Nursing is an extremely rewarding career, and it has the added benefit of being in high demand right now. Getting through nursing school takes a lot of hard work—and it can be fairly expensive.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2019, there were approximately 3 million people working as registered nurses in the U.S. And demand for the role is expected to increase by 7% from 2019 to 2029.
The average cost of nursing school can vary widely. The cost for a Bachelor’s in Nursing (BSN) can be comparable to any other four year degree. According to U.S. News, the average cost of tuition for the 2020-2021 school year was $9,687 for a four year public school, and $35,087 for a four year private school. Some may pursue other pathways, such as an online RN to BSN program, which can sometimes be more affordable ranging between $25,000 to $80,000 in cost. While this may seem costly, the median annual salary for an RN in 2019 was $75,330.
Becoming an RN isn’t the only option. There are also CNAs (certified nursing assistants), or an LPNs (licensed practical nurse), and each degree comes with different costs. Understanding different nursing degrees, which nursing program makes sense for you, and what your payment options are will help set you up for success.
What Are the Various Nursing Degrees You Can Pursue?
There are a number of routes to becoming a nurse or nurse’s assistant.
Becoming a CNA
Becoming a certified nursing assistant (CNA), requires a high school degree, and you typically need to take 4-12 weeks of courses and pass a vocational exam. The requirements to become a CNA may vary widely by state. A CNA assists the nurses and doctors with things like admitting patients and taking vitals.
Becoming an LPN
A licensed practical nurse (LPN) is also known as a licensed vocational nurse (LVN). Both require a diploma from an accredited program, which can take 12 to 24 months to complete. You must then pass a licensing exam LPN work generally involves collecting samples, administering medications, and taking patients’ vitals and symptoms.
Becoming an RN
RNs (or registered nurses) need a bachelor’s or associate’s degree, and they must pass the NCLEX-RN exam. There are also opportunities for LPNs to continue their education and earn their RN credentials. RNs are responsible for a wider range of patient care and treatment, including assessing the patients and recommending prevention plans.
RNs with a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) are able to apply for higher-level jobs than those with associate’s degrees. A bachelor’s degree may also be required for managerial roles.
Becoming an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), or getting a master’s or doctorate in nursing is also an option for those who want to work as nurse administrators, nurse midwives, or enter the field of nurse education.
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The Average Cost of Different Nursing Degrees
Choosing the right nursing degree depends on your goals. It’s also important to understand the time commitment and costs associated with each option.
The cost of becoming a CNA can range depending on the state you test in. States may also have different requirements just to apply. Researching your state’s particular requirements and costs may help you gauge how much you can expect to spend.
An LPN program takes 12 to 18 months to complete and generally costs around $10,000 to $15,000 total, though the costs may be more or less depending on location and other factors. In 2020, the median pay for an LPN was $48,820 annually according to the BLS.
Becoming an RN can take anywhere from two to four years depending on the path of study. Getting an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) takes about two years and costs can vary widely. In general, public, vocational, or community colleges offer the most affordable ADN programs.
Getting a BSN takes four years and generally costs the same as most bachelor’s degrees. Costs can vary widely, ranging anywhere from $40,000 to more than $200,000.
The annual costs depend on where you go to school, and whether you attend a private or public college. For RNs who already have an associate’s degree but would like their bachelor’s, there are RN to BSN bridge programs available. Some of these programs are available online, and are paid based on credit hour.
To compare nursing school costs, you’ll want to look at tuition, additional fees (housing, etc.), and how many credits you need. You’ll also want to look at exam pass rates and job placement rates.
Other Fees You’ll Encounter While Studying to Be a Nurse
In addition to nursing school tuition and books, there are typically lab fees each semester. Students may also need to buy scrubs ($30 to $50 a pair), a lab jacket, and miscellaneous gear like a stethoscope.
Some nursing schools may also require students to take out liability insurance and get all mandatory immunizations. There’s also licensing and exam fees, which vary by state but can cost as much as $300 for your initial license and $200 to take the exam.
How to Pay for Nursing School Without Going Broke
For those attending accredited nursing schools, taking out student loans is an option to help pay for tuition, room and board, and other student expenses.
Federal Student Loans
Federal student loans can be used to help pay for nursing school. Students can apply for federal student loans—other forms of federal aid—by filling out the FAFSA® (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This application is used to determine federal student aid including scholarships, grants, work-study, and federal student loans.
Scholarships and Grants
In addition to scholarships and grants offered by the federal government, there are private scholarships available to nursing students. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing also maintains a scholarship database for nursing schools. In some cases, students can have their nursing student loans forgiven or repaid if you work in underserved communities with the Health Resources and Services Administration and meet certain criteria.
Recommended: Search for Scholarships and Grants by State
Private Student Loans
If federal student loans and other forms of aid aren’t enough to pay for the cost of nursing school, private student loans could be one option to consider. Private student loans are available from private lenders and generally allow students to borrow up to the cost of attendance at their school. However, while federal student loans offer the option for loan forgiveness through certain federal programs, private student loans do not. As a result, private student loans are generally used as a last option after all other forms of financial aid have been exhausted.
The cost of nursing school can vary dramatically depending on the type of nursing program you are enrolled in, the location of the school, and whether the school is a public or private university, a community college, trade, or vocational school.
Regardless, paying for nursing school doesn’t have to be overwhelming. There are federal aid programs, private scholarships, and grants available to help students finance their degrees. When those sources of funding aren’t enough. Private student loans can help fill the gap. SoFi offers no fee student loans with competitive interest rates for qualifying borrowers.
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