursing in just 1-2 years.

Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing

Like associate programs, bachelor's in nursing programs combine instruction in biology and anatomy with supervised clinical experience in healthcare settings. Bachelor's programs also include coursework in social sciences and other general education subjects. Graduates of bachelor's programs may qualify for supervisory and academic positions in nursing. Most full-time students complete these programs in four years.

While a bachelor's degree costs more than an associate degree, it proves a worthy investment. According to a study by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 77% of hospital and healthcare employers prefer to hire nurses with at least a bachelor's degree. Because of this high demand, nurses with a bachelor's typically earn higher salaries than those with just an associate degree.

Students typically pay between $300-$1,500 per credit for a bachelor's degree. The total cost of a bachelor's in nursing can range from $40,000 at a state college to $200,000 at an elite, private university.

Master’s Degree in Nursing

The College Board reports that the average price for one year of full-time enrollment in a master's program at a public university was $8,850 in the 2018-19 school year. Students attending private, nonprofit institutions pay an average of $30,450 per year.

These figures represent the costs for learners studying in their resident state. Degree candidates with out-of-state residency sometimes pay much more than in-state students. Other essential factors, such as chosen specialty, can also affect the cost of master's programs in nursing.

Typically, master's degrees comprise 40-50 credits and take two years of full-time study to complete. Master's degrees in nursing qualify students for Advanced Practice Registered Nursing (APRN) positions. These professionals enjoy more responsibility, autonomy, and pay than entry-level nurses. The BLS reports that APRNs earn median wages of $110,930 per year while RNs at the bachelor's level make about $70,000 annually.

Accelerated and Bridge Nursing Programs

Accelerated and bridge nursing programs allow learners with nursing experience to earn MSNs sooner than they would with traditional plans. The list below includes the typical cost for nursing degrees.

  • RN-to-BSN: Licensed RNs with associate degrees can earn bachelor's degrees through these fast-paced programs. Many online programs cost about $8,000, but private schools may cost much more.
  • LPN-to-BSN: Current LPNs can take 2-3 years to become BSNs and advance their careers with these programs. At public schools, these programs may cost up to $20,000.
  • RN-to-MSN (No BSN): Current RNs can advance to MSN status without earning a bachelor's degree in these programs. Depending on the school, these programs cost between $30,000-$60,000.

Earning Power by Degree Level

Nursing degrees are worthy investments. As nurses earn higher degrees, they enjoy higher salaries. For example, an ADN who completes a $30,000-dollar RN-to-MSN program can earn about $24,000 more per year.

Average Salary for Registered Nurses by Degree


Associate in Nursing Salary

Nurses with an associate degree can work in several capacities, including as registered nurses, LPNs, and nurse case managers. However, some employers pay these professionals less than professionals with a bachelor's.

  • Registered Nurse: RNs work anywhere that patients seek treatment, including in hospitals, clinics, private practices, and surgery centers. They administer medications, educate patients, and provide general medical care. Although ADNs and BSNs can take these positions, many employers prefer BSNs.
  • Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN): LPNs work under the direction of doctors, RNs, and nurse practitioners. They complete basic medical care tasks, such as changing wound dressings, bathing patients, and keeping records. These professionals work in settings including long-term nursing facilities, private practices, and hospitals.
  • Nurse Case Manager: While many nurse case managers are BSNs, some ADNs find work in this field. These professionals focus on the administrative side of caring for patients. They evaluate patient health and help determine appropriate care. Nurse case managers often work in hospitals and nursing homes!


Job Entry Level-Salary (0-5 Years) Mid-Career Salary (5-10 Years) Experienced Salary (10-20 Years)
Registered Nurse $55,000 $63,000 $68,000
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) $38,000 $41,000 $42,000
Nurse Case Manager $64,000 $69,000 $72,000


Bachelor's in Nursing Salary

Nurses with a bachelor's degree enjoy more job opportunities than nurses with just an associate degree. Below are common positions that BSNs pursue.

  • Clinical Nurse Manager: These managers oversee nurses within a hospital unit. They make schedules, manage hiring, and ensure clinical accuracy for patients. Clinical nurse managers work typical business hours rather than the 12-hour shifts that many RNs work.
  • Nursing Director: These experienced professionals manage the nursing activities within healthcare facilities. They set goals and budgets, oversee hiring decisions, and create nursing programs. Nursing directors typically work in large healthcare settings, such as hospitals, staffing agencies, and skilled nursing facilities.
  • Nurse Educator: These nurses teach nursing students how to excel at the job. They work for universities, community colleges, and hospitals to coordinate clinical experience hours and internships for learners. Nurse educators need several years of bedside nursing experience, and some employers prefer candidates with master's degrees.


Job Entry Level-Salary (0-5 Years) Mid-Career Salary (5-10 Years) Experienced Salary (10-20 Years)
Clinical Nurse Manager $73,000 $78,000 $82,000
Nursing Director $78,000 $86,000 $95,000
Nurse Educator $67,000 $69,000 $75,000


Master's in Nursing Salary

Nurses with master's degrees can find work as APRNs. These professionals enjoy many of the same responsibilities as medical doctors, and the pay tends to reflect that fact.

  • Nurse Anesthetist: Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) help patients manage and prevent acute pain. They provide general anesthesia for surgeries, epidurals to women in labor, and local anesthesia for smaller procedures. In addition to a master's degree in nurse anesthesiology, CRNA candidates need state prescription privileges.
  • Nurse Midwife: These APRNs provide many of the services that OB/GYNs traditionally offer women and expectant mothers. They help patients manage pregnancies and deliver babies in hospital settings or birthing centers. Nurse midwives boast more medical training and education than traditional midwives.
  • Nurse Practitioner: These medical professionals specialize in many of the same areas as doctors. For example, nurse practitioners can work with children, treat cancer patients, or specialize in mental health. They work in hospitals, private practices, outpatient facilities, and residential treatment centers. After earning graduate degrees, nurse practitioners must earn state prescribing privileges.


Job Entry Level-Salary (0-5 Years) Mid-Career Salary (5-10 Years) Experienced Salary (10-20 Years)
Nurse Anesthetist $138,830 $152,085 $160,794
Nurse Midwife $85,000 $91,000 $100,000
Nurse Practitioner $90,000 $97,000 $101,000

How to Pay for Nursing School

The growing need for nursing professionals leads governments and private organizations to invest money into helping you finance your education. To get as much financial aid for nursing school as possible, carefully review the grants, loans, scholarships, and reimbursement programs for aspiring nurses.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for Nursing Students

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid connects you with federal grant, scholarship, loan, and work-study opportunities. Many states and schools use FAFSA information to determine your eligibility for awards, as well.

For the 2018-2019 school year, the FAFSA opened on October 1, 2017; the federal deadline is June 30, 2019. However, state governments and individual schools often set earlier deadlines. You can review a list of state deadlines here.

The federal government uses the FAFSA to calculate your expected family contribution and subtracts it from your school's cost of attendance to determine how much federal aid for which you qualify.

To fill out the FAFSA, you need your Social Security number, federal income tax returns, and bank and investment statements. If your parents count you as a dependent on their taxes, you need their financial information as well. The federal government offers a helpful guide to filling out the FAFSA.

Financial Aid Available for Nursing Students

There are two main types of federal loans: subsidized and unsubsidized direct loans. Subsidized direct loans go to undergraduate students with demonstrable financial need. The federal government pays the interest on these loans when you are enrolled at least half time in school and up to six months after graduation.

Unsubsidized direct loans go to undergraduate students regardless of financial need. You begin paying the interest on these loans as soon as you receive the funds. You can defer paying interest until after you graduate, but the interest continues to accrue.

You must repay both of these loans, usually over the course of 10-25 years. Several government programs help nurses repay their loans. For example, the NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program repays student loan debt in exchange for working in underserved areas. Similarly, the National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program offers repayment assistance to healthcare providers working at certain sites. The federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program provides repayment assistance for professionals working at nonprofit organizations and government agencies.

You can also apply for private loans. These loans typically come with higher interest rates, and private lenders do not forgive loans in exchange for service. As such, you should consider these loans as a last option.


States, businesses, private organizations, and schools may offer scholarships to aspiring nurses. You do not need to repay nursing school scholarships. Scholarships are typically competitive and merit based. Most funders grant awards based on academic achievement, community service, or a commitment to work in a particular field or location.

You must apply for each scholarship. However, many scholarship applications require the same materials, such as transcripts or an essay describing your personal and professional goals, making it easier to apply for multiple awards.

Finding scholarship opportunities that cater to your background or specialty improves your chances of receiving an award. For example, if you hope to work as a labor and delivery nurse, you may find scholarships aimed at students in that field.

Some organizations provide scholarships directly to your school for tuition, while others may give this money to you to help pay for educational expenses, like books and housing. Students should determine whether any restrictions apply to how they go about spending their money.


Like scholarship funding, you do not need to repay grants for nursing school. However, while scholarships are typically merit-based, governments, private organizations, and schools often award grants based on financial need.

Completing the FAFSA automatically qualifies you for federal grants. Undergraduate students without a bachelor's degree qualify for the Federal Pell Grant. The amount of these grants varies by year and personal circumstances. The federal government pays grants directly to your school. After your institution uses this money to cover tuition, fees, and room and board, it gives you the remainder. You can use the balance of your grant for any additional expenses.

Paying Out of Pocket

Once you tap into all financial aid resources, you must pay the remaining education expenses out of pocket. Most schools come with a bursar or financial services office that distributes student bills and collects payments. While acceptable payment methods vary by institution, most accept cash, check, credit card, or money order. The school may assess a service fee, particularly for credit card payments.

Most students pay only for the courses in which they are currently enrolled, so you do not need to pay for all tuition up front. In addition, many schools offer payment plans that allow students to pay tuition in installments. Schools may require students to submit a non-refundable enrollment fee to pay for their tuition in this manner.

Financing Programs Available for Nursing Students

Fellowship and Residency Programs

Fellowship and residency programs create a bridge between nursing school and the nursing profession. For example, a hospital might feature a one-year residency program that helps recent graduates transition into the field. Residents may attend lectures, accompany nurses on clinical rotations, and conduct research. These programs allow graduates to gain hands-on experience. Although residents typically do not earn as much as full nurses, they are often among the first hired for permanent jobs.

Fellowships allow new and established nursing professionals to deepen their specialty expertise. Nurses may apply for fellowships in critical care, public health, or nursing leadership. Other fellowships incentivize underrepresented populations, such as minorities or men, to the nursing field. Fellowships pay their workers, and some provide educational assistance to fellows seeking an advanced degree in their specialization.

Career Ladder Programs

Some healthcare systems and organizations use "career ladders," or formal professional development programs, for nurses who excel on the job. Through these programs, new nurses receive further training and gain clinical experience by working with a mentor nurse who guides them through their first few years of practice. Many nurses apply for additional licensing or pursue another degree as part of the program.

Some organizations may partially or fully reimburse the cost of continuing education. Others may reward nurses who earn a degree with higher salaries. Ask your employer what sort of professional development programs cater to nurses at your organization.

Loan Forgiveness Programs

Registered nurses with a degree from an accredited school of nursing in the United States qualify for the NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program. You must also work full time at a critical shortage facility or a healthcare facility that operates in an area with a shortage of primary care or mental health professionals.

To qualify for the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment Program, you must commit to working at least two years at a site that the NHSC designates as high need. In exchange for this service, the NHSC pays up to $50,000 toward student loans.

Full-time employees of a government agency or nonprofit organization qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. After you make 120 monthly payments toward your federal loans, the federal government forgives your debt balance.

Loan forgiveness programs do not apply to private student loans.

Grants and Scholarships Available for Nursing Students

Students can apply to hundreds of scholarships to help pay for their education. Some programs award RN-to-BSN scholarships exclusively to current professionals looking to continue their education. The list below includes a sampling of scholarships for aspiring nurses.

Tylenol Future Care Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Winners can use this financial aid for accelerated nursing programs or any other accredited medical plan. Tylenol requires learners to complete at least one year of a program before applying.

Amount: $5,000-$10,000

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Geraldine "Polly" Bednash Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Candidates with GPAs of at least 3.2 enrolled in a program affiliated with the American Association of College of Nursing hoping to earn a bachelor's degree or higher may qualify.

Amount: $5,000

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National Black Nurses Association

Who Can Apply: The National Black Nurses Association awards several scholarships each year to outstanding nursing students with African-American heritage. Applicants must join their local chapter, enroll in nursing school at any level, and take at least one year of courses.

Amount: $1,000-$6,000

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The Foundation of the National Student Nurses' Association

Who Can Apply: All nursing students can apply for this financial aid. The FNSNA requires candidates to enroll in state-approved schools and take at least six credit hours per term.

Amount: $1,000-$10,000

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American Medical Resource Institute

Who Can Apply: Students in any healthcare field, including EMT and nursing, are eligible for this award. Because AMRI seeks unique applicants, this award is a great opportunity for financial aid for second bachelor's degree nursing students. Candidates must write a 2,000-word essay.

Amount: Varies

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Jane Delano Student Nurse Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The American Red Cross awards this scholarship to undergraduate and graduate nursing students who demonstrate active involvement in the organization. Applicants can either work for the Red Cross or volunteer through any of its units.

Amount: Varies

[ More Information ] Education Award

Who Can Apply: Nursing students with U.S. citizenship enrolled in accredited programs qualify for this award. The organization draws the winner randomly, and past candidates may re-apply.

Amount: $5,000

[ More Information ] Award

Who Can Apply: This organization caters to nurses with disabilities and awards several scholarships each year. Applicants must submit documentation of disabilities, three letters of recommendation, essays, and transcripts.

Amount: $250-$500

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AfterCollege/AACN Scholarship Fund

Who Can Apply: Students enrolled in bachelor's-level nursing programs or higher qualify. Students in RN-to-BSN, RN-to-MSN, accelerated, and nurse educator programs receive special consideration.

Amount: $2,500

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Indian Health Service Scholarship Program

Who Can Apply: The IHS welcomes nursing students of Native American or Native Alaskan descent to apply for this program. Winners must commit to serving native communities for at least two years after graduation.

Amount: Varies

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