The cost to become a nurse or nurse specialist ranges from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands. The cost rises with education level — from a two-year associate degree to a doctorate — but so do average earnings.
You already know that you’ll be in demand. More than 203,000 new openings for registered nurses alone are expected each year over the next decade.
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Typical Nursing School Costs and Salaries
There are a number of routes to becoming a nurse or nurse assistant. Here are the main types, median pay (based on 2021 figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), and average educational costs.
Keep in mind that many students benefit from student loans and scholarships. Working nurses reaching for the next rung up may be eligible for tuition reimbursement from their current employer.
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
Becoming a CNA may require a high school degree. You typically need to complete four to 12 weeks’ worth of courses and onsite training and pass an exam.
The cost of a CNA program varies, sometimes substantially, based on length and whether the program is state approved.
Average education cost: $600 to $2,000
Median pay: $30,310
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
Also known as a licensed vocational nurse, an LPN must complete a state-approved educational program, which typically takes 12-18 months, and pass a licensing exam.
Tuition cost: as low as $1,000 to $5,000
Median pay: $48,070 per year
Recommended: Guide to Nursing Student Loans
Registered Nurse (RN)
Registered nurses need at least a two-year associate degree in nursing from an accredited college or technical school to practice.
Average in-state tuition cost: $3,500 per year at public institutions; $15,470 per year at private schools
RNs with an associate degree in nursing can seek a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) in an RN-to-BSN program, which usually takes one to two years to complete.
Average cost of online RN-to-BSN: $25,000 to $80,000
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing considers the four-year Bachelor of Science in nursing the degree that provides the educational and experiential base for entry-level professional practice.
Average total in-state cost of a BSN: $40,000 to $80,000 at a public school; $60,000 to $120,000 at a private school
Median pay for all RNs: $77,600 per year
Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)
An advanced practice registered nurse holds at least a master’s degree in nursing. The four specialties are nurse practitioner, certified registered nurse anesthetist, certified nurse midwife, and clinical nurse specialist.
A Master of Science in nursing will take one to two years. The tuition cost is often higher than that to obtain a BSN.
Tuition cost of a Master of Science in nursing: $22,000 to $100,000 per year
Master’s-level programs still allow grads to join the APRN ranks, but a doctorate is quickly becoming the standard, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
Most research-focused doctoral nursing programs grant a Ph.D. The Doctor of Nursing Practice degree is more practice focused.
Cost of Doctor of Nursing Practice program after earning a master’s degree: $20,000 to $40,000
Median pay for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners: $123,780 per year
If you need to borrow in order to get through school, know that you’re in good company. Most nurses take out loans (federal and private student loans are available) to earn their professional titles.
Other Fees While Studying to Be a Nurse
The anatomy of a nursing degree consists of much more than tuition, which might be the figure on a website that catches your eye. Still, the cost of college tuition alone can be helpful in calculating the total tab: Multiplying the current tuition price by four will yield a rough estimate.
Myriad fees can add up to hundreds of dollars. Books and software can average $2,000 to $3,000 per academic year.
Other expenses to keep in mind include travel costs, living costs (especially if you’re unable to work while studying), lab fees, and the cost of a laptop.
Some nursing schools may also require students to take out liability insurance and get immunizations.
Before stepping into a new job or practice, aspiring RNs have to pass the National Council Licensure Examination test, better known as the NCLEX exam, which costs $200 per attempt. Taking the NCLEX exam a second (or even third or fourth time) time costs more in studying, coursework, and time.
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How to Pay for Nursing School Without Going Broke
If just thinking about the cost of nursing school raises your blood pressure, know that student loans, grants, and scholarships are available.
Plus, some hospitals will help pay for nursing school. Duke University Health System employees, for example, may be eligible for tuition assistance.
Here are the main ways to pay for nursing school.
Federal Student Loans
Students can apply for federal aid — including student loans, scholarships, grants, and work-study — by completing the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, each year.
It’s a good idea to submit the FAFSA even if you’re not expecting federal aid because other student aid programs piggyback off the application.
Many nurses plan to work for a qualifying nonprofit or government organization. They aim for the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and one of the income-based repayment plans.
Scholarships and Grants
An aspiring nurse may want to use a scholarship search tool and seek out grants. Pell Grants go to undergraduate students only.
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing also maintains a grants and scholarship database for nursing schools.
The Nurse Corps Scholarship Program will pay your tuition, fees, and other educational costs if you agree to work at a critical shortage facility after graduation.
Recommended: Search for Scholarships and Grants by State
Private Student Loans
If federal aid does not cover the total cost of nursing school, private student loans are another option.
Private student loans are available from private lenders and generally allow students to borrow up to the school’s estimated annual cost of attendance. That includes tuition and fees, room and board (or living expenses), books, supplies, a personal computer, transportation, and child care.
Two- and four-year colleges are required to publish the cost of attendance on their websites.
It’s important to keep in mind that federal protections and programs like income-based repayment apply only to federal student loans.
Still, private student loans can fill gaps in need. Learn more in our guide to private student loans.
How much is nursing school? Getting an associate degree can cost a few thousand dollars. The full path leading to a master’s or doctorate can cost hundreds of thousands. A lot will depend on whether the school is public or private, whether you’re an in-state student, and whether you receive scholarships or grants.
In any case, here’s to your health, and to heeding the call to become a nurse.
In addition to private student loans for all qualifying students, SoFi offers private graduate school loans for health care professionals that come with a variety of repayment options and no fees.
SoFi Private Student Loans
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