According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), registered nurses earn $70,000 per year, nearly twice the median salary for all other occupations. In addition, the BLS projects that employment for nurses will grow by 15% from 2016 to 2026, which is significantly faster than the average growth for all other fields.
Students can finance their nursing school tuition in a number of ways. Because of a shortage of nurses, many states offer grants or loan forgiveness programs in order to draw more individuals into the profession. Students can also apply for a variety of scholarships, federal and private loans, 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 other professional and personal obligations. Some online programs also allow students to complete coursework at their own pace, taking breaks as needed. However, all nursing programs do require some sort of in-person and supervised clinical experience.
How Much is Nursing School?
The cost of nursing school depends on a number of factors, including where you are going to school and what kind of degree you are pursuing. On top of tuition, students also need to consider school fees and the cost of books and other course materials. Online students may be able to avoid paying for room and board, but this can be a considerable expense for students on campus. It is important to understand the full cost of your nursing education as you begin to research scholarships and other funding opportunities.
Nursing School Tuition
Associate Degree in Nursing
In addition to passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN), you will likely 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 their associate degree in two or three years, allowing them to enter the profession more quickly than other degree options might allow.
In addition to graduating sooner, associate programs are also significantly less expensive than bachelor’s or master’s programs. While tuition varies considerably, students can expect to pay between $100 and $400 per credit for an associate degree in nursing. By paying in-state tuition at a community college, students may be able to earn their degree for as little as $6,000. At a larger university, prospective nurses may pay upwards of $20,000.
Because more and more employers are seeking out nurses with bachelor’s degrees, many graduates of associate programs choose to continue their education in an RN-to-BSN bridge program. By applying credits from their prior college studies, students in these bridge programs can earn a bachelor of science in nursing in just one or two years.
Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing
Like associate programs, bachelor’s in nursing programs combine instruction in biology and anatomy with supervised clinical experiences in healthcare settings. Bachelor’s programs also include coursework in social sciences and other general education subjects. Graduates of bachelor’s programs may be better prepared for supervisory and academic positions in nursing. Most full-time students complete these programs in four years.
Bachelor’s programs in nursing tend to be more expensive than associate programs. However, according to a study conducted by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 77% of hospital and health care 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. So while a bachelor’s degree does come with higher upfront costs, it often pays for itself by increasing your overall earning potential.
Students can expect to pay anywhere from $300 to $1500 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
Earning a master’s degree in nursing prepares you to obtain more advanced roles in the field, such as nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, and nurse practitioner. Master’s programs feature specialized coursework and rigorous field experiences to prepare students for these jobs. Students usually earn their master’s degree in about two years.
Pursuing a master’s degree in nursing can be expensive, but it can also qualify you for positions with significantly higher salaries. For example, the BLS estimates that the median salary for nurse anesthetists, midwives, and practitioners was $110,930 in May of 2017. The BLS also projects that employment for these occupations will grow a staggering 31% between 2016 and 2026.
An advanced degree in nursing can also open up opportunities in administration and teaching. According to the BLS, medical and health services managers earn roughly $98,350 per year, and postsecondary nursing teachers earn approximately $71,260 annually.
Average Salary for Registered Nurses by Degree
How to Pay for Nursing School
Between tuition, fees, and housing costs, paying for nursing school can seem like an insurmountable challenge. But the growing need for nursing professionals has led governments and private organizations to invest large sums of money into helping you finance your education. To make sure you get as much financial aid as possible, carefully review the various grants, loans, scholarships, and reimbursement programs available to aspiring nurses.
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for Nursing Students
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) helps connect you with federal grant, scholarship, loan, and work-study opportunities. Many states and schools use the information you submit for the FAFSA to determine your eligibility for awards as well.
For the 2018-2019 school year, the FAFSA opened on October 1, 2017, an 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. It is advisable to complete your FAFSA as soon as you can to make sure you qualify for as much financial aid as possible.
Most federal awards are based on financial need. The federal government uses the FAFSA to calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which schools subtract from your Cost of Attendance (COA) to determine how much federal aid you should receive.
To fill out the FAFSA, you will need a Social Security number, your federal income tax returns and other records of your earnings, and bank and investment statements. If your parents still count you as a dependent on their taxes, you will need their financial information as well. The federal government offers a helpful guide to filling out the FAFSA here.
Financial Aid Available for Nursing Students
There are two main types of federal loans: subsidized and unsubsidized direct loans. Subsidized direct loans are available to undergraduate students who have demonstrated financial need. The federal government pays the interest on these loans during certain periods, including when you are enrolled at least half-time in school and up to six months after your graduation.
Unsubsidized direct loans, on the other hand, are available to undergraduate students regardless of financial need. You are responsible for paying the interest on these loans as soon as you receive the funds. You can choose to defer paying this interest until after you graduate, but the interest continues to accrue.
Both of these loans must be repaid with interest, usually over the course of 10-25 years. However, there are a handful of government programs that can help nurses pay back their loans. For example, the NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program helps you repay 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. And the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program can help you eliminate your student loan debt if you work at a nonprofit organization or government agency.
You can also apply for private nursing student 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 them to be your last option in paying for school.
Nursing school scholarships represent one of the best ways to finance your education, as none of the rewards need to be repaid. States, businesses, private organizations, and individual schools may all offer scholarships to aspiring nurses. Scholarships are typically competitive and merit-based, and most funders grant awards based on academic achievement, community service, or a commitment to work in a particular field or geographic area.
You will need to apply individually 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.
Try to find scholarship programs that cater to students like you. Finding scholarship opportunities within your niche can help improve your chances of receiving an award. For example, if you hope to work as a labor and delivery nurse, you may be able to find scholarships aimed at drawing more students into that field.
Finally, make sure you understand how you can use your scholarship award. Some organizations provide these funds directly to your school, but others may give this money to you to help pay for other educational expenses, like books and housing. It is important to know if there are any restrictions on how you spend your award, especially if you plan to apply again.
Grants and scholarships are very similar, and the terms are often used interchangeably. Like scholarship funding, you do not need to pay back grants for nursing school. But while scholarships tend to be 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 who have not yet received a bachelor’s degree may be eligible for a Federal Pell Grant award. The amount of these grants varies by year and personal circumstances, but the maximum award is usually around $6,000 per academic year. 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 you might incur.
Paying Out of Pocket
After totaling all of your scholarships, grants, and student loans, you may still owe your school more money for tuition or fees. Most schools have a bursar or financial services office that distributes student bills and collects payments. While acceptable payment methods vary depending on the 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 will not be responsible for paying for all of your tuition up front. In addition, many schools offer payment plans to allow their students to pay their tuition in installments. Schools may require students to submit a non-refundable enrollment fee in order 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 experienced nurses on clinical rotations, and conduct research. These programs allow graduates the opportunity to gain more hands-on experience than they received in school. Although residents typically do not earn as much as full nurses, they are often among the first to be hired for permanent jobs.
Fellowships offer new and established nursing professionals the chance to deepen their expertise in a particular area. Nurses may apply for fellowships in critical care, public health, or nursing leadership. Other fellowships may aim to draw underrepresented populations, such as minorities or men, into the field of nursing. Fellowships are paid positions, and some might also offer educational benefits to assist those fellows interested in seeking an advanced degree in their area of specialization.
Career Ladder Programs
Some healthcare systems and organizations have what are known as “career ladders,” or formal professional development programs, which are designed for nurses who excel on the job. Through these programs, new nurses receive further training and gain clinical experience. They are often matched with a mentor nurse to guide them through their first few years of practice. As part of their participation in these programs, many nurses apply for additional licensing or pursue another degree.
Some organizations may partially, or even fully, reimburse the cost of continuing your education. Others may reward nurses who earn a degree with higher salaries. Make sure to ask your employer what sort of professional development programs are available to nurses at your organization.
Loan Forgiveness Programs
To qualify for the NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program, you must be a registered nurse who received a degree from an accredited school of nursing in the United States. 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 has designated as high need. In exchange for this service, the NHSC pays up to $50,000 towards your student loans.
To qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, you must be a full-time employee of a government agency or nonprofit organization, like a community health center. After you have made 120 monthly payments towards your federal loans, the federal government will forgive the balance of your debt.
Loan forgiveness programs do not apply to private student loans.
Grants and Scholarships Available for Nursing Students
Students can apply to hundreds of different scholarships to help pay for their education. One key to success is finding awards specific to your background or future plans. Some programs award RN-to-BSN scholarships exclusively to current professionals looking to continue their education. Below is just a small sample of the scholarships available to aspiring nurses.
Tylenol Future Care Scholarship
Who Can Apply: To apply for this scholarship, students must be enrolled in a medical program, such as nursing, at an accredited institution. Students must also have completed at least one year of their undergraduate degree.
Geraldine "Polly" Bednash Scholarship
Who Can Apply: This award is open to students enrolled, or planning to enroll, in a nursing degree program affiliated with the AACN. Students must also have a 3.2 GPA.
Who Can Apply: Student pursuing any level of nursing degree can apply for this award, though the funder gives preference to those planning to become a nurse educator or complete an accelerated program.
Hurst Reviews/AACN Nursing Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Any student pursuing a professional nursing degree at an AACN member institution is eligible to apply for this award.
American Indian Nurse Scholarship
Who Can Apply: This award is open to individuals of at least a quarter Native American ancestry who are enrolled in an accredited nursing program.
American Assembly for Men in Nursing Scholarship
Who Can Apply: To apply for these nurse scholarships, students must be male, members of AAMN, and enrolled in a nursing degree program at an accredited institution.
Amount: $1,000 – $1,500
Additional Financial Aid Information for Nursing Students
- American Association of Colleges of Nursing: AACN is a national professional association for those working in the field of nursing education. It helps to accredit nursing schools and offers a variety of nursing scholarships.
- Bureau of Health Workforce: BHW, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, administers scholarship and loan repayment programs for nurses. It also identifies areas of the country experiencing a shortage of qualified health professionals.
- National Student Nurses Association: NSNA brings together and promotes the development of students preparing for nursing licensure. It also provides resources on selecting a school, financing your education, and finding a job after graduation.
- Johnson and Johnson’s Discover Nursing Project: In addition to resources on choosing a school and program, this site features a searchable database of 370 nursing scholarships in the United States. Students can search by state, education level, or academic requirements.
- NursingWorld.org: Bringing together the American Nurses Association, the American Nurses Credentialing Center, and the American Nurses Foundation, this organization offers scholarships, fellowships, and research grants. It also has a career center and resources on credentialing.