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Attending nursing school can be a powerful investment in your future. When choosing a school and degree program, prospective nursing students must consider the cost of nursing school so they can anticipate when their investment might pay off.
This article overviews the average cost of nursing school at each degree level. We also outline a few key financial aid resources to help alleviate costs. Finally, we discuss the potential return on investment for degrees in nursing.
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How Much Does Nursing School Cost?
The cost of nursing school can vary significantly depending on several factors, including the degree you choose, whether you attend part or full time, whether you attend an in-state or out-of-state institution and whether you enroll in a private or public school.
Associate degrees in nursing (ADNs) tend to cost less, with some programs totaling as little as $3,000, while more advanced degrees can cost up to $100,000 if you attend a private school.
Cost of Nursing School by Degree
The cost of nursing school can vary considerably depending on the school and degree level you choose. Below we break down typical nursing school costs for each degree level, ranging from an ADN to a doctorate of nursing practice (DNP).
Associate Degree in Nursing
Aspiring nursing students looking for a time- and cost-effective avenue into nursing may consider an associate degree in nursing. ADN programs typically last two years and are generally among the most affordable educational options for nursing students. With that said, tuition and program costs can vary considerably by school.
Several factors can impact the cost of an ADN degree, including whether you choose to attend an institution in or out of state and whether it’s a public or private university. Enrolling in an out-of-state public program can cost over double the tuition of an in-state public program.
Generally, the cost of ADN programs at public universities can range from $3,000 to $10,000 per year. Since most ADNs are two-year degrees, this amounts to $6,000 to $20,000 in total. Private universities generally charge higher tuition rates; private school students can spend more than $40,000 for their ADN.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
On average, a bachelor of science in nursing takes four years of full-time study to complete and typically comprises 120 credits. Like with an ADN, the total cost of a BSN degree varies widely depending on whether it’s a public or private university and whether you attend in or out of state. Students can pay between $20,000 to over $100,000 in total for a BSN degree.
In most cases, out-of-state tuition costs significantly more than in-state tuition. For example, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that the average undergraduate tuition and required fees for full-time students in the 2020-21 school year were $9,375 at in-state institutions and $27,091 at out-of-state institutions.
Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
MSN programs take one to two years to complete. The total cost of a master’s in nursing ranges between $24,000 and $80,000 depending on similar factors to those affecting ADN and BSN costs. Some MSN programs, including out-of-state and private universities or colleges, can cost $100,000 or more.
Program length also impacts the cost of an MSN, and the number of required credits varies considerably by program. Students may need to complete anywhere between 30 and 70 credit hours depending on the program they choose.
An MSN typically costs more for part-time students since part-time enrollment often increases overall program length. Students who attend out-of-state or private universities often pay more as well.
Doctor of Nursing Practice
The total cost of a DNP degree can vary significantly depending on several factors, including your highest education level since this impacts program length. If your highest degree is a bachelor’s, you can expect a BSN-to-DNP program to take three to four years. Alternatively, an MSN-to-DNP program takes around two years to complete.
DNP programs can range in cost from around $10,000 to over $100,000. Attending part time or enrolling in a private university can raise your costs.
Additional Nursing School Expenses
Aside from tuition and fees, prospective nursing students should consider additional nursing school expenses when determining the total cost of nursing school. These expenses can include the following:
- Background checks
- Childcare for students with families
- Immunizations, drug tests and lab tests
- Lab supplies
- Lost or reduced wages for students who quit their jobs or reduce their working hours
- National licensure exam prep and registration
- Physical exams
- Transportation costs and parking fees for commuters
NCLEX Prep and Fees
To obtain licensure and begin practicing, nursing students must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Candidates seeking to practice in the U.S. must pay a $200 registration fee to take the NCLEX.
Once you pay the registration fee and schedule your exam, you can look into prep courses and other resources to start preparing. NCLEX prep courses can cost anywhere from $25 to over $500. Students can browse various prep materials and courses to choose one that suits their budget, learning style and scheduling needs.
How to Pay for Nursing School
Students must submit the FAFSA to qualify for federal student aid, including loans. For more information, check out our guides explaining what the FAFSA is and how to apply for financial aid using the FAFSA.
Nursing students can look into scholarships, grants and tuition reimbursement programs to help reduce the cost of nursing school. The American Association of Colleges and Nursing updates a list of aid resources for nursing students. Below we explore various means of financial aid to help offset and alleviate nursing school costs.
Scholarships are often awarded to students based on academic achievement or financial need. Scholarships are available through both public and private resources, and they do not need to be repaid. For example, Johnson & Johnson and the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration offer scholarships to nursing students.
Grants are need-based awards typically issued by companies, organizations, foundations and government organizations. Like scholarships, grants do not require repayment. Several government and private agencies offer grants for nursing students. For example, the California Department of Health Care Access and Information provides grants to nursing students who commit to practicing in underserved areas.
Program applicants may also seek student loans to pay for nursing school. Unlike scholarships and grants, students must repay loans. Nursing students can choose from two primary loan types: federal loans and private loans. For suggestions, check out our list of the best nursing school loans.
To apply for federal financial aid, including federal loans, students must submit the FAFSA. Generally, federal loans incur less interest than private loans. There are three main types of federal loans students can apply for:
- Direct subsidized loans
- Direct unsubsidized loans
- Direct PLUS loans
Federal loans come with annual borrowing caps. For example, direct subsidized loans are capped at $5,500 to $12,500 per year. Students who max out their federal loan offers and need additional financial assistance may need to look into private loans.
Student loan forgiveness programs are available to nursing graduates and offer a chance to eliminate student loan debt. For more information, see our guide on the different ways to get student loan forgiveness for nurses.
Make sure you thoroughly understand the specifications, requirements and terms of a prospective loan program before accepting a loan or loan forgiveness.
Tuition Reimbursement Programs
Employers often offer tuition reimbursement programs, which are becoming increasingly common in the health care industry to address the national shortage of nurses in hospitals and healthcare facilities. A tuition reimbursement program may look like an employer reimbursing a portion, or the total, of a graduate’s tuition as long as the graduate commits to working as a nurse in a specific place or for a certain number of years.
Common reimbursement programs may include the following conditions:
- Successful completion of the degree program
- Maintaining a specified grade point average
- Agreeing to work for a specific hospital or another healthcare facility for a specified amount of time
- Agreeing to work in a specific geographic area, such as a rural region
For example, the federal Nursing Education Loan Repayment Program repays student loans for qualifying nurses who commit to working in nonprofit clinics or hospitals.
Nursing School Return on Investment
The return on investment is the profit you’ve earned on your investment (in this case, your salary after finishing nursing school) divided by the cost of your investment (the cost of nursing school), multiplied by 100 to give you a percentage.
Let’s say you spend $50,000 earning a BSN, and you go on to become a registered nurse (RN). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, RNs earn a median annual salary of $77,600 per year, meaning you would recoup your investment (and then some) within one year of working as an RN. Let’s break it down:
$77,600 / $50,000 x 100 = 155.2
After one year of working as an RN, you could see an ROI of 155.2%.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About the Cost of Nursing School
How much is the tuition for nursing?
Tuition rates for nursing school vary considerably depending on your desired degree level and the school you choose. Looking at ADN, BSN, MSN and DNP programs, nursing school can range in cost from around $3,000 to over $100,000.
Is becoming a nurse worth it?
Yes, for many people, nursing is a worthwhile career. Nursing can be physically and emotionally demanding and generally entails long working hours. On the other hand, nursing offers opportunities to engage in meaningful work that provides essential care and support to others. Nursing provides job security, boasts a high earning potential and can offer variety in your day-to-day work. After one year of work as an RN, you could recoup more than 100% of your investment in nursing school.