Ask a Nurse: How Long Does It Take to Pay Off Student Loans for an MSN?

Gayle Morris, MSN
Updated February 10, 2023
    MSN-prepared nurses have greater career and salary potential. Consider these factors when you estimate how long it may take to pay off student loans.
    Featured ImageCredit: Fly View Productions / Getty Images

    In our Ask a Nurse series, experienced nurses provide an insider look at the nursing profession by answering your questions about nursing careers, degrees, and resources.

    Question: For those who opt to pursue higher nursing degrees like a master’s, how long does it take to pay off student loans?

    The average graduate student pays off their student loans in 18 years. Experts expect students who graduated in 2021 to pay off their student loans between 8-19 years while paying $669 per month.

    Ultimately, how long it takes to pay off nursing school loans depends on the amount of money borrowed, the interest rate, and repayment habits. For example, the average student loan debt after attending a public school is $58,300. The average student loan debt after attending a private nonprofit program is $77,000, and $96,700 after attending a private for-profit master’s program.

    In 2016, the Brookings Institute and the American Council on Education created separate studies to analyze student debt, which highlighted a gap between racial groups. The data showed the average debt after a master’s degree was $59,824 for Asian students, $51,699 for African American students, and between $40,336-$42,411 for white, Hispanic, or students of two or more races.

    Students attending graduate programs borrow more, on average, than undergraduate students. Graduate students may also have unpaid undergraduate loans that are deferred while they are attending graduate school. Data shows that people with a master’s degree have higher personal loan debt, mortgage debt, and auto loans than the average general public.

    Nursing graduate students have financial aid options to help lower their out-of-pocket costs. These include scholarships, grants, and work-study programs. Although they are not as well publicized as financial aid for bachelor programs, they are available and can help you advance your career without putting a dent in your financial future.

    How Much Does an MSN Cost?

    The cost of tuition for a master of science in nursing (MSN) program varies, depending on the program and whether the student requires on-campus residency. Some larger schools offer tuition reimbursement programs for bachelor’s-prepared nurses who are seeking their MSN degree. This can significantly offset the cost of an MSN program.

    The average cost of a master’s degree at a public school is $54,500. The cost increases to $81,000 if you choose to attend a private school. The average cost of a master of science degree in a STEM program, such as nursing, tends to be even higher. The average cost of a master’s in science degree is $62,300.

    For example, tuition at the University of Illinois Chicago‘s MSN program for fall 2022 and spring 2023 is determined by adding the base tuition, applicable differential, and fees and assessments. One semester for a full-time, in-state student costs $13,086. Estimating it takes four semesters for a full-time student to complete the program, the total tuition is $52,344.

    How Much Does an MSN Graduate Make?

    Salary can also have a direct effect on how fast it takes nurses to pay off student loans. MSN-prepared advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) often work as nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, or nurse anesthetists. Other master’s prepared nurses may become nurse administrators. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), clinical APRNs earn a median annual salary of $123,780.

    Clinical APRNs work in a variety of settings, including physicians’ offices, hospitals, nursing homes, and outpatient clinics. The BLS estimates a 40% growth rate for clinical APRNs, which is far greater than the average for all occupations.

    Medical and health service managers, under which the BLS categorizes nurse administrators, earn a median annual salary of $101,340. These professionals may work in hospitals and other healthcare facilities, such as nursing homes and large group medical practices. The BLS estimates a 28% growth rate, which is also higher than the average for all occupations.

    Paying for an MSN: What Are My Options?

    Nurses may not be aware that they have financing options to complete an MSN. Using these options can affect how fast it takes nurses to pay off student loans.

    While you likely completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for your bachelor’s program, you may not know that you can complete the FAFSA for your MSN program as well.

    Forbes reports the National Center for Education Statistics finds that 58% of graduate students receive some type of financial aid and 26% have received grants averaging $10,400. Students who meet the FAFSA requirements may be eligible for grants, loans, and work-study aid.

    Graduate students may also explore MSN scholarship and fellowship money that may be available through local and national organizations. Federal grants and student loans or private scholarships and fellowships are just two of the options graduate students can explore.

    Some employers offer tuition reimbursement benefits. Before accepting financial aid from an employer, students should read the fine print for provisions that may be associated with the benefit. For example, you may be required to work for your employer for a certain time period after graduation.

    Another option is the National Health Service Corps Scholarship Program. In return for scholarship money, the student agrees to provide primary care in underserved communities for two years for every one year of tuition they receive.

    Loan forgiveness programs forgive student loans for nurses who work in underserved communities or with specific populations. For example, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is available to nurses working full time for a nonprofit or government organization after they have made the first 120 payments. Read more about loan forgiveness programs for nurses.

    Finally, MSN students may consider an online nursing program versus an in-person nursing program. Although not all online programs are more cost effective than in-person programs, some offer lower tuition and fees. Students may also save on commuting costs and may find local clinical placement.

    In Summary:

    • The average graduate student can take up to 18 years to pay off their student loans; the class of 2021 is expected to take between 8-19 years when they pay $669 per month.
    • The amount of time it takes depends on the amount of money a student borrows, the interest rate, and the student’s repayment habits.
    • Data show there is a gap among racial groups, with an average debt after a master’s degree of $59,820 for Asian students, $51,700 for African American students, and between $40,336-$42,411 for white, Hispanic, or students of two or more races.
    • The average cost of tuition at a public college is $54,500 and $81,000 at a private school; the average cost of a master’s in science degree is often higher and can be up to $62,300.
    • MSN-prepared nurses may work in a clinical or administrative position. Clinical APRNs earn a median annual salary of $123,780; those in administration earn a median annual salary of $101,340.
    • Financial aid options include but are not limited to filing a FAFSA form for federal grants and student loans, exploring scholarships and fellowships from local and national organizations, employer tuition reimbursement, loan forgiveness programs, and a scholarship from the National Health Services Corps that requires two years of service in an underserved community for every year of scholarship.