By: Chaunie Brusie, BSN/RN
Are you wondering how you'll ever manage to pay for nursing school? Or considering if you can get nursing school paid for?
This guide will walk you through step-by-step how to pay for your next nursing degree. Because you don't need to let your finances hold you back from reaching your career goals!
Part One How Much Does Nursing School Cost?
How much nursing school costs will depend on a number of factors like what educational level you already have, and what degree you are pursuing.
If you already have a Bachelor’s degree and are now pursuing your RN, or if you’re going directly from ADN to BSN, the cost will be different. And if you attend a community college, the cost will most likely be much lower than a private university.
Overall, there is no one set cost for nursing school, but you can expect to spend anywhere from thousands for a shorter program to as high as over $80,000 and even sometimes $100,000 for longer or grad school programs.
Additional Nursing School Expenses
In addition to the direct cost of nursing school tuition, the expenses of nursing school also include things like room and board, books, uniforms, transportation to and from school and clinical sites, childcare, and loss of income if you will not be working an outside job (many people are not able to while in school).
Nursing School Cost by Degree
Keeping those differences in mind and knowing that costs can vary by quite a bit, below is what you can expect to pay for different types of nursing degrees. But you should always check prices in your area and with your own prospective school.
Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) Cost
Earning your ADN means that you will have an Associate’s degree and become a Registered Nurse (RN). An ADN program is typically thought of as the more affordable and even faster route to becoming a nurse than a Bachelor’s program, but costs can still vary widely.
In some programs, an ADN program can take as little as 18 months, but for others, it can take as long as several years, depending on what prerequisites you need, if there is a waitlist, and if you will be moving through it full- or part-time. Those factors will determine the final cost, but you can expect to pay anywhere from around $10,000 to closer to $40,000.
Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) Cost
A BSN degree is widely becoming the standard for RNs, and earning your Bachelor’s will allow you a lot of flexibility in your career, as well as the ability to advance further in the nursing field if you choose.
Much like with an ADN, the cost of a BSN degree can vary widely as well. For instance, some people enroll directly into a BSN program, while others may choose an RN-BSN route, and still, others may come into the program with a Bachelor’s degree in another field.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, from the 2017-2018 academic year, the average cost of a Bachelor’s degree ranges from $72,000 for a public university to over $104,000 at a private institution, with room and board and fees included.
Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) Cost
Again here, earning your Master’s in Nursing will run a wide variety of costs. An MSN in Nursing Education may be different from an Advanced Practice Registered Nursing degree like a CRNA or a CNM, for instance.
On average, the most recently available statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics show that the average cost for a graduate degree is around $48K for a public institution and over $108K at a private, non-profit school, room and board not included.
Part Two How 5 Real Nurses Paid for Nursing School
When it comes to paying for nursing school, you can take comfort in the fact that you're definitely not alone in your struggles. Nurses everywhere have to figure out how to fund their education without going into debt, and it's no easy task!
We asked our Instagram followers to share their experiences with paying for their education and got some amazing responses! Hear from five real nurses what they did to make it through.
1.) Become a CNA and Work While in School
“I worked as a patient care tech/CNA through out school. My organization offered tuition reimbursement, as well as a Baylor program! I was able to work part time, keep my benefits, and be paid full time while I’m enrolled full in nursing school. In return, my organization asked me to stay for two years! And that also secured me a guaranteed nursing job post NCLEX!” - meagsperr
2.) Take Advantage of Scholarships
"Im currently in a private school and was offered 48,000 scholarships to earn my BSN and I work in the hospital and they pay my tuition 100% up until my doctoral degree." - futurenurse_xiomaralee
3.) Go the RN to BSN Route
"Became an RN at a community college, was hired into the ICU 5 months before I even graduated, was offered a very sizable sign on bonus and the hospital is paying for the majority of my BSN and MSN. It can be done without going into debt!" - _jessicacurran
4.) Go Abroad
"I‘m from Germany and I didn‘t have to pay student loans like it‘s common in the US. We apply at a hospital and when we get chosen, we work there. Meanwhile we have classes in our nursing school to take part in, write tests etc. The hours we spend in each department is set by the government, as well as the hours we have to spend in class, also the amount of hours one can call in sick. In the end it lasts 3 years and you finish with finals." - realcatladysdiary
5.) Look Into Loan Forgiveness
"I took out the loans but many states have loan repayment programs you may want to look into." - jagwhit
Part Three Saving Money by Starting With Your ADN
Since we have by now established that nursing school can be pretty pricey, you’re probably starting to wonder about how to pay for nursing school.
One strategy that some nurses utilize is to earn their Associate’s degree in Nursing (ADN) first, which allows them to work as an RN and then pursue their BSN or other additional degrees if they want to later on.
Advantages of Starting With Your ADN
By attending a community college and earning an ADN first, you'll benefit in a couple of ways:
- You can begin working as a nurse faster
- Get your RN through a program that costs less than BSN programs
- Earn money as a nurse if you decide to go back for your BSN.
- Another bonus? Many hospitals will also help pay for your BSN program once you start working for them as a nurse. (More on that later!)
ADN vs BSN
Both an ADN and a BSN program will ultimately lead you to become a Registered Nurse (RN), so the end goal is the same with each program. The main differences between the two are the time it takes to get there, the type of education behind the degree, and of course, your ultimate career goals.
With an ADN, your career options are more limited to strictly bedside nursing. A Bachelor’s degree, on the other hand, will allow you to pursue a more advanced role, transition into leadership, or go on to earn a graduate degree as well.
Deciding Which Path is Right for You
There is no right or wrong answer about choosing an ADN or BSN program--the only “right” answer is choosing the nursing pathway that makes the most sense to you.
Some students may choose to enroll in an ADN program because they want to stay closer to home, have other responsibilities that make community college more convenient, are not able to enroll in a competitive BSN program at the moment, or because of financial concerns.
The good news is, if you make the choice to get your ADN, you always have the flexibility and ability to go back to school for additional education--you’ll just be able to earn money as an RN while doing so.
Part Four Employer Tuition Reimbursement
Speaking of making money while you’re working, let’s talk about employer tuition reimbursement. Most hospitals, and many healthcare facilities, offer some kind of tuition assistance programs to employees looking to further their education, especially in a specialty that is in demand.
What Programs are Eligible for Employer Tuition Reimbursement?
Some facilities will offer tuition assistance to any healthcare employee wishing to enter in an official program, such as a CNA going into an RN program, while others may only offer assistance to RNs.
For instance, RN to BSN tuition assistance is a common one that many employers offer. The exact amount of tuition assistance that will be offered will depend on your facility’s policies, as well as your program cost. Some facilities, for instance, will offer 50% to 100% of the tuition costs, up to a certain amount, while others may only offer a set dollar amount.
How Does Tuition Reimbursement Work?
The regulations on how employer tuition reimbursement works depends on your facility, but in general, they tend to work like this:
- Eligible employees (you usually have to be employed a minimum set amount of hours, and often full-time) will sign up for tuition reimbursement
- Submit proof of their enrollment
- Then they either receive immediate financial aid or get reimbursed after proving they passed the program
- Some facilities may also require a work commitment in exchange for the financial assistance following graduation
If you’re interested in tuition reimbursement, the first step is to check with your facility on how the program works, if you are eligible, and if your planned education program would qualify with the program. Also, consider any work requirements on your end, and if you plan on staying employed with that facility even after you graduate.
Part Five Military Service to Pay for Nursing School
Another way you can pay for nursing school is by enrolling in the military. In exchange for service to the country, you can earn a fully-funded nursing degree, and in some cases, an APRN degree as well.
How to Fund Your Education With Military Service
There are many different ways you can become a military nurse, such as enlisting once you have already earned your BSN degree. But if you’re looking to get your nursing education paid for, you might want to explore a military program like the ones below:
- Health Professions Scholarship Program: They will pay full tuition for certain specialty nursing degrees for active-duty soldiers
- U.S. Army Health Care Enlisted Commissioning Program (AECP): Will cover a full-tuition BSN program for active-duty soldiers.
- Army: There is also a specialized program available through the Army that can cover the cost of ADN nurses to receive their BSN.
What You Need to Consider Before Enlisting
Although the benefit of getting a fully-funded education via the military is a huge benefit, there are also some major considerations you will have to make before deciding if the military route is right for you.
All tuition programs through the military will require a service commitment that can vary from months to years. Before you enlist, you’ll want to ask yourself some of the following questions:
- Are you able to give a service commitment?
- What education goals do you have? What career goals do you have? Do those align with a life of service?
- Are you OK with being away from loved ones?
- Are you able to live a structured life, taking orders from higher-ranking individuals around you?
- How do you feel about deployment?
All these are great questions to think about and consider in your decision to join the military. It can also be helpful to connect with other nurses who have gone that route to get their nursing education paid for by the military to hear firsthand how the experience was for them.
Part Six Financial Aid
Financial aid is the first place you'll want to start when figuring out how you're going to pay for nursing school. After all, who doesn't want extra help funding their education?
Anytime you are considering enrolling in an education program--undergraduate or graduate--you will need to fill out the FAFSA form.
The FAFSA is the Free Application for Financial Assistance form that is done through the office of Federal Student Aid and it’s the key starting point to getting any sort of financial aid to pay for your nursing degree.
The FAFSA is used to determine how much federal financial aid you are eligible for, including federal student loans (which carry a lower interest rate than private loans) and grants (which don’t have to be paid back.) The FAFSA uses criteria that includes your income, level of support (if you are still being supported by your parents, for instance, or a partner, they will use that information), and your level of financial need to determine what you are eligible for.
How to Get Started
You will need to fill out a FAFSA every time you apply to an education program and anytime your financial situation changes, like if you get married, have a baby, or become independent from your previous support system.
There are a few different ways you can fill out the FAFSA:
- You can fill it out online
- You can get a paper form from your school or print it off of their website
- You can download the FAFSA app and fill it out on your mobile device.
Before you sit down to fill it out, you’ll also want to make sure that you have the following documents and information to actually fill it out:
- Your social security number, along with your parents, if you’re dependent on them
- Driver’s license #
- Alien Registration number if you are not a U.S. citizen
- Federal tax returns and documents for you, and your spouse or parents
- Records of untaxed income (i.e. child support or benefits)
- Income records, including account balances, investment accounts, and business and farm assets
Part Seven Grants
As we mentioned, filling out your FAFSA will determine if you are eligible for any federal or school-offered grants to help you fund your nursing education.
Unlike loans, grants are free money that is given to you for your education that does not have to be given back. Sounds good, right?
For that reason, grants can be incredibly helpful for anyone going to nursing school, so you’ll definitely want to turn in your FAFSA to see what you qualify for.
Federal Pell Grant
The most common type of federal grant awarded to undergraduate students is the Pell Grant. The Pell is only given to undergraduate students, so if you’re looking for a graduate nursing program, you won’t be eligible.
Undergraduate students who have not already earned a degree, however, can receive a certain amount every year. The exact amount changes every year, so you check on the federal student aid website to see what the maximum amount is.
Your own financial situation--including income, untaxed income (like child support), and any dependents--will determine exactly how much, if any, Pell Grant you can receive. The only way to receive a Pell Grant is to fill out the FAFSA, so definitely get started on that if you haven’t already.
Other Types of Grants
In some cases, there are also grants available through your school, or through other private and public organizations, so you can check with your school on what other types of grants they can recommend applying for. Additionally, do your research and look at local organizations and online for specific grants you may be eligible for.
Part Eight Nursing Student Loans
Many students will also need to take out a student loan to help pay for their nursing education.
Student loans are special loans that are offered from a lender specifically to cover educational costs, including tuition, room and board, if applicable, books, and other fees.
In most cases, student loans carry lower interest rates than other types of loans (like a car loan or a home mortgage loan), although interest rates will be higher if you go with a private lender.
Federal Student Loans
If you will need a student loan to cover any part of your nursing degree, you’re going to want to use any federal loans you qualify for first, because they will likely carry the lowest interest rate. There are three types of federal student loans:
- Direct subsidized loans: Subsidized loans are given to undergraduate students based on financial need.
- Direct unsubsidized: Unsubsidized loans are not based on financial need and can be used for both undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree seekers.
- Direct PLUS Loans: These loans can be made to either graduate or professional students or the parents of dependent undergraduate students. They aren’t granted based on financial need, but there is a credit check involved, so if you have any concerns about a check on your credit, be sure to speak with a loan officer before applying.
Your first step in applying for any type of federal student loan is always the FAFSA, so check with your school or visit the online federal student aid website for guidance on filling it out.
Private Student Loans
Outside of federal loans, you can also take out private student loans to help pay for your education. Some students may not qualify for enough federal aid to cover the cost of their degree, or you may just need the additional income to get through school.
You can take out a private loan through any type of lender, like a bank or a credit union, or a lender that specializes in education loans.
In general, private loans will carry a higher interest rate than federal and you have to be careful that the lender you choose allows your loan to be used specifically for educational purposes. Some lenders offer personal loans, for instance, that can’t be used to cover the costs of education, so just be sure to double-check.
What to Look for in a Private Student Loan
When looking at private loan options, shop around for the best interest rate and payment offers. You’ll want to look at the following aspects of a private loan:
- The interest rate and if it’s fixed or variable (meaning it can change later)
- What the monthly payments will be
- If there are any hidden fees, like set-up fees or early pay-off fees
- How repayment is structured
- When you start accruing interest -- while you’re studying, when you graduate or after that
- Whether there’s a chance of loan forgiveness
- What might happen if you later get into financial difficulties and can’t keep up with payments
Although there are considerations to make when taking out a private student loan, they can be useful in financing your nursing degree--just be sure you know exactly what your repayment terms are, and what happens if you can’t make your payments on time. Learn more about taking out a private loan here.
Part Nine Nursing Scholarships
Scholarships are another great way to fund nursing school. Some scholarships are aimed directly at students looking to earn a nursing degree, while others may be broader and apply to anyone looking to further their education.
There typically is not a limit to how many scholarships you can accept, so it’s helpful to apply to as many as possible.
What You'll Need to Apply for Nursing Scholarships
Most scholarships will require you to submit some personal information about yourself, as well as an essay or other statement describing why the scholarship could benefit you.
Where to Find Nursing Scholarships
The best place to start seeking nursing scholarships is to check with the office of financial aid at your school--they usually have a list of scholarships you can apply for.
It’s also helpful to check into local scholarships, from non-profits, community organizations, and local businesses, as many offer scholarship programs.
Part Ten Government Assistance Programs for Nurses
In addition to federal loan programs, there are also government assistance programs that may be available to help you pay for your nursing degree or get reimbursed later on after financing your degree. Here are some of the government assistance programs available for aspiring nurses or nurses looking to advance their careers:
- Nurse Corps Scholarship Program. The Nurse Corps program awards scholarships to eligible nursing students (you have to be a U.S citizen and be currently enrolled in an accredited nursing program) that will pay your tuition, fees, and other related educational expenses. In exchange for the Nurse Corps covering the cost of your tuition, you will be required to work in a Critical Shortage Facility (CSF) after you graduate.
- HRSA Nursing Programs. The HRSA also offers many different assistance programs for RNs seeking advanced degrees, including APRN certification or for those seeking to become a nurse faculty.
- Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students (SDS) Program. There is a special scholarship program through the HRSA for students from disadvantaged backgrounds--your school will be able to help you see if you qualify for this program, and walk you through applying.
- Native Hawaiian Health Scholarship Program (NHHSP). Native Hawaiians are eligible to apply for this program, which will fully fund an undergraduate nursing degree or a degree in Nurse-Midwifery or as a Nurse Practitioner.
Part Eleven Student Loan Forgiveness for Nurses
A loan forgiveness program is one that allows the remainder of your student loan debt to be forgiven, bringing your balance down to zero. It’s a pretty sweet deal, right?
The catch is that there’s usually something you have to do on your end to get the loan forgiven--usually in the form of some kind of service in an area that needs nurses.
The most popular student loan forgiveness programs for nurses are:
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). With this program, after making a minimum of 120 qualifying monthly payments, your entire loan is forgiven. And if you’re doing the math, yes, that’s a full 10 years of payments. In addition to that rather lengthy sentence, the other requirement is that you have to be making payments on your loan while working for a qualifying employer. You can learn more about the specifics of this loan and how to apply here.
- Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program (NCLRP). We mentioned the Nursing Corps in the previous section because it offers scholarship programs, but the NCLRP also loan forgiveness in exchange for service at a critical shortage facility. The minimum service amount is two-years of employment for 60% forgiveness, but you can also get an additional 25% off for a third year of service. Learn more here.
- State-Level Loan Forgiveness. Each state offers loan forgiveness for nurses but the requirements, eligibility, and work commitment vary. Information for each program can be found on individual state webpages. Residency requirements vary per state, as do specific eligibility requirements and some states may also be offering additional loan forgiveness programs as a result of pandemic-induced shortages.
- Some examples of what state-level loan forgiveness programs are available include Alaska’s SHARP program, which offers RNs up to $27,000 per year in loan forgiveness, along with a matching employer contribution or The Louisiana State Loan Repayment Program, which offers up to $15,000 each year with a three-year commitment.
Each loan forgiveness program has very specific eligibility requirements, so be sure to check with the state you are looking at applying with, and double-check that the program won’t disqualify you for any other assistance you are receiving.
Student Loan Payment Deferrals
If you have a federal student loan, there are some situations in which you can defer your payments.
With a deferment, you don’t have to make the loan payments, and in most cases, interest will not accrue during the time the loan is deferred if you have a subsidized loan. Unsubsidized loans, however, will still accrue interest, so you’ll have an even higher balance when you do go back to making payments.
In some cases, you may be able to defer the loans long enough to have them forgiven, although you’ll obviously have to plan that one carefully, just to be sure--for instance, some loan forgiveness programs require you to make consecutive payments, so if you defer, the time period of deferment will not count towards your loan forgiveness program requirements.
How to Determine Your Loan Deferment Options
You have to work with your school’s financial aid office to see if you qualify for a deferment on your loan. Some situations that may make you eligible for a deferment include:
- While getting treatment for cancer
- Are receiving a means-tested benefit like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
- Work full-time but are earning below 150% of the poverty threshold
- Are serving in the Peace Corps or other active-duty military
- Are enrolled in a rehabilitation program
- If you are receiving unemployment benefits
COVID-19 and Loan Deferrals
There are also some ways that you may be able to receive some help with your student loans as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the federal aid COVID-19 program automatically put student loans into forbearance with a temporary 0% interest rate period, which is in effect until September 30, 2020.
Some private lenders are also offering assistance with student loans, so you should check with your own lender to see if they have changed their repayment programs or are offering any additional resources for you to get help with your loans.
Part Twelve Student Loan Refinancing for Nurses
Another resource that can help you pay for nursing school is refinancing. When you refinance a loan, you essentially take out another loan with your existing balance under a (hopefully) lower interest rate.
When Should You Consider Refinancing?
You might choose to refinance your loan if you can find a lower interest rate, or if you want to consolidate several different loans into one lump loan under one interest rate.
Especially during the COVID pandemic, many lenders--including the federal government--are offering refinancing options that might make sense for you.
You can learn more about refinancing your student loans, including eligibility requirements, what type of loans you can refinance, and what you can expect here.
How Does Refinancing Student Loans Work?
Refinancing a loan might seem like an overwhelming process, so we also have some additional resources that can help. If you’re looking to refinance your student loans, here are some strategies you can use:
- Use a refinancing comparison site like Credible, to compare different refinancing options and interest rates to help you find the best one.
- Run some numbers to determine if refinancing makes financial sense for you--in many cases, it does, but for some people, it doesn’t, so be sure to know what makes sense for your personal financial situation.
- Find out more about what specific types of COVID-19 nurse student loan refinancing options are available. Interest rates are extremely low for some loans, so this may be an excellent time to consider refinancing.
You Got This!
Your financial situation should not be something that holds you back from pursuing your dreams as a nurse. No matter what hardships you are facing now, or how much assistance you may need to get you through nursing school, just remember: the rewards will be tenfold for what you gain and what you will be able to give back to your patients.
Nurses have never been more in demand, and the need for good nurses (like you!) will only continue to grow. So use this guide as a way to help you find the help you need to fund your nursing education--because we need you more than ever!