Financial Aid for Nursing Students
A career as a nurse is a rewarding and long-term investment, with professional growth opportunities available to you throughout your career. Whether you’re just starting out or are looking to advance your career, there is a range of educational opportunities to help you succeed in nursing.
Of course, whatever nursing degree you pursue will cost money. This guide will estimate the cost of nursing school at different levels and provide resources to help you better plan and pay for your nursing education.
How Much Does Nursing School Cost?
A nursing degree can include a wide range of education, whether you’re considering an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), a registered nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) bridge program, or a master’s degree. Below you can read about these common nursing degree options and what you can expect to pay for your nursing degree.
Associate in Nursing
An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is a popular entry point into a career in nursing. According to a survey by the Health Resources and Services Administration, over 45% of today’s nurses began their careers with an ADN degree. Completion of a two-year ADN program allows you to begin a career in an entry-level nursing position and apply to be a registered nurse (RN) upon passing the NCLEX-RN exam.
The cost of an A.A. or A.S. in Nursing will vary considerably based on the school you choose and whether you pay in-state or out-of-state tuition. While tuition and fees at public community colleges start as low as $3,000 a year, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) estimates that total costs including tuition, fees, and room and board average about $10,000 a year for an associate degree. Total expenses at four-year colleges are higher, averaging about $26,000 a year.
Bachelor’s in Nursing
A Bachelor’s in Nursing, or BSN, is a four-year degree designed for more advanced training and specialization in nursing. Nurses with BSNs can tailor their careers in several specialized fields. This is often a necessary next step for career advancement and salary growth.
If you don’t already have an ADN and are enrolling in a four-year BSN program, you can expect to pay between $19,000 and $40,000 a year in net price (tuition, books, living expenses, and fees) or from about $9,000 to $18,000 a year in tuition from either a public or private university.
If you’ve already earned an Associate Degree in Nursing, an RN to BSN program can help offset the costs of your bachelor’s degree and save you time. These bridge programs typically take only two to three years to complete and some programs allow nurses to transfer credits from their associate degree, saving you money in the process.
Master’s in Nursing
Nurses who complete master’s level training earn an MSN degree and have access to additional specialization tracks, higher earning potential, and the opportunity to become a nursing educator who trains other nurses. As with most graduate-level education, an MSN will cost more than an undergraduate education, with per-credit tuition costs ranging from as much as $300 per credit hour to over $1,600 per credit hour. In addition to tuition, look out for program fees and living expenses you’ll be responsible for paying while you’re in school.
Doctorate in Nursing
If you’re looking to go as far as possible in your nursing education, two degrees are most common: a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), which focuses on advancing research practice and application, and the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), which prepares nursing students to participate in advanced research and nursing theory. Both degrees allow nurses to lead, advance the study and craft of nursing, and educate the next generation of nurses.
As with any degree, the cost of attending will vary by the school you choose, but there are also several different types of doctoral programs, often tailored to meet the education background and needs of the student. Students can complete both a master’s and doctoral degree, complete a BSN to DNP bridge program, or complete a post-master’s Ph.D. The cost of each will also depend on the number of credits required, with per credit fees ranging from $400-$1,800, and the number of credits required ranging from 32 to over 70.
How Do I Pay for Nursing School?
There is a range of options to consider in financing your nursing degree. It’s a good idea to start by creating a budget using sample calculators offered by the school of your choice and understanding the options available to you.
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for Nurses
The FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the standard form required to apply for federal financial aid in the form of loans, grants, or work-study. To qualify for aid, you must complete a FAFSA for each academic year by your state’s deadline. FAFSA forms become available for the next school year in October, and they typically take several hours to complete, particularly for new applicants. To prepare for the FAFSA, you’ll need to pull together financial and personal documents to complete the form, like:
Creating an FSA ID and account will help you log on and complete the application. While the FAFSA process may be arduous, it’s well worth the effort. The government gave over $100 billion in student loans and $30 billion in grant money to postsecondary students in 2017.
Scholarships for Nursing Students
Scholarships are typically merit-based, need-based, or given to people based on specific individual traits, and there are a host of different kinds of awards ranging from small amounts to full-rides that cover all your school expenses. To find scholarships for nursing, start by thinking about any personal circumstances that may make you eligible for scholarship aid, like:
There are scholarship search tools that can help you find scholarships by subject, degree level, background, gender, or special interest. Many schools also offer a suite of awards for enrolling students. There are scholarships designed just for nursing students and health professionals that are sponsored by private organizations like the National League for Nursing. We also offer a scholarship for our readers, the Best Nursing Degree $2,500 scholarship.
Nursing School Grants
Grants are typically need-based aid that, like scholarships, don’t need to be repaid. Many federal and state agencies offer grants in an effort to fill local workplace gaps and provide educational opportunities for those living in rural or underserved areas. Some grants will require reciprocity from recipients in the form of a work commitment at graduation. Similarly, healthcare and nursing-specific organizations will give awards to nursing students to help ensure the success of the profession as a whole. Schools, national nursing board agencies, and accrediting agencies will also often offer grant money for incoming students.
In addition to checking your home state’s and school’s grants, here are some examples of the kinds of nursing-specific grants available:
Most grants are a one-time payment, and students will need to reapply annually.
If you aren’t able to cover your education expenses through scholarships and grants, a student loan may be an excellent way to supplement your funding. There are many sources and types of student loans available to nursing students and it’s essential to understand and weigh your options carefully when considering a loan.
Federal student loans, for example, come in a few forms:
You usually won’t have to start repaying your student loan until you graduate or leave school. The interest rate on federal loans ranges from 4.5%–7%, so it’s important to consider your future earning potential and your timeline for repaying loans.
Outside of federal student loans, there are other types of loans available to students. Some states offer loans to residents who are full-time nursing students, and those loans may be forgiven if the student agrees to work in an underserved area for at least a year following graduation. Student loans are also available through private lenders, but typically carry a higher interest rate and, in some cases, will have variable interest rates that change over time.
When you’re applying for a student loan, make sure to read the fine print to understand the interest rate, repayment terms, and the total loan repayment amount before signing on the dotted line.
Nursing Student Loan Forgiveness
As an alternative to student loan debt, there are some opportunities for loan forgiveness in exchange for service time or work time at a facility with a shortage of nurses. Many loan forgiveness programs in nursing are created to fill gaps in either high demand or high shortage hospitals and healthcare facilities, typically in rural areas.
At the national level, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers up to $50,000 in loan repayment assistance in exchange for two years of service in rural areas experiencing a shortage of nurses. Similarly, the military offers repayment options in exchange for service time. The Army Nursing Program, for example, provides up to $120,000 to repay nursing school loans in exchange for three years of active-duty service.
Check your state to see what loan forgiveness programs may be available to you, and make sure to read the requirements carefully to ensure you understand what’s required of you to get your loan dollars forgiven.
It’s more common than you may think for employers to offer tuition reimbursement, hiring bonuses, free housing, and other incentives to nurses. As more baby boomers retire, nursing is facing a national shortage, with an anticipated increase in jobs for RNs of 15% by 2026. In order to recruit and retain nurses, healthcare organizations may offer employer-paid tuition as an incentive to new hires.
Rather than paying tuition upfront, employers typically reimburse students after the course ends, and many companies require you to get a minimum grade for eligibility. Companies are more likely to offer reimbursement to fill gaps in their workforce or to encourage licensed nurses to take additional coursework to fill those gaps. Hospitals usually require a minimum employment time before employees can use tuition reimbursement, and typically cap reimbursement amounts at $5,250/year, which is the maximum tax-free amount allowed by the IRS.
Financial Aid Vocabulary to Know
Here are some common financial terms to understand when thinking through your educational expenses.
Dependent student: A student who is a financial dependent of their parents, is under 18 years of age, or is claimed as a dependent on someone else’s W-2 or other tax statement.
Free Application for Federal Student Aid: The FAFSA is a required application to receive federal financial aid in the form of loans, grants, or work-study.
Independent student: A student who is financially independent of their parents and who cannot be claimed as a dependent on tax forms.
Student loans: Money borrowed from a private or government institution that a student must begin to pay back upon graduation and with interest.
Subsidized loan: A loan in which the Department of Education pays the interest while you’re enrolled in school, in a grace period, or while your loan is under deferment status.
Unsubsidized loan: A student loan that requires students to pay interest throughout the life of the loan. Interest begins accruing when the loan is disbursed and is added to the principal amount owed while you’re in school or during grace periods.
Repayment schedule: A statement that cites your given financial loan amount and the amount you will owe on a monthly basis.
Variable interest rate: An interest rate on a loan that can change over time, usually annually.
Interest: The amount you pay for borrowing money, set at a percentage rate that can either be fixed or variable over time.
Grants: Grants are a form of financial aid used to pay for tuition, books, and other education expenses that are not paid back, but may require service or work time after graduation. Grants are typically awarded based on financial need or to fill a state- or federal-level industry gap.
Scholarships: Scholarships can be used to pay for tuition, books, and other educational expenses and are not paid back. Awards can come from private, public, government, or religious organizations and can range in gift amount. Typically, scholarships are a one-time gift.